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Issues in the Film Industry

Not so long ago, the film industry was a no-go zone for film directors with less than six-digit figures in their bank accounts. To make a movie in Hollywood was an extremely expensive undertaking. But due to narrative and aesthetic experimentation, there has been an introduction of low-budget quality movies into the market, otherwise called the independent film industry (Hatfield, 2003). As Emmanuel Levy rightly points out, the independent film industry has occasioned low-cost fresh movies that very much express the personal vision of the respective filmmakers. This essay attempts to look at how the independent film industry has benefited from aesthetic and narrative experimentation to be able to create sometimes daring movies that are incomprehensible to viewers but still can penetrate the mainstream film industry.

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The film She’s Gotta Has It, directed by Spike Lee will be used extensively to support the thesis. Later, a comparison between two different film industries – Hollywood and independent – would be made within the framework of production, distribution, and exhibition, or the commercial goals between the two film industries.

Part A: “She’s Gotta Have it” looked from an independent film making perspective

Today, it is an open-held secret that independent film directors can come up with independent films that deliver high quality but cost very little, contrary to Hollywood’s expensive film industry. The creation of an independent film was a costly and risky undertaking before the advent of digital technology (Hookway, 2006). But this has fundamentally changed since the innovation of technology for the casual development of films that can meet high production values while costing so little. One such film is She’s Gotta Have It by Spike Lee.

In She’s Gotta Have It, Spike Lee took the multiple roles of writing the script, directing, and starring. But to the amazement of many, the independent film released in 1986 turned out to be a big success. This was despite the film surviving on a shoe-string budget of $175,000. The film was produced in a 16 mm black-and-white film (Hookway, 2006). This negated the need to grade color, therefore, making the film cheaper. The film was made through Lee’s talent, persistence, and assistance from family and friends. But despite all the financial hurdles and presumed “small plot,” the film was able to net $8 million at the box office. This is no minor achievement considering the budget that went into creating the movie (Murphy, 2007).

The 1986 comedy-drama cinema features Tracy Camilla Johns, John Canada Terrell, and Tommy Redmond Hicks. Tracy plays the “She” that the movie refers to in its title; an intelligent, beautiful young nymphomaniac who also happens to be black. The narrative experimentation is witnessed in Tracy’s transforming her bed into a shrine of worship, full of ceremonial candles, that leaves the audience reeling with imagination (Murphy, 2007). Though Spike has succeeded in using his approach in filmmaking to encourage other young and enterprising filmmakers, the viewers of the film have witnessed difficulties in comprehending the real motives of the characters in the movie.

The aesthetic experimentation of the move is well revealed when Tracy juggles in between three suitors; the self-obsessed model, the well-meaning and polite Hicks, and the motor-mouthed immature bicycle messenger by the name of Lee (Murphy, 2007). Even though each of the men wants her for themselves, she refuses to commit to any of them preferring to cherish her freedom instead. Through aesthetic and narrative experimentation, the African American elements are best displayed. The popular film language is also displayed excellently through the experimentations. Just like individuals are at the center of a hip-hop revolution, the film was more than effective in placing the achievement of individual desires at the vanguard of the black liberation movement. Through the director, the movie was able to offer a universal nature to blackness (Hatfield, 2003).

The movie’s narrative experimentation is gotten from the pleasures and challenges of all the competing views that try to establish the real nature and character of Nola (Tracy Camilla Johns). The viewers are very much reluctant to accept Nola’s Voice in the film as authoritative, thereby igniting a major source of controversy of the sexist nature. In this respect, many movie critics have argued that the film’s success arose out of its ability to correlate the viewers’ desire for an independent and modern character like Nora (Morris, 2000). Through narrative experimentation, Nola as a character has been overly effective in portraying the stereotypes that continue to dodge African-American women. Using an expression of her modernity, the character can overcome the stereotypes.

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In the film, narrative experimentation is also employed when Nola idealizes having multiple sex partners to be at par with other men in the black-American community. This symbolizes her as a woman who is resisting the ideologies of a group or group mentality. The aesthetic experimentation that comes out is the perception that the character represented by Nora (Woman) is a sexual character that mustn’t belong to any man, and should never even wish to be under the rule of a man. Above all, the most revolutionary element in the film that has effectively represented the struggles experienced by women of African- American origin is Nora’s vocal mastery, which to a large extent represents the narrative experimentation of the film (Murphy, 2007).

The film, though shot in only 12 days in the summer of 1985 was able to usher in the American independent cinema movement through its excellent use of narrative and aesthetic experimentation. Before the movie, men and women of color were depicted as whores and pimps. Through a proper mastery of narrative experimentation, the Spike Lee’s film changed that picture and portrayed the black Americans as upscale and intelligent urbanites (Hatfield, 2003).

Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It has therefore been one of the classic low-budget films that have been effective in expressing the personal opinion of the author so well to a point of influencing the audience to think in the world view of the creator. Though some characters are hard to comprehend for the audience, the overall effect of the film has been overwhelming. This has all been made possible by aesthetic and narrative experimentation.

Part B: Comparison between two different film industries: Commercial goals of Hollywood and independent filmmakers

Technological advancements through the realm of independent and amateur filmmaking are casually bringing to the fore, a growing number of individuals interested in the production of low-budget cinemas that have the capability of matching or even surpassing big-budget studio films. To be more precise, independent films are wrestling for supremacy from the Hollywood premiered films.

To give a brief history, there were two groups of individuals with cameras at the turn of the century. The first group was the professionals who worked in Hollywood and developed large-scale, big-budget motion pictures that were viewed across the world. Since the professionals were supported by film-making equipment, they were able to produce quality movies. The second group of individuals was the movie consumers, armed with big and often bulky cameras, and made movies for leisure. For example, a father could film his son’s first bicycle ride. The film quality was often poor due to shaky perspective, poor lighting, among other factors. But due to the advent of digital technology, the consumer was able to create films that exceed or are at par with the traditionally recognized realm of professionals. This spelled the entry of independent filmmaking (Hookway, 2006).

