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The Blockbuster is Back – Will Indies Survive?

Tangerine Sean Baker
Magnolia Pictures

The pandemic can’t kill blockbusters. Nothing will dull America’s love of explosions, gunfire, and general sensory overload. “Aquaman 2,” “John Wick 4,” and “Knives Out 2” all recently wrapped production, which serves as a pretty comforting sign for the exhibition industry: blockbusters are back bigger than ever.

But what about the pacifists, the underdogs, and the verbal jousters? Will independent films survive in the post-pandemic era? David Lynch is worried.

In recent years, Lynch has pointed out that television may be the new platform for what was traditionally considered “arthouse.” While he was disappointed with the smaller screen and lower sound quality, he conceded that unique, experimental content may be more suited for television. He cited that theaters seem to be filled with action tentpoles and blockbusters, while independent films hardly get a week on-screen, during which they are projected in the smallest theater.

Furthermore, while it is relatively easy for companies like Disney and Warner Bros. to bounce back from the pandemic — with their constant streaming revenue throughout it — smaller production companies and independent creators will certainly have a harder time recovering. Indie-lovers fear not, however, for there is good news as well.

Despite these obstacles, there have also been promising developments for independent filmmakers. Filmmaking is becoming cheaper every day. With the rapidly improving digital camera technology, cheap equipment, and user-friendly software, filmmaking has become a more accessible art form than ever.

Sean Baker filmed “Tangerine” on an iPhone 5s, which went on to receive universal acclaim. Filmmakers like Jim Cummings have made waves in the industry by crowd-funding high-quality films without bending over for Hollywood executives. The most recent Best Picture winner, “Nomadland,” had a budget of five million dollars — by no means a blockbuster.

While blockbusters may be the favorites of the general public, and the greatest moneymakers for mega-corporations, there is hope yet for independent filmmakers. In fact, with kids all over the world making films on their phones as early as elementary school, we may be on the brink of a new age of independent film — an age where Hollywood is not simply dominated by the rich. It may be a slow comeback from the pandemic, but cream eventually rises to the top.

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