Indie Film

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


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.