Independent film is in a challenging place right now. In the Netflix era, very few people are choosing to explore independent movies at the cinema, instead binge-watching television shows and saving cinema trips for major event pictures like Star Wars, Jurassic World or Marvel's movies instead. To combat this, most independent movies get released online now. This year many of the best indies, such as Heaven Knows What and Mississippi Grind, went straight to video-on-demand.
As films are so expensive to make - even the lowest budget indies will cost roughly £1mil - this has made independent filmmaking a tough line of work financially. In fact, most filmmakers have to transition into studio pictures to have any hope of making money from directing movies. For instance, Jurassic World's Colin Trevorrow made the indie Safely Not Guaranteed in 2012 before moving up to work with Universal.
The situation is so dire that many independent filmmakers have moved to television instead. Steven Soderbergh, who along with Tarantino gave birth to the American independent film scene in the early '90s with Sex, Lies And Videotape, retired from making movies and now acts as showrunner for The Knick. Similarly, one of his contemporaries Whit Stillman worked with Amazon on their pilot The Cosmopolitans. He hasn't made a movie since 2011's Damsels In Distress.
However, a film is coming out in the UK this weekend which could provide a glimmer of hope for independent filmmakers: Tangerine. Tangerine is the fifth film from Sean Baker, a director who has been a household name in the independent scene for a few years now with critically acclaimed pictures like Starlet. Baker, like many filmmakers of his ilk, was struggling to find the money to make the film. He had only managed to raise a meagre £65,000 for it, a comedy about two transgender sex workers set across one day on a Los Angeles Christmas. It was barely enough to get the equipment he needed, never mind make the film itself.
Therefore, Sean Baker took a gamble. He decided to avoid paying for the usually expensive filmmaking equipment and shoot the movie on iPhone 5 instead. Getting his hands on some tools to enhance it (such as an anamorphic adapter) and downloading some filmmaking apps (including Filmic Pro) he experimented with the technology to use the phone's cameras to create a big screen experience. Tangerine pulls it off too, as audiences will be able to see on its limited UK release this weekend. It is a bold, creative and deliriously entertaining movie. It certainly doesn't look like an amateur student film or someone's YouTube video either. It has a gorgeous cinematic look.
Tangerine signifies a monumental shift in the filmmaking industry. For the last few years we have known that filmmakers can distribute their films online cheaply, but Baker's film proves that directors don't need expensive equipment to make them in the first place anymore. Cinematic, creative and artistic movies can be produced on a shoestring budget by making the most of ubiquitous, affordable technologies such as smartphones. Tangerine demonstrated that all you need to make the next great indie film is to pick up your smartphone.