Why are indie films appealing to older audiences

While the vibes that indie films give off – pretentious, counter-culture, edgy – may seem like they would attract a younger, rebellious crowd, this is not always the case.

According to an article by Nigel M. Smith in The Guardian, older audiences are attracted to indie films after being “ignored by youth-obsessed Hollywood.”

The fascination that older audiences have with indie films is also apparent at The Palm, San Luis Obispo’s main indie theater. Jim Dee, the owner of The Palm, is very aware of the older demographic that walks through the doors.

(Photo Credits: Joel Franusic, youngthousands)

As Jim Dee asked, “What happened to the younger audience?” Younger people gave their answers to me:

“It feels like a lot of the time they’re boring [compared to bigger budget movies].” – Sam, 21

“When I go with my friends [to a movie], we normally want to see what’s big.” – Chloe, 20

“A lot of indie movies are a little too weird for me.” – David, 20

“I feel that indies aren’t really for me.” – Emma, 19

From the young people I talked to, there did seem to be a sense of confusion as to what indie films are like and apprehension to deviate from bigger-budget films.

With older people, however, the responses were, to say the least, a bit different:

“I come here [to The Palm] because there are some movies, like ‘Eight Days a Week,’ that reminds me of younger days.” – Carol, 68

“A lot of indie movies I see seem to focus on the lighter side of life than what I see at normal theaters.” – Vince, 62

“Indie movies, to me, are more restrained and easier to get into than heavy-handed movies.” – Stan, 66

The older audience has a different understanding of whether indies are “boring” or not. An older demographic seems to appreciate the fact that while indie films may be slower than big-budget films, they focus on a more introspective side of life that is easily relatable and reminds them of being young again.



Directing for a first time

It’s well-established that the majority of directors and writers in the film industry are men. In fact, for the 700 top-grossing films in 2014, only 13% of directors were women. 

It then may come as a surprise then that Chloë Sevigny,an actress and former model, is making her directorial debut with the short Kitty a film based on a short story by Paul Bowles.

Speaking to Refinery 29, Sevigny explains why she, at first, wanted to keep from being in the spotlight of directing:

“Of course I was always heard, having been in the public eye. People always want you to say more, but it was almost like I wanted to hide more as a result. People wanted me to speak as a voice of a generation, and I had no interest in doing that. I didn’t want that responsibility.” — Chloë Sevigny

In an interview with Paste Magazine, Sevigny talked about creating another short film, and explained that she has a preferred way for directing a film:

“I just made a second short film in Portland. It was all improvised and loosey-goosey, and I think I prefer the mannerisms of Kitty, having it more plotted out. I feel more comfortable in that space.”

Kitty, a story about a young girl transforming into a cat, released late November.


The intersection of film and politics

Last week was eventful, to say the least. Now that The Donald is President-elect, protests have cropped up all along the country. Not even a small city like San Luis is safe from the drama.

It would seem that the indie film scene would be a safe haven from political drama and unrest, but that would be very wrong.

In response to Trump winning the election, indie filmmakers have also rallied against him. In an article by Graham Winfrey on Indiewire, filmmakers voiced their concerns, for lack of a better word, about the President-elect:

“It’s obviously dark times, but that’s where and when artists have a responsibility to keep us entertained and to tell really good stories that inspire us and keep the hope alive.” — Joana Vicente

It might seem melodramatic to some, but this sense of despair throughout the indie filmmaking community is pervasive, but some, like Joe Pichirallo in the article, believe this to be an opportunity:

“Fortunately, in our country we do have the freedom to express ourselves in whatever way we want, so I don’t think it’s going to hinder people from doing a movie like ‘Moonlight’ or something that’s really bold, daring, interesting and exciting…” — Joe Pichirallo

This is certainly an uncertain time in American history. However, American film has responded to political uncertainty before in humorous ways.

And American film has also responded in poignant ways, with the much more serious threat of a World War.


Shooting on location for a film

Certain Women is one of the most atmospheric indie films I’ve seen this year. Taking place in rural Montana, there are many shots of the wide open landscape that seem to come from a larger budget.

Even so, director Kelly Reichardt had problems shooting on location for these beautiful shots. According to an article by Kristen Page-Kirby,  Reichardt had a challenge of choosing where to shoot:

“To be honest, I shot so much outdoor film because when I started I just couldn’t afford lights…”

“I set it up as a challenge for myself: I had to have some interiors in this film,” she says. “I had to conquer that.”

If someone that has years of experience directing films has trouble with trying to find locations to shoot, then an indie filmmaker who only has a small youtube channel  and a much smaller audience than a distributed indie film will have even more trouble.

And it’s true. “It can be pretty hard trying to find a place to shoot, especially in public,” said indie filmmaker Kate Bishop.

Sometimes a backyard will have to do for a film set.

In addition to trying to accommodate the schedules of actors, Bishop’s work doesn’t get any easier for filming, trying to film in public places, like bus stops, backyards and inside buildings.

“Sometimes, the takes don’t turn out the way they should’ve, and it sucks having to try again in a place that’s busy,” she said.

While filmmaking can seem like a hopeless waste of time at points, it can be the best feeling in the world when, “something goes right for once on a take,” she said.


The struggles of indie filmmaking

Of course, there are going to be all sorts of problems when producing films with no budget, relative to the budgets for films that are handed out from big-time studios.

