Indies

Indie Intros: Jay Duplass’s This is John

I’m back after a bit of time away from the keyboard. I apologize for my lack of posts over the last few weeks. I had to take a bit of time to devote to some other projects of mine that should be just over the horizon. This includes a new short film from yours truly as well as a foray into some audio entertainment.

With that, back to some discussion on short film.

I’ve been recently addicted to HBO’s Togetherness which just finished its first season and was created by filmmaking siblings Jay and Mark Duplass. If you haven’t seen this series, I would highly recommend it, especially if you’re in a relationship or marriage and want to simultaneously laugh and cry at the idea of long-term monogamy.

Jay and Mark have both directed such indie fare as Cyrus and Jeff, Who Lives at Home. Mark you may have seen from such film and TV as The One I Love, The Mindy Project, The League and this year’s The Lazarus Effect. Many of their films deal in similar territory as Togetherness, focusing on the hazards and roadblocks found within relationships and the neurosis that stems from them.

“This is John” really caught my eye for the clear lack of production value. It really looks like this film could have been shot on a Sony Handicam using only its in-cam mic and ambient lighting. Still, a simple plot combined with good acting manages to make this a smart comedy despite its low budget. In fact, Mark Duplass said some great things at SXSW about getting out there and shooting your ideas, budget be damned.

“This is John” starts off simple enough. A guy gets home and decides to record a greeting on his answering machine. He goes on erasing and re-recording, seemingly never pleased with the message, a still a relatable thing to everyone who has had to set up a greeting on a new cell phone. As the film goes on, it becomes clear that this message isn’t as simple of a task as one would think, as it becomes clear that John has some very deep-rooted issues that are now deciding to surface.

This film is a really good example of the type of films that I like to cover in the Indie Intros section; one that shows that you don’t need money, fancy equipment or know some VIP to start a successful film career. Despite all the canards claiming it’s who you know and not what you know that garners success in film, it’s good to see that hard work and establishing a clear voice can open up just as many opportunities.

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Indie Intros Oscar Edition: Alejandro González-Iñárritu’s Powder Keg

Since my last Indie Intros post chronicled the work of Richard Linklater, a response to Boyhood being nominated for six Academy Awards, I thought I might just cover other nominees till the awards kick off in February. Up until the week of the 22nd I’ll be dedicating the Indie Intros section to filmmakers nominated for the 2015 Academy Awards. We’ll look at some of their humble beginnings before we witness all the bad jokes and musical numbers the Academy is so known for. Then we’ll all go to work the next morning and complain about who should have won.

Before we begin, I’d like to preface something for the sake of controversy. Ideally, I wanted to focus on all of the Best Picture nominees, but the fact is not every filmmaker in this category have short films to view. Short films from James Marsh or Morton Tyldum were nowhere to be found on the Internet. When I searched for a site showing Damien Chazzelle’s “Whiplash”, the short film that is now an Oscar Nominated feature of the same name, I was directed here which just screams to me, “If you dare show this film we’ll sue you back into the Stone Age!” Finally, Clint Eastwood hasn’t had to make a short film to show off has talents, most likely because there has never been a time in his life where he hasn’t been goddamn Clint Eastwood.

With the recent commentary over the amount of nominations given to American Sniper and the lack of nominations given to Selma, I don’t want any additions or omissions to be viewed as political or social commentary (that’s for a different section of my blog).

With that, Birdman director Alejandro González-Iñárritu is no stranger to the Academy. His debut feature film Amores Perros was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film in 2001 and Babel, starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, was nominated for Best Picture in 2007. “Powder Keg” isn’t exactly his first short, yet it’s still relatively early in his career. Before ever shooting Perros, he had shot “El Timbre”, a Spanish film that I couldn’t seem to find anywhere. Worry not though, as soon as I do I plan to cover it on my future Spanish sister site, El Barrio de Los Cineastas Amistosos.

