Catching up with this year's Oscar nominations, a trend has become apparent: Independent film makers aren't as independent as they used to be.
To me, this is troubling. While the production of modern independent films has remained independent, the source material hasn't. Call this the "Based on (insert famous or not so famous novel here)," problem.
Clearly, this is a problem that has afflicted major motion pictures for a long time, and has reached a fever pitch in the multiplexes recently. And that's OK by me. Often the filmmaking in major motion pictures isn't original, so why should the source material be?
But when it comes to independent movies, I expect the same level of ingenuity that I find in the directors to exist in the source material. For a while, this had been the case. Incredible work from independent directors like Jim Jarmusch, David Lynch, and up until now the Coen brothers, has been matched with equally accomplished original writing.
But look at this year's crop of best picture nominees at the Oscars. The top three main contenders, made from independent filmmakers, are all "based on" novels. The Coen Brothers, normally fiercely independent in all facets of their work, adapted a novel from Cormac McCarthy for their film No Country For Old Men. Joe Wright once again used a novel as his source material for his film, Atonement. Even Paul Thomas Anderson, the true maverick of the bunch, "based" his film, There Will Be Blood, on Upton Sinclair's book Oil!
Of course there are exceptions; Juno, also nominated for best picture, is independently funded, directed and written. But this situation is becoming an exception to the norm.
My gut tells me that many directors are making an expedient move, seeing that when they insert a "based on (insert novel)" into their movie, a film not only gets funding at the outset, but also gets more money when it's released. If that's the case, it looks like original writing is being tossed aside for a guarantee on profits, and that's never been, as far as I know, what independent filmmaking is about.
My hope is that this trend will wear itself out soon, and that when next year's Oscars are announced, I'll have to go to the cinema to see the nominees instead of going to Borders to read them.