Cinematical's Indie Roundup: 'American Splendor,' 'Ghost World,' 'Kick-Ass'

Indie Roundup is your weekly guide to what's new and upcoming in the world of independent film. Pictured above
: American Splendor, Ghost World, Kick-Ass.

Where Are All the Indie Comic Book Movies? With motion pictures crowding out sequential art in the flood of news and reports from ComicCon, you'd think there would be be some indication that independent comics are being adapted for the big screen. And there is news, but it points to a very limited interpretation of the medium: superheroes, superheroes, and more superheroes. (At least Scott Pilgrim only occasionally looks like a superhero).

Well-made superhero movies deserve a place at the table; the independently-financed Kick-Ass was a personal favorite this spring. But there's such a rich, wide vein of material to be mined from comics and graphic novels, why should indie filmmakers limit themselves to caped crusaders? Where are the successors to American Splendor and Ghost World, indie films that drew their inspiration from Harvey Pekar and Daniel Clowes, respectively, but whose makers (Shari Springer Berman / Robert Pulcini and Terry Zwigoff, respectively) dared to fashion their own peculiar visions? Indie filmmakers could do worse than prowl the small-press aisles at ComicCon in search of gems not yet discovered by Hollywood.

Star-Studded Docs. In this week's Doc Talk, Cinematical's Christopher Campbell explores the "restriction-experiment-based genre" of documentaries, which is one way for filmmakers to get attention for their work. What about using celebrities? Is that legitimate? Or cheating somehow?

Also after the jump: Are indie filmmakers wasting their time on fantasies of social media salvation?

'Teenage Paparazzo'The recent Teenage Paparazzo (pictured, right) featured Adrien Grenier in front of and behind the camera as director, which resulted in a film that our own Monika Bartyzel found to be "an entertaining -- if occasionally glossy and over-stretched -- account of the culture of fame." Now Grenier will be producing and appearing in How to Make Money Selling Drugs, a documentary that chats with rappers, actors, and government officials, who provide their views about the so-called "war on drugs."

Celebrity interview subjects are a time-tested way for documentaries to stand out from the crowd, though it all depends on whether the stars have anything worthwhile to say. For Drugs, the list includes Woody Harrelson and Susan Sarandon. Hmm, I wonder what side of the issue they'll come down on?

Bert Marcus, Grenier's producing partner on those two films, will make his directorial debut on an upcoming documentary that's an exploration on boxing and mixed martial arts with Mario Lopez narrating. The prepared statement says that interview subjects will include "boxing champions Manny Pacquiao, Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya, as well as many A list celebrity boxing enthusiasts including Governor Schwarzenegger and media figures such as Donald Trump." Will the stars draw any kind of a crossover audience for a boxing doc? Time will tell.

Filmmaker Magazine - Summer 2010Social Media Fantasies. Will social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter save indie film? How about new media tools like Open Indie and Kickstarter? Are you a tool for even thinking such things?

In an article for the Summer 2010 issue of Filmmaker Magazine, Anthony Kaufman proposes a "more realistic" view, offering up a "corrective for all the rah-rah boosterism," as he states in his blog. As published, the article is well-researched and even-handed.

Here's my favorite pull-quote. from a director known for his low-budget, highly personal work, commenting on the effectiveness of the new tools:
"It's completely overwhelming and totally worthless ... I don't think a Facebook message or a Twitter update translates to asses in seats." -- Joe Swanberg, Filmmaker.
Swanberg complains, quite understandably, that all the new tools keep him away from making films, which is a common complaint since the contraction of the indie distribution sector over the past few years. Filmmakers, after all, are probably not the best suited to get out there and market their films; it's an entirely different skill set. Commenter Dennis Peter points out: "Throwing out tweets and FB updates to add fans and followers (to reach your 5,000) is not a strategy."

It's a conundrum, but indie filmmakers can't just stick their heads in the sand and pretend it's not their problem to solve; at least, not if they want an audience larger than their friends and family. Commenter Jon Reiss suggests a very practical idea: "Just as you bring on line producers, dps and editors – I feel that you should have someone on board – a Producer of Marketing and Distribution as it were – to help with this process."

Kaufman concludes with the thought that it's probably too early in the process to dismiss or rely entirely on social media and other online tools to build an audience. Filmmakers who want to keep telling their stories would do well to read the article and the comments section, and give some thought to the ideas proposed.