Lack of experience from crew members, cheap equipment, cheap editing software and no sense of enthusiasm for the project can all be devastating in creating an indie film.

Ted Hope wrote on what is, perhaps obviously, the biggest obstacle that any indie filmmaker must face:

I think the biggest problem for indie filmmakers is primarily a marketing problem; filmmakers must move from creating a series of “one offs” where they reinvent the wheel each time.

This means that because of little marketing and money, indie filmmakers often must produce content that is constantly changing; even if they have some sort of following that likes the current content, filmmakers will shy away from that.

Kate Bishop, a filmmaker who makes short films, agreed with this. “I feel like I sometimes have to change things,” she said. “Since I don’t really have much money to deal with, I like to be inventive.”

Matt Porter, a successful indie filmmaker, wrote on how low budget marketing affects indie films, and how attempting to worry about it may be futile:

…making a [n indie] feature film, even at a relatively low budget level, is a lot more like starting a small business than making a handful of shorts…

…independent film is a bit of a wild west, and so even the best advice can sometimes be useless if it’s been made obsolete by changes in the marketplace.

It’s a daunting task to be an indie filmmaker. Even so, Porter has been able to have success and produce well-received shorts.


The intriguing audience demographics of indie films


Rebellious. Anti-authoritarian. Pretentious. These are all preconceived notions about what indie films are like, and there is an amount of truth to it. Some indie films do try to be too artsy for their own good and come off as these notions.

With these stigmas, it’s easy to imagine that a younger audience would be more accepting of indie films. They’re into that sort of thing: rebellion, being hip and rising up against “the man.”

But a post by Ted Hope on Truly Free Film puts doubt into this belief of indie films attracting the youth:

What is it that new audiences want? What must the indie community do to engage them?

It is really surprising how few true indie films speak to a youth audience… Are we incapable of making the spirited yet formal work that defines a lot of alternative rock and roll?

You’d think with truly free film’s anti-corporate underpinnings that those who seek out authenticity would respond…

This is something I’ve noticed myself. At The Palm, I rarely see young viewers, and the majority of audiences going to see a movie there look like they have great-grandkids.

David Llamas, a ticket taker and a concessions worker at The Palm, confirmed this. “Some nights, I don’t even know if anyone under 40 or so comes in,” he said. “The majority of people who come in are definitely older.”

Now, this is all anecdotal and seems like it could very well be the result of the fact that there are just a lot of old people that live in San Luis Obispo.

Even so, this trend hasn’t been noticed only by Hope and Llamas. Nigel M. Smith wrote an article for The Guardian noting that, as a whole, older audiences are being, as the headline says, “ignored by youth-obsessed Hollywood”:

This phenomenon is not new: older audiences, starved for Hollywood content that speaks to them, have been making the arthouse their entertainment go-to destination for years.

Wait, this has been going on for years? I guess I haven’t been paying attention then.


Where Indie movies are in San Luis

With recent Indie films like Hunt for the Wilderpeople and A Man Called Ove receiving praise from critics, it can get to be maddening in actually trying to see them. Theaters won’t risk money with Indie films when they can bank on big-budget films.

In a small city like San Luis, it would seem like there’d be no way to view Indie films while they hit theaters. However, one theater is responsible for the latest Indie films being shown in town: The Palm Theatre.

Small theater for small films.

Having three screens, it can only show so many films a day. Even so, The Palm draws in crowds with relatively well-known films like Eight Days a Week.

While The Palm is noted for its Indie showings, it’s steeped with history, being the first theater in the United States to be solar-powered in 2004.

Soaking in the sun.

Indie films don’t exactly come out as often  or as prominently as big-budget releases, but The Palm keeps its shows fresh. At least one film is cycled out for a new one every week. 

‘Indie’ distributors becoming Hollywood

The appeal of Indie films for some is that they’re free of Hollywood constraints and can pursue something more creative than executives will allow… with less money, of course.

So it might be a bit scary, as Virginia Crisp of Coventry University notes, that Hollywood studios are sneaking their way into Indie distribution:

One of the ways [Hollywood Studios’] dominance has extended more recently is into the ‘independent’ film sector. Such a move might seem a contradiction in terms… While independent distributors might primarily distribute independent films, independent films themselves may not necessarily be distributed by independent distribution companies.

That’s a bit of a riddle there at the end, I know. But there are examples of what she’s talking about.

The Japanese animation company Studio Ghibli is independent of Hollywood production and money, but in the US, their films were distributed by Disney, allowing them to dub however they wish (within reason).

Even so, there are still decent completely Indie films releasing, like Hunt for the Wilderpeople, so not all is lost.

How ‘The Beatles: Eight Days a Week’ is doing so far

While some Indie films might gain attention briefly, very few will do as well as The Beatles documentary Eight Days a Week. As Indiewire notes:

What was initially planned as a one-week U.S. theatrical run in 85 theaters has expanded to 180 cinemas, with nearly every venue holding the movie over for a second week, according to Richard Abramowitz, president of specialty distributor Abramorama. Appetite for the film is so strong that some Beatles fans have even emailed producer Nigel Sinclair’s White Horse Pictures complaining that the movie wasn’t being shown in their town.

What’s especially interesting about how well Eight Days a Week is performing is that it’s already available on Hulu. Who knows if this popularity has to do with audiences being  more interested in Indie films or The Beatles.

Actually, let’s be real: it’s the latter.