“Powder Keg” comes right off the heels of Amores Perros and as a result has some significant star power behind it. It stars Clive Owen, the king of gruff deliveries, and Stellan Skarsgård who shouldn’t to be confused with Alexander Skarsgård, or Peter Sarsgaard, that smug bastard who thinks he can just jam as many A’s into his name as he wants. Skarsgård plays a war photographer who captures local terrorists murder a group of innocent civilians. Embedded in Columbia, the UN sends Owen in to extract him, but things go awry. Basically, it’s a faster paced, less elaborate Argo.

That’s not to say that the film doesn’t have the same sense of urgency that makes Argo so good. As Owen drives through the Colombian town of Nuevo Colon, you really get a sense that this is a place going through a giant upheaval. Armed soldiers and terrorists alike litter the streets and pose a constant threat to the two protagonists.

Much like Amores Perros, “Powder Keg” gives us a look at the everyday lives of those who live south of the border of the U.S. Here in “Powder Keg” we witness how U.S. demand for cocaine has affected those living in Cartel controlled Columbia. This ties into the overall message of the film; that as we watch the horrors that the drug war wreaks on South America, there is more we could be doing to stop it. Anyone who has seen Amores Perros or 21 Grams might be seeing a pattern in Alejandro González-Iñárritu’s work, to address that the actions of one person can create a Butterfly Effect that can influence the lives of others. In “Powder Keg” he explores this theme on a much grander scale; pointing out that many of us here in the U.S. are content with condemning the atrocities witnessed abroad, yet fail to address our role in them. This is conveyed through Skarsgård’s Harvey Jacobs, a photographer who regrets his lack of involvement for the sake of getting the perfect picture.

Finally, the cinematography works to further stress Iñárritu’s message. Many of his shots give the impression that they come from the POV of an onlooker lurking in the shadows, watching everything unfold but refusing to get involved in fear of the repercussions. Also, the graininess of his shots will remind you of old 8mm war footage, implying that we are content simply being a horrified viewer, but never an active participant.

Indie Intros: Richard Linklater’s Woodshock

Well, the Golden Globes are over and one of the big winners was Richard Linklater and his monumental film Boyhood. I use the word “monumental’ because Boyhood took 13 years to shoot, all of which with the same cast. In celebration to his win, I’ve decided we should take a look at one of his first forays into filmmaking with the documentary short “Woodshock”.

“Woodshock” documents the Woodshock music festival held in Dripping Springs, Texas in 1985. The film acts as a celebration of Linklater’s love of rock music, a theme that would also play a big part in films like School of Rock and Dazed and Confused. “Woodshock” is clearly a play on the famously influential Woodstock Music Festival of 1969 and the infamously violent Woodstock Music Festival of 1999. The 1985 Wookshock Music Festival had a long list of performers such as Daniel Johnston as well as huge list of bands I’ve never heard of because I’m not nearly as knowledgeable about music as I’d like to be.

The end credits list “Woodshock” as a “film attempt” by Linklater and collaborator Lee Daniel. This might be a pretty apt description. As cool as it is to see a young Daniel Johnston, a man who would later go on to influence musicians like Kurt Cobain, peddle his album to the camera, the film doesn’t have a lot of direction. Many of the good documentary films have a sort of narrative that accompanies the documentation. “Woodshock”, on the other hand, focuses purely on documenting the feel of the festival, which gives the film a kind of rebellious attitude that works well with it’s source material, but doesn’t really tell a story. What we get is a documentary that operates more like a home video or Trails commercial (a piece of advertising any Arizonan who’s stayed up till 3 am watching episodes of Cheaters is familiar with).

Still, this style of filmmaking is not unlike Linklater’s Slacker, the low budget feature that basically started his career. Just as in Slacker, the camera in “Woodshock” jumps from person to person, begging for interesting material like a dog at a barbeque. In Slacker, it was used with more storytelling application, giving the illusion of a bystander following the everyday lives of a group of young Austinites. I can’t help but think that Linklater’s experience shooting “Woodshock” allowed him to pinpoint exactly how he wanted to shoot Slacker. It acts as another example of how a director’s early films can be built upon to produce a defining piece of work.

