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Indie films or big budget movies?

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It's the age-old question -- major movie house or independent film? On the one hand, a multi-million dollar budget with directorial handcuffs; on the other, creative freedom limited only by concerns over cash.

The Screening Room spoke to Bradley Jacobs, Movie Editor of US Weekly, and found that the boundaries are becoming blurred ...

Top of the independents

Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" tops the official list of biggest indie films, taking a whopping $600 million at the box office. Its big-scale production contrasts sharply with the next biggest achievers in the indie world, "The Blair Witch Project" and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."

But it was Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" that represented the most significant landmark in the history of independent film as the first indie to gross $100 million at the box office. Its success stirred the interest of the big studios.

As Bradley Jacobs explains, those studios now want a slice of the indie action.

"Indies are changing," he said. "Every major studio has an indie wing -- Fox has Fox Searchlight, Paramount Pictures has Paramount Vantage. They are boutique wings of major studios that release indie or indie-seeming films, so there are different types ... You can point the finger at many studio movies in indie clothing."

And Jacobs is right. With "Little Miss Sunshine" and "Notes on A Scandal" from Fox Searchlight, "The Queen" from Miramax and "Babel" from Paramount Vantage, many of this year's Oscar-nominated films were from the indie arms of the major studios. But according to Jacobs, independent films aren't just catering to a smaller audience of film buffs -- it's a way for actors and directors to gain credibility.

Pushing the boundaries

"Indies are where you see boundary pushing: sexual, violence, sociological," he said. "A movie like "Babel," for instance, is really an indie film. Although it stars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, it's distributed by Paramount Vantage, it has an independent feel to it and it's boundary pushing."

Jacobs also believes that actors feel independent films offer them the chance to be more creative and to develop their craft.

He said, "Independent film gives actors who usually make big mainstream movies a chance to do parts that are grittier and strut their stuff a bit more. When you interview them they always say the same thing: independent film gives you so much more freedom and leverage ... It's also practice for them; they get a real role."

And the independents also let actors try life on the other side of the lens. Jacobs says, "A lot of actors use independent film to stretch their directing muscle, to try it for the first time. The studios wouldn't bankroll them with $100 million to shoot a movie, but they can maybe get $2 million from people."

A way in to the business

And Jacobs is keen to point out that independents still offer prospective movie-makers the chance to break into the industry; festivals like Sundance still have an element of romance about them.

"Sundance is still filled with people who scraped for years to get the financing to get the $1.8 million it took to make their little indie. ... that kind of bring you up by your own bootstraps, scraping nine-day shoots in the middle of the night. That is really the spirit of Sundance," he said.

What do the stars think? Find out in our photo gallery: Samuel L Jackson, Steve Soderbergh, Lauren Bacall and others on indie versus big budget >>

Bradley Jacobs

Bradley Jacobs says the lines between big budget movies and independent films are becoming blurred



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