Comparative Analysis Of American Independent Films: Clerks And Titanic

American independent films have been around since 1970, but they exploded during the 1990s as a result of a surge in interest and funding. Clerks (1994), a film that embodies the best of American independent films, is a classic. American indies or independent films prospered as time passed and sponsors came on board. Clerks, the film that originated in America, was created by an American director. It was filmed primarily at locations like Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey and other parts of America. This film also shows the American ideals and portrays a real life in America. Titanic (1997) on the other side is a high-concept Hollywood classic, which contrasts sharply with the indie style.

Low-budget production is a trademark of American independent films. The film directors aren’t well-established to spend large amounts of money on exotic locations or damage to a lot material. Budgets are often based on the filmmaker’s limited resources or unconventional financing. Schamus’s summary of American independent film states, “American independent scenes are often inspired by tales involving no-budgets – films produced so cheaply that no significant economic risks are involved” (Schamus 1998), page 98. Clerks, a 1994 production with a budget of just $27,575, is an example. Nevertheless, the film is able to get off the floor. It generated more than $3 million dollars for the USA. Kevin Smith financed the film independently with the money he earned from selling his comic book collection, from his college fund, from loans from family and friends, and from insurance money. A family member of Kevin Smith played the roles in this film because his financial situation was so tight.

Hollywood independent films and Hollywood feature a huge difference in terms of finances. Hollywood features a large budget and has many investors. The production companies that already have millions in capital would be the most likely source of funding. The budget for high-cost films would go to pay professional actors, crew and distributors. James Cameron raised over $200 million for the Titanic (1997) production. James Cameron reaped the harvest with about $2 Billion in worldwide profits.

American independent film is almost entirely directed by the directors. Film directors may write scripts, direct scenes and even act. Robert Rodriguez is a leading director of American independent cinema. Robert describes in his book Rebel Without Crew that he was a film pioneer who “would write two screenplays both about a character and then film them myself …”. In his independent style of directing, he does not just write scripts. He also directs and edits the sound, the script, operates the cameras, creates visual effects, designs productions and performs the design. Kevin Smith also made the independent classic Clerks (1994). Kevin Smith starred, produced, edited, directed and edited Kevin Smith. He did the cinematography as well. The directors’ worldviews, which often endorse a radical and personal perspective, enhance the independence in American films.

For Hollywood high-concept films, the producers hire several people to do the production. Titanic (1997) employed a staff of over 2,000 people, including a crew of nearly 2000 men. The cast included thousands of major and small actors. The division of labour is more comprehensive, including stuntmen as well make-up artist, production, sound, visual, sound system, costume/wardrobe and editorial staff.

The American Independent Film is often described as gritty in its presentation and unconventionally candid due to the increased visibility of social groups that were previously marginalized, such as those who are racial or sexual minorities. American independent films have a reputation for being gritty in their presentation and unorthodox. This is due to the increased visibility of social groups that were previously marginalized, whether it was in terms of age or race. The unorthodox 60s subculture and 1970s trend for midnight movies explain this phenomenon. This led to the American Independent Film. The American independent films were also tailored to a certain target group: young college graduates, singles and those in their early 20s. The American independent film’s appeal was that it did not adhere to the status-quo. Social and Political viewpoints were more daring and unconservative. Clerks (1996) had some scenes with vulgar language and explicit language. In many scenes, there are sexy conversations and pornographic material. In American independent movies, smoking, drinking alcohol and using drugs are all almost common practices. In order to depict the carefree life of American youth, one can observe the unrestricted use of drugs and sex, which is deemed as counterculture. Kevin Smith, who was 23 years old and a college student in 1994 when he directed Clerks (1994), had great ambitions. Robert Rodriguez is another rebel filmmaker who says that he always goes against the norm. He tells aspiring film directors to “question all, create your own rulebook and invent new methods”.

The absence of Hollywood stars is evident in the low price of American independent films. Hollywood actors will demand a fortune too extravagant for American independent film directors. Kevin Smith and his family appeared in Clerks, a 1994 film. Grace Smith and Virginia Smith, Kevin Smith’s sister and mother respectively, appear in Clerks. Jason Mewes, Scott Mosier and his close college friends also appear in the movie. These actors are relatively unknown people who saw their careers explode after the release Clerks. Brian O’Halloran and Marilyn Ghiglotti have no previous acting experience. Yet, they made this film successful and ironically, they jumped to Hollywood stardom.

Hollywood’s hegemony of high concept promotes glamour and finesse with an opulent ending. Hollywood films are centered around idealized characters who lead enviable lifestyles. Hollywood films are usually “the big, genre blockbuster featuring high-concept visuals with heroic and conventionally attractive heroes played by bankable celebrities” (Newman 2011. p.89). Hollywood films would be able to absorb the majority of their production costs due to their star-studded crew and cast. Acclaimed actors from around the world and in the United States can increase the interest and viewership of a film. Titanic (1997), a film with a stellar cast including Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as well as Billy Zane, Frances Fisher Gloria Stuart Kathy Bates Danny Nucci Victor Garber, is a prime example. James Cameron was already a highly experienced director who specialized in the production of high concept films at the Titanic’s time.