My Five Favorite Indie Films of 2014

The Skeleton Twins

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When The Skeleton Twins was first announced, I knew it was the type of film I just had to see. I’ve already written about how I feel this new era of comedians are knocking it out of the park in their indie film roles. Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader are probably the best thing to come out SNL’s last generation of comedians, so I didn’t see how this film could disappoint. Thankfully I was right.

The Skeleton Twins manages to be light-hearted yet emotion heavy at he same time. Both Wiig and Hader manage to bring levity to roles that also demand them to be deeply troubled. What results is a truly entertaining film that also manages to tackle serious themes like depression and sexual abuse.

The film is about two twins (go figure) whose crippling depression has them feeling trapped. Both attempt to seek happiness in what they believe are ideal relationships with others. The film is heavy on irony as the two estranged twins must connect again to heal, but are the most critical of each others’ plights.

 

Frank

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Frank is not only a fantastic film, but also has one of the best performances of all time from an actor in full headgear.

Frank is a film about a mysterious bandleader who refuses to be seen unless he is wearing a giant plastic head. Despite the lack of facial expressions, Michael Fassbender still manages to produce one of the best performances of the year in my opinion.

At face value, Frank seems to be one of those indie films that are heavy on the quirk. But unlike films from Wes Anderson or Tim Burton, Frank’s quirkiness doesn’t come off as affected. In fact, only the title character and his band really ever come off as eccentric. The rest of the world around along with the people they encounter couldn’t be any more average.

Underneath the mask, Frank is a film that explores the origins of creativity; asking the audience if true talent is learned or inherent within a select few lucky individuals.

 

Snowpiercer

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Snowpiercer is one of those films that seemed misleading based on the poster. It was easy to assume that this film was going to be a big budget action film. Chris Evans just came off the success of Captain America: Winter Soldier and the poster, an image of Evans looking all heroic-like in a top coat and holding an axe, looked like it was your common action fare. Even the title of the film, Snowpiercer, hints to images of a warrior crashing through an iceberg armed only with a spear.

The truth is, Snowpiercer was probably one of the most original sci-fi concepts since The Matrix. In it, Evans plays a passenger on an eternally running locomotive which happens to be the last safe haven for humanity in a world torn apart by climate change. The passengers have been placed into an oppressive caste system where the stowaways are forced into barely livable conditions, constantly under surveillance, while the rest of the passengers are given the four star treatment. Evans is a member of this lowest caste and leads a rebellion to infiltrate the front of the train.

Snowpiecer plays like the combination of a George Orwell novel and a twisted version of Thomas the Tank Engine. The cinematography is very similar films like 12 Monkeys and The City of Lost Children. But unlike those other films set in apocalyptic settings, Snowpiercer combines a tongue in cheek aspects to its dark atmosphere. For instance, Tilda Swindon fantastically plays a cold-hearted official with such over the top oppressive idealism its hard to take the film too seriously.

 

Obvious Child

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It was tough for me to decide whether this or my next choice would take the number one spot.

Obvious Child takes a modern and honest look at abortion, one that differs from how film has dealt with the subject in the past. Obvious Child discusses the difficulties faced with choosing to have an abortion (eg. how to break it to your parents, whether to discuss it with a one night stand, etc.) rather than assume every woman becomes riddled with guilt or must face huge social backlash.

I’ve already gushed on Jenny Slate in the past and I suppose there’s no reason to stop now. Although Obvious Child is a rom-com at heart, she brings a complexity that you rarely see from a main character within the genre. I’ve always felt that the conflicts in most rom-coms oftentimes feel fabricated, but Slate’s character tackles her problems in an honest way that I feel many can relate to.

