What the hell is an indie film anyway? For some, the first things that come to mind are small crews, low budgets and none of those pesky producers in sharkskin suits.
Apparently this is not altogether accurate. Turns out, my whole concept of what I thought constituted “indie” was skewed as well. “Indie” and “low budget” are two terms that are often thought of being naturally intertwined but in reality are mutually exclusive. For a film to be defined as independent it needs to be wholly self funded or only partially funded by a “Non-Hollywood” entity. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to have a small budget. If Bill Gates decides he wants to invest 150 million in a film, well he just made a film every bit as indie as El Mariachi.
As a little change of pace, I figured we’d go on a somewhat comedic foray into the world of big budget indie films. So I present to you a list of indie films masquerading as big Hollywood productions.
George Lucas actually started developing this film in 1988 probably planning to glue propellers on to old X-Wing models. Instead, this 2012 film was halted because Hollywood apparently thought there weren’t enough white people in the Tuskegee airmen. So Lucas waited till the day he could sell enough Ewok figurines to afford his own damn company.
Lucas covered the cost of the $58 million production with his own money and even threw a few million in for distribution. Red Tails ended up taking a hit at the box office, which probably didn’t even faze Lucas when he ended up selling Lucasfilm to Disney for the price of a small country.
Some of you might remember that this was supposed to be the Halo movie. Just as in one of Kevin Smith’s fantasies, it’s possible there might be an ongoing battle between George Lucas and Peter Jackson to see who might have the greatest sci-fi/fantasy trilogy of all time. Needless to say, this type of reputation has given Jackson abilities that surpass that of any of Tolkien’s wizards. With the wave of a hand, Jackson can charm independent financers to throw millions of dollars at any project within his realm of influence.
QED International agreed to foot the $30 million budget for this film. District 9 would prove to be a success, taking in a whopping $210 million at the box office, crushing Lucas’s attempt to dethrone Jackson in the Great Battle of Side Projects of 2012.
Sometime in the early 80’s, a man by the name of Oividio G. Assonitis made a series of mistakes. The first was to resurrect the Roger Corman produced film Piranha. The second was to take up screenwriting and pen Piranha 2:The Spawning. Finally, he decided to try and harness the power of a first time director by the name of James Cameron. The sheer suckage of Piranha 2 would push this force of nature beyond its limits, causing Cameron to fall ill. Bedridden, Cameron dreamed of the day when robots, disguised as humans, would go back in time to put him out of his misery and avoid the cataclysmic possibility of Piranha 3 from ever being made. Upon awaking, Cameron realized the film gods were sending him a message, one that had to be shared with the world.
Like all prophets, Cameron was laughed at. Hollywood wanted nothing to do with The Terminator. Cameron’s agent even begged him to abandon the film. Cameron found his lack of faith… disturbing. Virtually broke, Cameron dug beneath the cushions of the couch he was sleeping on and sold The Terminator for $1, with the promise that he would be able to direct. The investment would prove to be a lucrative one. The Terminator would later be passed on to independent studio Hemdale Pictures, which financed the film for $6.5 million, raking in $78 million at the box office.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
Long before Michael Bay began scouring the aisles of Toys R Us for film ideas, children everywhere couldn’t get enough of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The next 5 years would prove to be parents very own ninth ring of hell as children everywhere began to speak in surfer accents while beating their little sisters with old toilet paper rolls tied together with grandma’s yarn. Such popularity made the idea of a feature film a no brainer.
You would think that Hollywood would have bought the rights to the Turtles in a heartbeat, but instead Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was made independently for the low, low price of $13 million, much of which probably went to the Muppet masters over at Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. In the end Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would end up taking in a colossal $210 million at the box office, spawning two sequels as well as a creepy rock tour that would solidify Pizza Hut as the leading cause of child obesity for years to come.