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.



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.