 

The Babadook

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The Babadook takes top prize as my favorite indie film of 2014. The plot isn’t that different from your common family tormented by a supernatural force, but how it uses it to address issues of depression and resentment is truly unique.

The Babadook is a film out of Australia, I suppose you could put his in the foreign film category, but the filmmakers went out of their way to make the suburbs that the film takes place in look like Anywhereville. No Koalas or Kangaroos. Even some of the characters in the film lack Aussie accents.

The cinematography and special effects are purposely lo-fi but well done, giving the film a look that can only be described as an incredibly dark version of Maurice Sendak children’s book. The film is also similar to one of my favorite films of this year, Oculus, in that it doesn’t rely on gore or jump out of your seat effects, but true suspense to produce scares much like The Shining did years ago.

If you’re a fan of horror, you should love The Babadook for its fresh and smart take on the classic haunted house film.

 

Honorable Mention:

 

Tusk

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This almost got an honorable mention because truthfully I found it to be a hard watch. I’ve never been a huge fan of horror films like Human Centipede that are heavy on the mutilation factor, but I feel I had to include Tusk because I believe Kevin Smith did something truly remarkable in marketing the film. It’s my personal belief that filmmaking doesn’t end with the final cut. In my opinion, the marketing of a film is just as important as shooting or editing. If a filmmaker truly has something he wishes to share with the world, then he’s not going to get very far if he doesn’t have an audience.

Smith got the idea from an ad he found and discussed on one of his podcasts. From there he took to social media and marketed the shit out of Tusk, first starting by asking his audience if Tusk was something they even had an interest in seeing by voting on Twitter. Rather than spending money on more traditional methods of marketing, he trusted his audience to spread the word over social media. Furthermore, the ad he originally got the idea from turned out to be a hoax. As a result, Smith gave the hoaxer an Associate Producer credit for giving him the idea.

In the end, Tusk is a film that was given life from an audience clamoring to see a horror film from the director that brought you Chasing Amy and Clerks. At an estimated $3 million budget, the film wasn’t exactly a success, credit has to be given to Smith for taking to social media and marketing the film from start to finish. Whether you like the film or not, Smith’s trust in his audience allowed him to make the film he wanted without any outside influence. I don’t know if you can get any more independent than that.

FOCUS ON FILMMAKERS: CODY EVERETT

 

For my first interview I really wanted to cover someone I felt really embodied the type of filmmaker I want to speak to. Someone who’s just starting his film career, but knows exactly what direction he’s headed. I couldn’t have asked for a more representative and entertaining subject than Cody Everett.

His directorial debut, “The Greatest Lie Ever Told“, which he also wrote, premiered at this year’s Phoenix Comicon. It was also an official selection at the 2014 Jerome Film Festival.  He was also a producer on the short horror film Dust Jacket.

You can watch “The Greatest Lie Ever Told” on YouTube or make your life easy and click play on the embedded video above.

Friendly Neighborhood Filmmaking: Why did you get into film?

Cody Everett: That’s actually a really good question, because I never really thought about why I did it, I just always wanted to do it. I mean, part of the reason was to prove that I could, to the group of people I make movies with. That was the [biggest] part of it, to say, “No look, I can do it too,” because I didn’t think I was taken seriously. That was the main reason. I’ve always enjoyed movies from an early age. It’s fun for me to do. I love working on a set. At first, I wanted to be an actor in high school. Then I wanted to learn both sides and I just kind of gravitated more towards telling people how to act, because I was better at picking out shitty acting than I was at acting.

[A smile creeps across his face]

I wouldn’t mind being, what’s his name, Renny Harlin.

FNF: Who?

CE: The guy who’s directed everything. He directed Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger. Also one of the Exorcist sequels, one of the newer ones. This guy, he did one action movie and people were like, “Fuck it, he can do it. He does everything!” He did a horror movie and now he’s doing all this other shit, but no one knows it’s him because he’s not a great director, but he works.

