This week brought us the Gotham Award nominations, which means awards season has finally begun. And here on the West Coast (where awards season is valued more than family and brunch), we are preparing for this weekend’s Film Independent Forum, where we’ll be staking out a spot to meet with filmmakers, hear keynote speeches from awesome folk like Tim League (see below) and Jill Soloway, and see a good movie or two while we’re at it (Nightcrawler is the opening film, so we’re ready to be thoroughly unsettled by Jake Gyllenhaal for a while). If we don’t see you there, we’ll assume it’s because you’re catching up on the best film-related reads from the week…
It wouldn’t be October without a few good scary movies to get you through the drought autumn. Whether you prefer haunted houses, cursed dolls, or emo vampires, chances are your favorite horror film owes a debt of gratitude to independent film. For years, Horror (and its sub-genres) has been the place for low-budget indies to break through and become massive successes, both financially and culturally. But in case you’re not well-versed in indie horror, we’ve compiled a list of the most influential independent horror movies since the dawn of man. Welcome to Indie Horror 101…
Nearly a decade before Universal Pictures got in on the vampire game with their classic Dracula adaptation, German independent filmmaker F.W. Murnau made his own bootleg Dracula, changing enough of Bram Stoker’s novel to pass it off as original (it didn’t work – Stoker’s estate successfully sued the filmmakers and the production company never made another film again). But if blood-sucking is your thing, you can’t get creepier than Nosferatu‘s Count Orlok. Dude came around before the invention of sound, and he’s still way scarier than any movie monster CGI could come up with today.
Not the world’s first zombie movie, but definitely the world’s most important zombie movie. George A. Romero created an empire (he’s still making sequels!) from this inexpensive hit, employing cheap-but-effective special effects makeup and using controversy to its advantage (Variety called the movie an “unrelieved orgy of sadism”). The Walking Dead may be breaking records as the most-watched show on cable, but none of it would have been possible without Romero’s DIY zombie flick.
Nope, not the one where Steve Martin sings about being a dentist. This Roger Corman cult classic was filmed over 2 days for about $30,000 and co-starred a then-unknown Jack Nicholson. The story about a man-eating plant was too ridiculous to be truly scary, so the filmmakers amped up the humor, proving that you can laugh while watching people get murdered and not feel bad about it.
Yes, John Carpenter‘s Halloween gets much of the (well-deserved) credit for launching the slasher movie into a full-on phenomenon (and becoming one of the most successful indies of its day). But four years before Michael Myers stalked Jamie Lee Curtis, this little indie out of Canada featured a deranged killer targeting a house full of sorority gals (including Lois Lane and Juliet) – and on Jesus’s birthday, no less! While not as iconic as Carpenter’s masterpiece, Black Christmas will still make you yell at the girls on your TV screen for going into dark rooms to explore strange noises. And what’s more fun than that?
Whether you call it a “Splatter Film,” “Torture Porn,” or good old fashioned “Gore Fest,” the mother of them all is Tobe Hooper‘s low-budget indie about a man from the Lone Star State who is covered in skin — other peoples’ skin. With elements of the slasher genre (including Marilyn Burns as the “final girl”), Texas Chainsaw drew outrage upon release for its disturbing violence. The film was banned in parts of Canada, and theatergoers in San Francisco reportedly walked out in disgust (yes, people in SAN FRANCISCO in the SEVENTIES thought the film was a little much). But like any good cult film, it eventually caught on and continues to be one of the most famous horror movies of our time.
A list of influential horror films wouldn’t be complete without Sam Raimi‘s ultra-indie Evil Dead – the quintessential “cabin in the woods” movie. The $90,000 budget provided for a tumultuous production in the Tennessee wilderness, but Raimi’s distinct visual style quickly put him on the map, and deadly camping trips would become a Halloween staple for years to come.
Found footage movies are a little played out now, sure, but think back to when Blair Witch was first released and the “is it real?” frenzy that ensued. One of the best marketing campaigns in history helped usher in a new renaissance of docu-style (read: super duper inexpensive) horror films that could shoot on mini-DV, edit on a laptop, and make a hundred million dollars in the theaters. Who would’ve thought all that success could stem from a shot of an unknown actress snot-crying in extreme close-up?
This week saw the unfortunate passing of two actresses who never really got their due: Elizabeth Peña and Misty Upham (for great examples of their talents, go ahead and watch Lone Star and Frozen River, respectively). In lighter news, there was buzz on the media landscape with HBO’s announcement that they’ll be launching a standalone streaming service for the kids who hate cable bills (and are tired of using their parents’ HBO Go passwords, presumably). Your move, Cinemax.
In case you missed it, this week we had ourselves a Low-Budget Contract Workshop (no worries, you can join us for next month’s workshop!). Other than that, the most important news of the week is ebolaTwin PeaksISIS that Newsweek did a story about fart jokes. Seriously.
