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By Doug Brunell | August 19, 2004

Here’s an interesting problem: How do you get the mainstream movie audience interested in independent films? I asked this to a group of five people whose favorite types of movies were “summer blockbusters,” “entertaining ones” and “anything I don’t have to read.” Yes, I do like to be tortured.

The stock answer I received was that indie films had to have more sex and violence in them to really be appealing. That in and of itself demonstrates how maligned independent films are in the public eye. The sex and violence in many independent films are above and beyond what is in the Hollywood mainstream. The only difference is the content.

It was also slightly disturbing that this group of five would cite “sex and violence” as a selling point for independent films. Oddly enough, when the group members talked about female actors, they only ever discussed how they looked and made no mention of acting ability. (I suggested they watch porn and was told they wanted something they could take their families to see.)

I figured the group’s reaction to independent films would be something like this. Independent films have always been misunderstood, as is to be expected when something like the Hollywood PR machine is in place. Sex and violence wasn’t a deep enough answer for me, though, and I didn’t think they were being totally honest. Then it struck me. I asked if any of them had watched an independent film.

None of them had, though one said he started to watch “Clerks” until he realized it was in black and white and then turned it off.

Not only is that depressing, it’s also slightly alarming for the future of indie films. In order for indie films to grow, they need fresh blood making them and seeing them. If these folks, who claimed to “love” movies, weren’t interested in seeing these films, I had to know why, and I wasn’t accepting the fact that they didn’t have enough sex and violence. I cited about a dozen indie films with more sex and violence than anything they had ever seen. The group’s new answers surprised me.

First, most of the group believed that independent films were “arty.” Then they told me they didn’t want stories they had to think about; they thought independent films were too deep and had too much talking. They also thought they “looked different” than the big budget movies, and that’s why they didn’t want to see them.

It took some doing, but I was able to explain that independent films were not always “arty.” They could be romantic comedies or action films. They could be horror movies with no plot, or they could be esoteric discussions on the meaning of life. When they seemed to get this, I asked them if they ever noticed that the summer blockbusters they saw all sort of felt the same, like you knew how the story was going to end, and you had seen the characters before but with different faces. They had, and they seemed to like that.

I don’t know why some people are wired this way. They enjoy watching the same thing over and over again. It’s comfortable, and they can be on autopilot for the ride. It’s like they stopped progressing at the age of five, though. Other people enjoy seeing something different. They are willing to take a chance on something new. It’s as if some people like to be challenged and others don’t.

“I don’t watch movies for deep thought,” one of the group told me. “I watch them to be entertained. I don’t mind seeing the same types of movies. At least that way I know what I’m paying for.”

I really couldn’t have said it any better. For some, movies are nothing but a commodity expected to deliver what they have always delivered before. Anything else is unacceptable. “I don’t watch movies for deep thought,” he said. I could tell. Boy, could I tell.

Discuss Doug Brunell’s “Excess Hollywood” column in Film Threat’s BACK TALK section! Click here>>>

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