FNF: Are you saying Harlan’s an influence or just, “Well, if he can do it…”

CE: It’s kind of both. [laughs] I mean, [Hollywood] will throw anything at him. He’s made a career at making mediocre movies. His claim to fame is he made the worst Die Hard.

FNF: I wouldn’t say that, have you seen the new one? With the son?

CE:   True.

FNF: Unfortunately, that guy had to wait twenty years for Hollywood to make a worse Die Hard than number two.

CE: You know Renny Harlan was just sitting there, hands clenched, saying, “Please suck.”

FNF: Well, other than Renny Harlin, did you have any other influences?

CE: I’m mostly influenced by comedy. My mom was really into old movies. I grew up with Jerry Lewis, the Three Stooges, The Carol Burnett Show, but also Dean Martin, straight men like that. I’ve always like over the top physical comedy. That’s where my humor started.   I found humor as a way to deal with things and situations in life. If you can make a shitty situation in life funny, it doesn’t seem so shitty. I feel I went through some weird film stages, but also some of the same film stages as everyone else. As a kid I was always drawn toward the darker, macabre stuff. It started out with what I call Baby Macabre, Tim Burton stuff, but then I started watching Troma stuff, which is weird because Troma had always been in my life.

FNF: Yeah?

CE: Yeah, I remember my dad taking me to the grocery store, back when you would rent movies from the grocery store, and they had me pick out a movie. Toxic Avenger had a cartoon on at the time and they let me rent Toxic Avenger 3, the one where he fights Satan. I got that one, where he knocks Satan’s head off, there are tits in it, all this crazy stuff. Total B movie. I watched it by myself, because [my parents] thought it was a kid’s movie. They just popped it in, like it was the babysitter. I watch that movie still to this day, and it’s like, “A kid should not be watching this!” I was eight years old. It’s weird, [Troma] was my phase through high school as well. I got into the kind of grunge way of filmmaking by watching those movies. [Troma] kind of said, “Alright, well make your own damn movie.” I would read or watch whatever I could from Troma. A few are some of the worst movies you’ll ever see, but I like a lot of terrible movies. There are people that will think certain movies are just god-awful and I’ll love them. I want to be the Uwe Boll of America.

FNF: Really?

No, I’m kidding, I want to be Renny Harlin. [laughs]

FNF: Tell me about the first film you worked on. “Return of Mothra”?

CE: Yeah, “Return of Mothra” was a high school film. It was a remake with Chris Wilembrect. The story was pretty cohesive. We had this moth we made in ceramics class and we had it attacking this Matchbox car. It was stupid, but we put it into the Phoenix Film Festival. It was just this stupid comedy, but we got a letter back saying “Return of Mothra” got in.

FNF: What year was this?

CE: 2003.

FNF: So you were, what, seventeen, eighteen?

CE: Yeah, something like that.

FNF: Wow, and you got a film into a film festival. What was that experience like?

CE: It was weird. It was the high school portion of it, so no one gave a shit, but I met Brian O’Halloran there from Clerks who was amazingly nice. John Waters was also there, who Chris was a big fan of, so that was the big thing to do. We have to go see John Waters!

FNF: So why did you pick “The Greatest Lie Ever Told”? What spoke to you about this film made you decide to make it your directorial debut?

CE: My goal was not to be a director. I didn’t feel I was that far advanced yet. I was trying to find a way to get respect from the group of people I work with. I felt I had to do something, so they could say, “Ok, he’s done it before. I’ll listen to him.” I mean, just because someone hasn’t done something before doesn’t mean their ideas are bad.

FNF: Agreed.

CE: Eventually I decided [directing] would make me a better producer, which is what I really wanted to be. So I was thinking, “What can I do that’s kind of easy?” I see everybody do these overcomplicated short films. I just wanted to do something easy, to show these guys I could do it. I was going to write this story about a father that shows up on his son’s doorstep. The son hasn’t seen him in years, but the father is expecting him to take him in. I was going to try and make it a comedy…

FNF: That’s pretty heavy for a comedy.

