AFI Indie Contenders Roundtable Recap by Ashley Menzel
In perhaps one of the most interesting panels, writer/director Ramin Bahrani (99 HOMES), actress Blythe Danner (I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS), actress Saoirse Ronan (BROOKLYN), actor Jason Segel (THE END OF THE TOUR), actress Sarah Silverman (I SMILE BACK), actress Lily Tomlin (GRANDMA) and actress Olivia Wilde (MEADOWLAND) discuss independent cinema and their experiences working in the industry. The panel tackled interesting challenges and problems when creating independent films in today’s climate.
Regarding indie film and the difference between big budget films and indies, Jason Segel says “the criteria for success is different when you do a big budget comedy and you know its money making in mind.” In contrast, he says in indie films, “the idea is that you move somebody.” He says that he in a sense grows with what roles he has had. “Sarah Marshall was reflective of who I was at 24 and [End of Tour] is more reflective of where I am at 34.”
Olivia Wilde offered some great insight into funding and gender inequality in finding funding for independent films. With a female cast and director, they were having trouble finding funding and it was “not hard to assume that it had something to do with gender” because “once we had the male lead, it all started coming together.” This is why these types of conversations are so important for audiences to hear so that we are more aware and can pressure studios and support even more independent female cinema.
The great thing about independent cinema is that the fans are more passionate and are real lovers of film. Jason Segel made a great observation about the evolution of indie films and that it is “what going to the theater used to be.” Going to an independent film has turned into going to the film and then getting coffee and discussing it. Another evolution noted was the stigma of a VOD (Video On Demand) release. Olivia Wilde says that VOD had lost some of the stigma and that it provides a wonderful opportunity to get indies to people who don’t live near any theaters that would show them. What Ramin Bahrani says regarding the struggles of indie cinema is that “independent filmmakers should lie, cheat and steal,” for their craft. They need to ignore the industry and make the film that they really want to make.
The veteran actors on the stage were delightful. When asked what she thought of the industry, Lily Tomlin responds with “I don’t pay much attention to the industry because the industry doesn’t pay much attention to me.” Both Tomlin and Danner offered a perspective that is unique, having been in the industry so long. They have a great appreciation for their opportunities and work but care little for the other aspects and drama. Regarding how much they are paid for indies, Tomlin said that “you want more money for the studio pic for the hell you go through.”
It is abundantly clear that all present for this panel express a love for their craft and comradery of independent cinema. Saorise Ronan sums up what is beautiful about independent cinema best when she said, “everyone is only in it for the work. There is a real authenticity to it.” Sarah Silverman added something interesting from the perspective of an actor in an independent film and she says that it is “really rare when someone can imagine you in a way in which you haven’t been seen.” There is something to be said of the filmmakers that can do that.
We can only hope that the artists present for this panel continue to make these beautiful films that deliver to the audience, stories reflective of life and that are unapologetically real.