Good Reads for the week of October 6, 2014
The History of the Fart Joke (via Gogo Lidz for Newsweek)
From The Marx Brothers to Blazing Saddles, this journalistic institution goes deep on everyone’s secret giggle-inducer.
With a new month kicking off this week, SAGindie (along with a number of other sites, including our pals at Indiewire and Film Independent) recommended some must-see movies for October. While we obviously feel that our own list is the best, most comprehensive, unquestionable collection of films you’ll ever want to see (let the fighting begin in the comments section), there was some noticeable overlap on a few titles. The basic consensus is that the top picks across the board are: Birdman, Dear White People, Force Majeure, Listen Up Philip, The Overnighters, and Whiplash. So shoot those ones to the top of your list. But this week wasn’t all about movies-of-the-very-near-future. Take a look at the other film-related stories to hit the web this week.
More Good Reads for the week of September 29, 2014
It would make sense for October to be chock-full of horror movies, thrillers, and supernatural spectacles, and you can probably find a good movie to frighten you this month. But October also looks to be the month of the splashy indie, with a number of buzzy Sundance/Venice/Toronto Film Festival releases finally hitting the market. We wouldn’t be surprised if the entire roster of next year’s Independent Spirit Award nominees are from October 2014. ‘Til then, take a look at the movies the SAGindie staff is most excited for.
OK, I’ll admit it. I. Cannot. Wait. For John Wick. Keanu Reeves in the genre of “man with a certain set of skills” just looks sexy and violent – and I should probably go back to therapy cuz I’m loving it. Heck, I love all of the “man with… skills” movies. I loved Taken (1), The Equalizer, The Grey (meh). So I’m glad that this one is coming out before I can be so saturated with this theme that I begin to hate them before I even see the trailer. There are others that I am interested in, i.e. Gone Girl (I didn’t read the book but it’s already been spoiled for me. I hate people!) and Fury. But there’s also The Judge and Birdman that are supposed to be great. I’ll wait for more reviews, etc.
I Am Ali – a documentary about the greatest athlete of the greatest sport, alright SOLD. Force Majeure – because I get it. I’d sooner notice my phone was gone than my legs. Whiplash – Hey Miles, call me!
Along with all the other obedient Oprah Book Club members, I will be first in line for Gone Girl because I love most anything David Fincher touches (yes, maybe I even teared up a little during Benjamin Button. Maybe.) I’m also very excited for Dear White People because we’re overdue for a good social satire (plus their marketing has been on-point). Nightcrawler looks absolutely batshit crazy, which has me 100% interested (I already saw Birdman and will likely need to ingest all of that wonderful craziness again). And I’m ready for Whiplash to give us the antidote to all the “inspiring teacher” movies from the past three decades. Role models and impassioned speeches about seizing the day? No thanks. Give me emotional abuse and jazz!
Birdman, which is surprisingly NOT a Marvel one-off, is one of the few films on my must-see list for the end of this year and it should be on yours as well. The dark comedy will surely showcase a stronger display of both character development and dramatic tension than any Marvel movie, and between Keaton’s return as a leading man and Iñárritu’s stunning directorial prowess it’s basically guaranteed to make the $16 ArcLight ticket worth it.
But… what would October be without a good scare-the-pants-off-you, make-you-double-check-dark-corners, horror flick as well? So it’s my great hope that A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night finds its way into theaters in time for Halloween. Highlighted at Sundance’s NEXT Fest this year, the film is an Iranian vampire western which according to Sundance, “combine[s] the simmering tension of Sergio Leone with the weird surrealism of David Lynch.” — I didn’t even know I had been searching my whole life for a Fistful of Dollars, Twin Peaks, Let the Right One In mashup until I read that sentence, but I’m ready for it. I also love supporting women in cinema, and this film has me covered; between writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour and female lead Sheila Vand, I’m ready for my daily dose of admiration. The teaser is sure to give you some chills, it worked for me. Let’s get spooky.
WHAT MOVIES ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO SEEING THIS OCTOBER?
If you’re an independent filmmaker or know of an independent film-related topic we should write about, email email@example.com for consideration.
It’s been a promising week for diversity on TV. While ABC was premiering new shows like Black-ish and How to Get Away with Murder, the new media world saw the launch of Issa Rae’s ColorCreativeTV and the Amazon Original Series Transparent. Hopefully these new ventures will launch even more stories about folks that look a little less like the Friends cast (which also got a lotoflove this week on the 20th Anniversary of its premiere).
More Good Reads for the week of September 22, 2014
What’s Behind the Rise of Transgender TV (via Natalie Jarvey for The Hollywood Reporter)
In the wake of Transparent and Orange is the New Black MTV, HBO, and AOL add trans-themed programming to their schedules.
It’s Still the Era of White Television (via Kellie Carter Jackson for The Atlantic)
Before we start celebrating that TV’s diversity problems are solved, there’s still a lot of work to be done.
