Cinema and Media Studies American Independent Cinema, Producers
Yannis Tzioumakis
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 September 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0129


The concept of independence in American cinema has been widely debated as a great variety of film production arrangements, including ones associated with the major Hollywood studios’ practices, have claimed the label “independent” for themselves, often perceiving it as a marker of distinction. American independent film production and the companies and people responsible for it can be broadly distinguished between top rank and low end. “Top rank” refers to a production arrangement that entails a well-established producer (an actor, a director, an executive, or a producer) setting up their own production company and through finance by the major studios and/or other funding sources, producing one or more films that are then distributed by the major studio. Because of their strong production values and the involvement of the majors as financers and distributors, top-rank film production has been routinely considered part of Hollywood cinema. Low-end production, on the other hand, refers to a production arrangement whereby individuals or small companies produce often extremely low-budget films. These films tend to be of a much lower quality than the top-rank independents and the Hollywood studio productions, and can be further sub-divided between quality and exploitation films. In quality films, the absence of production values and of the studios’ influence are often perceived as markers of distinction, while in exploitation productions they are often considered as hallmarks of bad filmmaking. The distinction between top-rank and low-end independent film production and producers has characterized the whole history of American independent cinema, with producers such as David O. Selznick and Samuel Goldwyn and their films being key examples of top-rank independent production and Poverty Row studios such as Monogram and Republic and their films being examples of low-end production. In contemporary times, top-rank production includes filmmakers such as Ron Howard, whose company Imagine Entertainment has been producing films for Universal. Low-end independent production, on the other hand, has been primarily associated with what became known as the “independent film movement” that started in the late 1970s. Led by companies such as Miramax and New Line Cinema, it was later largely usurped by the major studios, which established specialty film divisions such as Fox Searchlight in order to claim their own share of the market. Meanwhile low-end exploitation filmmaking has continued to exist on the margins of the industry.

Reference Works

There are numerous “how to” books on how to make an independent film, with Goodell 1982 being one of the most detailed ones.

  • Goodell, Gregory. Independent Feature Film Production: A Complete Guide from Concept to Distribution. New York: St. Martin’s, 1982.

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    NNNA detailed “how-to” guide that is concerned not so much with actual examples of independent film, focuses instead on providing meticulous descriptions of the making of a low-budget independent film. Published in 1982, it predates the digital era and is therefore now outdated.

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