The independent movie makers can now develop films that average moviegoers can take pride in attending and enjoying. This has given greater independence to viewers who are now able to view more films than what Hollywood was able to produce per year. Furthermore, independent filmmakers have given viewers more choice after the films generated from Hollywood lacked variety. According to available data, Hollywood has been concentrating on sequels and remakes, perhaps reinforcing the belief among viewers that big-name studios have lacked original ideas (Epand, 2008). To many, independent filmmaking has been welcomed warmly as the movies churned out of Hollywood continue to lack innovation and creativeness, thereby leaving the movie goers with the little incentive of going to the movies. This is one of the advantages in production that independent films have over Hollywood films.

However, there are major differences between the mainstream Hollywood film industry and the independent film industry in terms of commercial goals. This is so especially when it comes to the production, distribution, and exhibition of films. When it comes to film production, a Hollywood film is much more likely to cost more money owing to the production techniques, but in the end, has the same quality as an independent film. Let’s take the example of two movies produced by Hollywood and Independent filmmakers respectively. The Second Star Wars film, by the name of Revenge of the Sith, filmed using high-tech HD technology, and Sony HDC F950 technology cost a cool $115 million to be produced in Hollywood. An independent film by the name of Revelations utilized a high-quality MiniDV camera and ended up costing $ 20, 000. It is interesting to note that both films appear to be of the same quality and Revelations has received more viewers than Hollywood’s movies (Hookway, 2006).

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To maximize commercial returns, Hollywood filmmakers exploit recapitulation to the full in the hope of repeating or utilizing formulas of prediction (Morris, 2000). This explains Hollywood’s craze for sequels and follow-ups. The filmmakers in Hollywood want to do business in known territories. Film making, together with its marketing mechanisms in Hollywood has been accused of working to establish a wide forum of generic narrative recognition in middle-class romantic comedy, western, science, and social-realist drama films (Epand, 2008). This is not the case with independent film making which goes for original and unique ideas that are bound to satisfy the viewers’ thirst for entertainment. Besides differences in budgetary allocation, Hollywood and Independent films have noted differences in pre-production as well as post-production. In Hollywood films, a script must be written and edited. Most independent filmmakers hold auditions for their actors.

In a psycho-analytical context, Hollywood movies exhibit repetition compulsion- a tendency towards replication of ideas to strengthen the Marketing strategies utilized by Hollywood. For example, when a viewer pays a $5 ticket to view a Hollywood movie, he is more likely to have forethought of what would happen in the movie. The viewer will have a reliable and precise structure of value exchange that is categorically different from the less predictable outcomes and less specific expectations of independent films (“Film Industry,” 2008). This puts independent films at a distinct advantage. A Hollywood film would operate and deliver its erstwhile narrative interpretations within a very narrow realm of expectations. This is in sharp contrast to the independent films, which offer a marvelous and sometimes dreadful plot.

Unlike independent filmmaking, Hollywood’s film production is extremely hierarchical, with numerous divisions of power and rank in all aspects of its organization (Ian, 2008). Studios, producers, and agents’ power is properly articulated within precisely defined territories. The Hollywood film industry follows a rigid command structure, unlike independent film making which is a bit more flexible. There is great division and separation of labor involved. This is not the case in independent films where the owner can assume the roles of scriptwriter, director, and actor all by himself.

Another difference between the two film industries is that whereas Hollywood films are coherently and commercial in all their intent, production, and marketing, some independent films have been produced to express the cultural orientations or perceptions of the acting group. Hollywood films are more commerce-oriented while most independent films are art-oriented (Suresh, 2007).

In Hollywood-based films, the audience is involved early in industrial production by those responsible for marketing and distributing the film. Pre-production decisions are influenced by the later stages of distribution and exhibition. In most Hollywood films, the audience is treated to a test screening immediately after the film is shot and edited to gauge their reactions. This pre-release anticipation and attention of the viewers increase audience reception and commercial potential of Hollywood films. This is not always the case in independent films (Epand, 2008).

When it comes to film distribution, Hollywood films practice a monopolistic structure that is uninhibited and implacably commercial. Property rights for the original scripts to the finished product are closely guarded. This is not the case in independent filmmaking, which sometimes uses the internet to facilitate people in the distribution of their films either for a fee or for free (Morris, 2000). For advertisement, independent films have leaned more on film festivals to expose the films to the viewers. This is practical because of the low budget involved. The majority of Indie films do not set aside a financial budgetary allocation to market the product. This is in sharp contrast to Hollywood films which set up a unique advertising campaign that starts with previews even before the final product has been released. The advertising campaign runs into millions of dollars.

The differences between the two film industries – Hollywood and Independent are insurmountable. They have continued to exist ever since the birth of independent filmmaking, which has been credited with bringing more alternatives to the viewers in the film industry. Though independent films are often accused of plagiarizing or copying Hollywood moves, they have a future as long as the film industry is concerned.


  1. Epand, V. Hollywood Film Industry at a Glimpse. 2008.
  2. Film industry – A New Industry, the Studio Years, the Television Years. 2008.
  3. Hatfield, J. Expanded cinema and Narrative. 2003. Web.
  4. Hookway, A.K. Revitalization of the Film Industry by Independent Film Makers. 2006
  5. Morris, G. American Independent Narrative Cinema of the 60’s: A Brief History. 2000.
  6. Murphy, J.J. Spike Lee: She’s Gotta Have It. 2007. Web.
  7. Suresh, K. Bollywood Vs Hollywood. 2007.

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