This week, SAGindie co-sponsored a special screening of three comedy pilots from Issa Rae Productions’ Color Creative. This new venture from Issa Rae and Deniese Davis produces TV pilots from underrepresented writers, shepherding these projects from development through production and release.
ColorCreative.TV launches today, where you can watch each of the three pilots: Bleach (written by Shawn Boxe and directed by Victoria Mahoney); Words With Girls (written by Brittani Nichols and directed by Tessa Blake); and So Jaded (written by Syreeta Singleton and directed by Daven Baptiste). And if you’re a female writer or writer of color, you can inquire about submitting for the next development process (which will focus on drama pilots).
Today Indiewire published an in-depth story that goes behind-the-scenes at Issa Rae Productions and looks at the process of launching Color Creative, and the struggle to increase opportunities for diverse voices in the TV industry. You’ll definitely want to check out the story, watch the pilots, and support this new endeavor. Get on board now, because it’s only a matter of time before Issa Rae takes over the world.
This week, a large bulk of the independent film world was occupied with IFP Independent Film Week in New York. And there was a lot of good stuff happening there (including an appearance by SAGindie’s own Darrien Gipson). Luckily for those of us that couldn’t attend, we’ll kick off this week’s must-reads with Indiewire‘s recap of the event, which you can read here. Boom, consider yourself educated.
More Good Reads for the week of September 15, 2014
SAGindie was lucky enough to attend the premiere of the new Amazon Original Series TRANSPARENT at the Ace Hotel Los Angeles, where we got a chance to talk to some of the stars of the show. (Be sure to read our previous interview with Transparent creator and all-around awesome lady JILL SOLOWAY). All 10 episodes of Transparent will release on Amazon Prime on September 26, which happens to be Soloway’s birthday. So what will she be doing to celebrate? “Staying away from social media,” she said. “I’ll try to be somewhere where my WiFi doesn’t work, so I can remain calm and let the show find its audience without freaking out.”
Before Soloway introduced the show’s first two episodes to the packed (and enthusiastically vocal!) crowd, I channeled my best Giuliana Rancic and hit the red carpet to chat up some of the actors who attended.
We were on the set one day filming a scene for the pilot, and a whole bunch of [Amazon executives] came over to see us, and those of us who have been on network television said, “Oh dear God, now what? What’s happening?” And they just said, “Hey you guys, we just came over to see you because we love you so much! We just wanted to hang out!” What world does that happen in?… I really think the creativity that happens out of that connection and relationship makes all the difference in the world.
The thing about Amazon and streaming is you go from shooting to premiere to release within less than a month. That’s insane!… And then you just immediately start going [crosses her fingers], “When are they greenlighting season two?”
[Amazon feels like] the small indie studio world. A lot of support, a lot of love. They take care of you, but you’re still able to go out and do your thing and explore. It’s kind of the sweet spot to be in.
The great thing about Amazon right now is they’re hiring auteurs who write and direct, and they want a very personal vision. And they’re eager not to be your classic television studio in terms of how much they meddle. When I went to go make this pilot [for Really], I called them up and said, “Any last words?” And they said, “Take chances.”
I love putting my faith in someone else’s work, especially when it’s the work of Jill Soloway, who I think is very brilliant, has such a strong point of view, and is such a good storyteller. It was nice to let go and get out of my head a little bit. I think when you’re playing multiple roles and wearing multiple hats [on Portlandia], there’s an element of control that you can never quite let go of. But when you’re stepping into a role that someone else created for you, you can really let go and dive in.
I was so blown away by Jill’s film Afternoon Delight, and as soon as I watched it I literally got chills and I knew I wanted to work with this woman. She has a real vision and voice, and that’s what drew me in. I wanted to be a part of that vision and a part of that voice.
I’m going to quote my brother right now… “When you’re writing, producing, and directing, you’re raising a child to fruition; and when you’re an actor, you’re a drunk uncle who shows up at Christmas.” It’s really fun [to be an actor] when your writer/director/creator is Jill Soloway… You know you’re in good hands. That makes it really easy.
On the Transparent cast and crew…
We’re all nauseatingly in love with each other. It’s gross. [Laughs] I’m not as experienced as some of the other actors in the on-camera world, and they tell me that this [bond] is very very rare… I’m completely spoiled now. I won the lottery right out of the gate.
It was an amazing group with so much heart. As Jill says, [there's] a “feminine approach,” in other words a very all-inclusive, warm [feeling]. She made a speech at the last scene of the finale episode, saying, “Thank you all for being here and participating in this very important thing we’re doing… It’s making the world a safer place for transgender people and for LGBTQ people.” And she actually turned and directed it to all the background folks, and that was just like [puts her hand to her heart], that’s why I’m doing this show. This is the kind of person I want to work with, who really gets that we’re all here making something, and everyone is just as important as everybody else. It was a beautiful experience creatively and personally.