Indies vs mainstream movies

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“ANG BABAE SA SEPTIC TANK.” There are lessons to be retroactively learned.

Some years ago, the mainstream movie industry didn’t feel threatened by indie productions, even if they were being made in increasingly great numbers. After all, they were only being shown during festivals, on campus or in small venues. Most of the time, when they did manage to get playdates on the commercial theater circuit, they played to near-empty houses and ended up as “first-day, last-day” nonstarters.

From time to time, they have managed to interest viewers, but mostly when they’re smarmily playing the “sex” or “gay exploitation” cards – so, they still end up being disrespected by serious film buffs.

An early exception to this desultory rule was “Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros.” Yes, the film’s protagonist was an adolescent gay, but it was also clear that it was about much more than just swishing and dishing.

Formulaic flicks

“Maximo” did well enough on the commercial circuit to end up leaving some lazily formulaic commercial flicks behind at the box office. But, one exception does not an incipient trend make, so the situation remained pretty much the same.

Earlier this year, however, “Ang Babae sa Septic Tank” scored another “unexpected” hit at the box office. And, just last month, “Zombadings” similarly clicked with viewers. The two unexpected and “edgy” hits constituted a one-two punch that now has the mainstream industry taking belated notice of the increasing strength and appeal of the “indie” film “wave” – and its future prospects.

If there’s money to be made here, some mainstream studios want to make sure that they get in on the action – just in case it turns out to be the shape of Filipino films to come.

After all, “formula” mainstream productions have been slumping for a full decade now, with non-indie productions down to a trickle. In addition, some recent mainstream flicks have been laying depressingly nongolden eggs at the box office, even as “Babae” and “Zombadings” have been raking it in.

So, if there are lessons to be retroactively learned here, mainstream producers want to be at the head of the class!

Unfortunately, the solution is much more complicated than an old dog learning new tricks, or a zebra trading in his stripes for a coat of trendier polka dots. “Indie” success is only for indies, because the alternative film mode’s aficionados are attracted to their nonformulaic and thus nonmainstream nature and essence.

To find new success as an indie producer, a mainstream financier needs to reinvent not just his films and his way of making them, but also himself. Which is a much more difficult challenge than simply trading in stripes for polka dots!

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