“Miramax…and Sundance to a lesser extend…dominate…the indie-world” with an impressive influence (Biskind 2004, page 2). American independent film is also characterized by the absence of distributors. Miramax helps hundreds of American films get off the ground, by releasing independent films on VHS and TV. Miramax’s venture proved profitable as many independent films were successful. Miramax was instrumental in Kevin Smith’s Clerks venture (1994). Miramax is a division of Walt Disney Company that has been operating since 1993. It helped develop American independent films. Bob Weinstein’s and Harvey Weinstein’s support of independent filmmaking is a major factor in the success of Miramax. Miramax led the boom in American independent film during the 1990s, distributing films like Chicago or Clerks. Sundance Film Festival is also a major force in the American independent movie culture. The Utah event honored both American and foreign independent film makers. By judging independent filmmakers according to specific criteria, they could gain fame and recognition. Kevin Smith and Robert Rodriguez both gain exposure at the Sundance Film Festival.

Sundance Film Festival is a great opportunity for American independent filmmakers to get their start in Hollywood. The Sundance Film Festival, according to Biskind (2004) is the biggest event in the independent calendar. Sundance Festival acts as a launching pad for actors and film makers to achieve greater notoriety. Indiewood was born out of the competition between indie filmmakers and crew to get into the exclusive Hollywood circles. Sundance Film Festival was criticized for having “so many Hollywood-types” (Lukk, 1997, p.119). Hollywood began to take note of what was happening in the American independent world and wanted to emulate it. Miramax is able to take advantage of this mutual attraction by “offering both the best of the worlds”, giving films the tender love and care that independent distributors were known for, while spending a lot of money on TV spots. (Biskind, 2004, p.82) Miramax, with Disney backing it, is able to propel American independent films into the stratosphere. American independent cinema was not able to attract major distributors nor awards, despite its popularity.

MGM Paramount Pictures Warner Brothers 20th Century Fox are all major players in Hollywood film distribution. These companies “consolidated control over large budget and programmer contracting workers, separating directors and actors from the production” (Holmlund 2004). Paramount Pictures distributes the Titanic (1997) throughout America, whereas 20th Century Fox is in charge of international distribution. Oscars are landmarks in Hollywood, where directors and stars receive titles for their outstanding work. Titanic was an instant success when it was released. It won 11 Oscars and 14 Academy awards. The realist perspective is another thing that distinguishes American Independent Cinema from Hollywood.

American independent cinema rejects Hollywood hegemony. Instead, it chooses lower-classed and plain-clothed actors whose life is plagued by tragedy. American independent films support “indie-cinema’s investment of realism aligned with an attention to character, and especially with certain characters or characterizations”. (Newman 2011. p.89). The American independent movie is characterized by a quotidian lifestyle, failures and disappointment. Reality isn’t filtered through rose-colored lenses or glitzy glitter. The film is a constant reminder of the struggles that individuals face and societal problems. The film shows a day in a person’s life who has to face adversity. It is a film that examines, critiques and makes political statements about daily life. The characters can have a gloomy atmosphere. Clerks (1994), depicts the day-to-day life of a clerk at a convenience shop who is low on income and not very intelligent. The American independent film depicts the average American working class in microcosm. The protagonist’s life does not get better at the very end. The low-budget or no budget factor enhances and fosters realism, since “if you’re a low-budget you can’t afford the same types of effects Paramount is able to afford” (Lukk 1997) American independent films are devoid from visual effects or sound enhancements.

Hollywood, far from promoting realist views is aiming to attain the perfect image. Hollywood’s high-concept standards are reflected by airbrushed, refined characters and processed music. They also have seamless narratives. These criteria are a result of Hollywood’s commercial focus. Hollywood’s commercial appeal combines with American indie cinema to create a competition that inspires the use of new technologies.

American independent film is distinguished by its technology. American independent film has historically opted for cheaper, low budget and uncomplicated material. The takes would take longer for each scene and the video projected would not be as good as desired. Modernizing American independent films was forced by the demand for a faster crew, as well as the increasing pressure to be more profitable and marketable. In order to increase budgets, it was necessary to introduce camera dollies as well as stills photography and steadicam. Walkie talkies were also introduced, along with editing equipment, titles, opticals, and post-production labs. In the 1990s, the era of information technology was also introduced, and computers became a fundamental tool in American independent film. “Computers allow for finer cuts than were possible on cellulouid. “As technology changes, the language of cinema and its syntax has also changed” (Vachon p.189, 1998). Indiewood is not slow to demand studios for film production, a trait that Hollywood has. Indiewood’s first wholly studio-produced film, American Beauty, was released in 1999. The anticipated large scale productions and budget changes led to these modifications in the traditional American independent film.

As a result, it is clear that the differences between American Independent Film and Hollywood were initially stark. Titanic (1997) and Clerks (1994), however, show the gradual blurring of lines which occurs between the two film industry. This treatment can be used to show the evolution of American independent film from its original indie form into Indiewood, and the downward trend that the industry has suffered.


  • kaylarusso

    Kayla Russo is an educational blogger and volunteer and student. She is a 27 yo educational blogger and volunteer and student who loves to help others learn.



Kayla Russo is an educational blogger and volunteer and student. She is a 27 yo educational blogger and volunteer and student who loves to help others learn.

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