Thus enters the love-hate relationship with Robert Downey, Jr. On one hand, he is a great example of someone who works hard and beat an addiction that plagues some many creative people. On the other hand, he performed in blackface and used the “R-word,” even though the film is a satire on Oscar-winning roles.
During an interview with Entertainment Weekly Radio, Downey calls indie films “exhausting and sometimes they suck.” As an indie filmmaker and advocate, I find myself on the defensive of Downey’s comments. Upon further consideration, I have to admit Downey is somewhat right in his comments. Not entirely, but somewhat.
How Downey is right:
Indie films are exhausting: compared to big budget films, they are. Crews are smaller, which means more responsibilities bestowed on an already stressed out crew. Departments may share PAs, or even Heads. Indie films crews work long hours for little pay. Why do indie crews do it? Short answer: Because they love film.
Inexperience: I’ll concede this point because usually an indie film is the first film for many Hollywood actors and directors. However, inexperience is not a bad thing. Sometimes it’s a lesson in what works and doesn’t work. Most entrepreneurs are not experienced, either. You are not selling the skills set. You are selling the concept.
Low pay: Compared to a Hollywood film, indie films may have defferred payment or little-to-no payment. While I wouldn’t consider low pay a strength of indie films, indie films can be considered start-ups, as opposed to major corporations. The opportunities may offset the pay.
How Downey is wrong:
Indie film budgets: Here’s where Downey’s Hollywood beer googles kick in. $500k is a “Hollywood” indie film. When Downey hears “indie film,” he is probably thinking in the realm of $300K-10M budget. Most REAL indie films are done for much less.
Indie films scheduling: While the shooting days are long, the actual production schedules for indie films are usually short, maybe a month or two on average. This is practical as the longer you shoot something, the more expensive it becomes. Working on your birthday is normal in the adult world. Sports stars play games on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Comes with the job description. My birthday is Christmas Eve and I've worked on it most of my adult life.
Indie films are disorganized: It depends on the set. If an indie film made it to Sundance, odds are the set was run like a well-oiled (yet cheaply built) machine.
The actor’s roles in indie films: Yes, it is partially the actor’s responsibility to champion an indie film. Most indie film actors know this and willingly participate in the Q&As. It’s called marketing and branding.
Inexperience: Downey is wrong and right! Some filmmakers stay independent, but I would not call them inexperienced. Alexander Payne, Spike Lee, Robert Rodriguez, and P.T. Anderson, for example. Some actors like J.K. Simmons are known for their prolific indie film work.
The problems Downey cites about indie film are not exclusive to indie films, or to filmmaking. I think the larger problem is the apathy Downey may feel with the state of cinema today, which is a sentiment shared with other filmmakers, such as Steven Spielberg, Steven Soderbergh, or Spike Lee. Personally, I feel that indie films will save Hollywood from itself.