Within the last twenty-five years, an enormous burst of creative production has emerged from independent filmmakers. From Stranger Than Paradise (1984) and Slacker (1991) to Gus Van Sant’s Elephant (2003) and Miranda July’s Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005), indie cinema has become part of mainstream culture. But what makes these films independent? Is it simply a matter of budget and production values? Or are there aesthetic qualities that set them off from ordinary Hollywood entertainment?
In this groundbreaking new study, J.J. Murphy argues that the independent feature film from the 1980s to the present has developed a distinct approach of its own, centering on new and different conceptions of cinematic storytelling. The film script is the heart of the creative originality to be found in the independent movement. Even directors noted for their idiosyncratic visual style or the handling of performers typically originate their material and write their own scripts. By studying the principles underlying the independent screenplay, we gain a direct sense of the originality of this new trend in American cinema.
Me and You and Memento and Fargo also presents a unique vision for the aspiring screenwriter. Most screenwriting manuals and guidebooks on the market rely on formulas believed to generate saleable Hollywood films. Many writers present a “three-act paradigm” as gospel and proceed to lay down very stringent rules for characterization, plotting, timing of climaxes, and so on, while others who appear to be more open about such rules turn out to be just as inflexible in their advice. Through in-depth critical analyses of some of the most significant independent films of recent years, J. J. Murphy emphasizes the crucial role that novelty can play in the screenwriting process.