Claim Your
Off Discount
July 14, 2023

Everything You Need to Know About Indie Films

An independent film, or indie film, is a term used frequently within the film industry, but what exactly is an independent film, and what isn’t it? What are some examples of indie films, and how are they funded, marketed and cast?

Let’s break down everything there is to know about indie films.  

What is considered an indie film?

A simple definition for an independent or indie film is a feature film or short film that is produced and distributed by independent filmmakers or smaller entertainment companies. 

Typically, this is without involvement from major movie studios or television networks. They are also made with a considerably lower budget than mainstream movies. Indie films don’t refer to just one particular genre. Instead, the style of the film is typically characterised by the artistic vision of the writers and directors.

In terms of marketing, indie films are often distributed through film festivals like Sundance, Cannes, or the Toronto International film festival. Over the years, indie films have become both a calling card for up-and-coming filmmakers and an outlet of creativity for those without access to major movie studios or production company backing.

What an indie film is not

An indie film isn’t a genre in itself. Indie films can be any genre, whether it’s horror or rom-com. What sets them apart from mainstream movies is their intimate nature due to their small budgets and independence. Therefore, indie films tend to focus more on storytelling than visual effects and A-list celebrity casting.

However, the lines between what is considered an indie film and what’s not have blurred. This is due to the five major studios (Paramount Pictures, Warner Brothers., Universal Pictures, Walt Disney Studios, and Columbia Pictures) acquiring indie production companies and creating subsidiary companies to produce studio-financed indies.

How are indie films funded?

An indie film is typically made without the financial backing of a film studio or major production company. Therefore they are generally funded by the leading players involved (such as the producer or director) securing the finances independently.

This can mean anything from crowdfunding to independent investors or even funding it themselves. In short, an indie film is independent of the monetary support provided to mainstream movies by major movie studios or television networks.

How are indie films cast?

You might already be aware from watching indie films that well-known actors will often be cast in them, even if it means taking a substantial pay cut compared to a mainstream movie. This isn’t unusual, and it could be for a variety of reasons. For example, the actor might be financially involved with making the film, or they might believe in the message or artistic vision of the film, they might want to explore a different direction in their career, or they might be connected to the filmmaker. An example of this is Pulp Fiction, as John Travolta and Bruce Willis took less pay to work with Quentin Tarantino.

How are indie films marketed?

Generally, indie films have a limited release. They are often marketed at independent cinemas or are screened at local, national, or international film festivals, such as Sundance Film Festival, before distribution. However, It should be noted that an indie film can rival a mainstream film production if it has the necessary funding and distribution.

Indie films examples

As a screenwriter, you will likely be well aware of many successful indie films. In terms of genre, horror movies commonly top the list of successful indie films. For example, John Carpenter’s Halloween. The original slasher movie was made for approximately $325,000 in 1978 (a hefty amount back then). But that investment turned into a $47 million global box office return. The Blair Witch Project (1999) was made from $60,000, making back $248million. And Paranormal Activity (2007) was made for just $15,000 and made $193 million.

John Carpenter's Halloween poster in yellow and black
John Carpetner's Halloween was made on a relatively modest budget

Aside from horror, other hugely successful indie films include Good Will Hunting (1997) My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002), Winter’s Bone (2010), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), Little Miss Sunshine (2006), Lost in Translation (2003) and Parasite (2019). Some well-known indie filmmakers include John Sayles, John Cassavetes, Richard Linklater and George Romero.

Indie films conclusion

Indie films are well-loved by screenwriters, filmmakers and film fans for many reasons. The fact they’re produced outside of the traditional studio system offers a unique element of independence and creativity. Indie films are widely considered a breath of fresh air compared to Hollywood blockbusters for good reason, as they rely much more on vision and storytelling as opposed to endless budgets and special effects.

Getting an indie film out into the world is a labour of love. The success of indie films can be defined outside of monetary revenue because they frequently shine a light on unique stories and unusual characters that often studios and production companies wouldn’t want to take a chance on due to the risk of losing substantial cash if the gamble doesn’t pay off. 

That’s why successful indie films resonate with audiences and get critical acclaim, as they feel more authentic, moving and intimate than the big Hollywood blockbusters.

For more be sure to check out our blog and download our FREE screenwriting software.


Level-up your screenwriting software

With Arc Studio, you stay focused while writing your screenplay, craft better stories, and collaborate with ease.

Add the template to your Arc Studio Pro account

text content

Download the template
Go to Desk

Download your free template now

With Arc Studio pro, you stay focused while writing your screenplay, craft better stories, and collaborate with ease. 2
Everything You Need to Know About Indie Films
Danielle Owen-Jones

Danielle Owen-Jones is a professional writer and the author of two romantic comedies, Stone Broke Heiress and Stuck With Him, published worldwide by Bookouture (Hachette UK). Danielle worked in journalism and PR before launching a freelance content writing business alongside writing her novels.

Level-up your screenwriting software

Arc Studio is the new standard in screenwriting software: stay focused, craft better stories, and collaborate with ease.

Go to Desk

Download your free template now

With Arc Studio pro, you stay focused while writing your screenplay, craft better stories, and collaborate with ease.

Go to Desk

Receive a free screenwriting book

Get your free ebook now!

Download Your Template
Go to Desk

Learn from the film industry’s top screenwriters

Our new podcast, How I Write: Screenwriters Share Their Creative Processes, launches Nov. 12th.

Go to Desk


This is some text inside of a div block.
This is some text inside of a div block.

Read More

Ready to get started?

Go to Desk
No credit card required