CE: [laughs] Yeah. So I did this Google search, like, “Ten Things A Drunk Father Would Say” and what came up was a list of things not to do in front of your significant other and I said, “That’s a movie.” I don’t why that clicked with me, but I knew that was the movie. It just fit perfectly. It was easy. I could shoot it at my friend’s house. I had to get a restaurant, but it was [just] two locations. My goal was to make, what I consider, a commercial film. A commercial comedy that you would go and see Seth Rogen in at Harkins, but do it in five minutes, and I did that. I know I did that.

FNF: So since this was your first time on set as a director, what was that like?

CE: I felt a little nervous with the time restraint. The first half of the night, the restaurant shoot, I bullshitted my way through that just trying to figure out what my style would be. What am I going to say to the actors? What do I want them to say? Kind of figuring all that out. Once I got through that portion of it, it was pretty easy going from there. Having fun was important, but also knowing when to work was important and having a great crew was important. I had all that, so it wasn’t hard.   But, if you ask the crew, they’ll probably tell you it was the best catering they ever had.

FNF: Do you feel there was any mistakes that, if you could do it again, you would’ve rectified?

CE: Oh yeah. Taking time, not rushing so much. Being quicker on reshoots. Time restraints, learning not to try and shoot everything in one night so you can get the best out of your actors, so they’re not so tired and ready to kill themselves. But also getting them tired and ready to kill themselves is great for some [scenes].  The editing process was a huge learning experience. We had three or four final cuts of that film. Also, how important it is to have good makeup people, because they saved our ass a lot on that movie.  I feel it was more experience stuff and feel of things, rather than, “Oh hey, I learned this real technical shot. Learned this perfect angle.” I really hadn’t learned any of that stuff, but the feel of a set, how to run a set, getting a feel for the actors, yeah. Were there a lot of things I’d change? Yeah, but I didn’t have the budget.

FNF: Are there any tips you’d like to give to any other first time filmmakers?

CE: Tons. First, be like Renny Harlin. Set yourself to a mediocre level, but crush that mediocre level. [laughs]

No, there is one problem I’ve noticed with short films. Everyone tries to be a superstar on their first short film. Look, if you’re independent you probably don’t have the budget. You’re probably not going to have [the best] script because you can’t afford a great scriptwriter writing it for you. Simple can be hard to do, but there’s a reason simple is hard to do, because it’s probably going to be your best shit.   Sometimes I see films and say, “Man, if you hadn’t tried so hard [to capture something big], you would’ve knocked it out of the park.”

FNF: Exactly, I just covered a filmmaker that said something very similar. That there are many beginning filmmakers that try to capture a big idea they know nothing about.

CE: Right.

FNF: Like someone doing a film about being fifty when they’re twenty-one. What can you know about that?

CE: Exactly. What do I know about being thirty? Everything in my film is somewhat grounded in reality. Yes, one day you’ll have to take a drunk girl home who’ll just ruin your whole day. That will happen. It’s all very relatable stuff. That’s what I mean when I say it’s a mainstream comedy. Then again, you’re always going to get that guy that says, “Oh, film is not meant for dick and fart jokes.” Fuck that, it’s meant to make somebody feel something. I mean, one of the biggest genres is comedy. When the market crashed, people went to the movies because life sucked so bad. Personally I didn’t go and see Twelve Years a Slave. Why, because sometimes I don’t feel like going to the movies and crying my eyes out because white people are so terrible. Don’t get me wrong there’s a place for that shit, but it’s not my shit.

Are Comedians the New Indie Actors?

Kristen Wiig, Steve Carell, Rashida Jones, Will Forte, Adam Scott. You probably recognize these actors from SNL or other prime time comedy shows like Parks and Recreation or The Office. Although these comedians are most known for their roles in some of the most popular comedy shows on TV, what are they up to when those shows are off-season? Some of you might be saying, “Uh, big comedy movies, like Anchorman 2 and wasn’t Adam Scott in that Walter Mitty movie where Ben Stiller skateboards cross-country with a really tan Sean Penn or something? Oh, and wasn’t Rashida Jones in, like, eight romantic comedies with Paul Rudd…”. Well, yeah, ok, a lot of the films these actors have been in are big time Hollywood comedies, but dammit this blog is about indie filmmaking (most times) so we’re going to stick to that theme. Plus, a little searching and you’ll find that these actors aren’t all chuckles and laughs for big paychecks.

I recently came across a great film starring Adam Scott called The Vicious Kind.   In it, Scott plays a character far removed from his lovable, geeky, tabletop game playing character from Parks and Rec. Instead, we find a fast-talking, depressed asshole, brilliantly played with a seething anger, which makes you love and hate him all at the same time. Although I have always respected Scott’s acting ability from Parks and the Starz original show Party Down, this was a complete departure from these roles.

Adam Scott's other talent?  Wearing a suit like a champ.

Adam Scott’s other talent? Wearing a suit like a champ.

This caused me to look up other films similar to The Vicious Kind courtesy of Netflix’s surprisingly reliable aggregate system. This led me to Take this Waltz a drama about infidelity where Seth Rogen plays a husband whose wife cheats on him. Although there are some comedic moments in his performance, he mostly plays it straight as a man unable to communicate to his wife that their marriage may be in turmoil.   Sarah Silverman is also in this film as a recovering alcoholic who has a scene-stealing moment towards the end of the film. Just like Rogen there are moments of comedy in her performance, but for the most part she plays the part of a women struggling with addiction, conscious of the risk of self-destruction.

Any of you who may have seen Celeste and Jesse Forever may have seen Rashida Jones play opposite Andy Samburg in this dramedy about two people who break up and attempt to continue their friendship.  Through most of the film, Jones plays Celeste with a underplayed sadness at learning that Jesse has moved on and found someone new.  Not only does Jones bring a more dramatic performance than we are used to seeing her in, but she also co-wrote the film.

The most notable example of this new trend I feel has to be that of Will Forte. Everyone probably remembers him as an SNL regular for a decade, but his recent work in last year’s Alexander Payne directed film Nebraska earned him an Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Actor. Nebraska is a fantastic drama made all the better by Forte’s performance as a son trying to reconnect with his ailing father played by the incomparable Bruce Dern.

Bruce Dern looks absolutely fantastic for 78.

Bruce Dern looks absolutely fantastic for 78.

Perhaps it’s the fact that a lot of these actors come cheaper, but possess their own fan base from their respective comedic roles. I don’t think there is much argument that TV is in a sort of Golden Age. Many popular shows command the same amount of production value as some Hollywood pictures nowadays.  As a result, more people are becoming TVaphiles and many of the shows we see on the small screen have huge followings. You may remember that while back in the day popular comedians from SNL would immediately move into long-lasting film careers, shows like 30 Rock, Parks and Rec and Brooklyn 99 have shown us that many are now flocking to TV to further their careers. The combination of these two points could certainly account for the demand to fill independent movies with these types of actors. Not only are you getting actors equipped with an already large fan base, but also as many of these indie films have shown us, these comedians have the chops to take on more dramatic roles.

Personally as a fan of sketch comedy shows like SNL and standup comedy in general, I hope to see this trend continue. Nothing entertains me more than seeing an actor or comedian play against type and surprise me with hidden talent that they may otherwise not get to showcase in their respective fortes.

5 Indie Films Masquerading as Big Hollywood Productions

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.

Red Tails

Red Tails

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.

District 9

District 9

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.

The Terminator

Terminator-indie-film

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)

TMNT-indie-film

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.