Stop Misusing The Word “Independent”

Sammy G's picture

Sammy G has a major pet peeve, one that almost rivals the haute couture restricting me from wearing brown sandals with a black belt. This pet peeve is hearing those in the media industry misuse the term “independent.” I don’t think people recognize the true meaning of the term and the harmful implications of throwing that term around.

I haven’t felt the need to spout off like a discordant term-snob until The Rampant Coyote specifically featured the use of “indie” on his game development blog:

When most say “indie” to describe their production, concept, artistic statement, etc. they mean it to infuse a sense of hip, underground, and edgy into their operation. It’s used as a marketing term. It means to a fan or vendor or investor that your operation is rooted in core development values, pure of intent, uninfluenced by a “corporate” world driven by profit motive.

When I hear the term “indie” in association with media, I instantly think just the opposite. I think of a business that is undercapitalized, devoid of strong managerial acumen, and without strong marketing to access customers and fulfill their expectations over time in the form of customer support.

Let me explain to you why the term is misused: if you were to start a record label (“record” being another term now clearly misused!), and you file your charter documents at the Secretary of State, and you pay some bucks to register your trademark with the USPTO, and you find a couple worthy folks to sit on your Board, then there is no difference structurally between your record label and Warner Bros. None. Both corporations are in good standing with their state, both pay income and withholding taxes, both retain the capacity to sue and be sued, and both have shareholders who vote at required annual meetings to elect a Board of Directors which carries a fiduciary responsibility to oversee that management earns a return for the shareholders. Structurally, there is no difference, unless of course you organized your record label as a partnership. And even then there really is no big difference.

In reality, however, we all know there is a big difference. One label is more successful than the other. One has lots of revenue. One has lots of customers. One has distribution.

So for those of you out there who use the term “indie”, let me warn you there are those who hear that term and automatically think you have a business that does not influence or impact the market in any significant way. It means, "we're not as successful as others." To some it means, "“we don’t know what we’re doing when it comes to selling our product.”

The only true “independent” sector in the United States, as recognized by the IRS for tax treatment purposes, is the nonprofit sector.

Just my opinion.


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Timpane's picture

Gonna have to disagree..

See, I've been part of a number of "indie" films. I've also had the good fortune to be part of a few studio productions, but only in a very limited basis.

There is not a quantifiable line whereby I can tell you that "this" is indie and "that" is not.

Except to say that when I worked with Timewarp films, a single camera production with ultra-low budget, trying every trick they could think of to make a monetarily small budget look big. That was an indie film. No question in my mind. A couple of guys just decided to do it, try to make a buck doing it, and be damned with the idea that you need a studio behind you to make a profitable film.

Now where does that line end? Well, thats a good question. Were the new Star Wars films indies? They were all self financed by Lucas, no studio involvement except distribution... yet, they are clearly big-budget. So, does singularity of vision or self-finacing make an indie film?

Indie to me says Low-budget. Clerks 2 was not an independently financed film. The Weinsteins produced it. Yet, it was made deliberately low-budget (<5 Million), and utilized a clearly indie film framework.

Its hart to quantify what "indie" is, except that when I make a movie (and I likely will) it will be an indie. there is no big studio producing it. It will be designed to make a modest profit and will have a unique vision.

Of then again, maybe it won't. How do you tell?

Visit the Official Justin Timpane Website
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Sammy G's picture

From what were you independent?

In your work with those films, from what were you independent?

Timpane's picture


Well, let's be clear. I was not the independent one. I was the subservient actor.. go here, pretend to fight.. here's some fake blood.. hang upside down.. etc.

The Writers and directors, though were free from:
Studios. In that the writer and director also owned the studio, and they made the deals for the financing and distribution of the films. Also, the vast majority of the film was financed by the Director himself. Because of this, he also has total say in what the film will be like because, again, no one will tell him what to do.

Format. There is a "way" things are done. A grip does this.. the actors do that.. etc. On the independent films.. everyone is a PA, everyone holds the mic sometimes. I actually shot footage that made it into one movie. The director is also the DP, the DP is running the sound board, etc.

Unions. No SAG rules, no Teamsters.

And, unfortunately, also free from money. you wo what you can with what you have to work with. You improvise stuff on the fly, and sometimes its crappy, but sometimes, its Clerks.

Me, I was free from a good paycheck, sobriety, and safety.
But hey.. you take what you can get.

Visit the Official Justin Timpane Website
Music, Acting, and More!


Sammy G's picture

All The Same

"...trying every trick they could think of to make a monetarily small budget look big…A couple of guys just decided to do it, try to make a buck doing it, and be damned with the idea that you need a studio behind you to make a profitable film."

Exactly, Justin. You’re making my point for me.

Timewarp Films is a studio business operating the same as any other studio business, including the more recognizable studios Warner, Sony, Fox, etc. TimeWarp offers a motion picture, feature-film product of similar length as those other studios, created with the same process of other studios (script, storyboard, shot, post-production), and delivered to an audience in the exact same big-screen theatre retail venue as those other studios.

Timewarp Films is exactly the same as other studios in terms of legal organization, corporation status, product and distribution format. So I ask again, from what exactly is a film studio like Timewarp independent?

Your perspective is of someone deeply embedded in the industry. To you Timewarp is "independent" because, for one reason, they use multiple people to perform similar functions. That’s not independent, that’s a competitive advantage.

I think people in any industry throwing the term around should at least acknowledge that its dogged use can have harmful implications. Case in point – Wife Unit and I go to Mexico. We researched places to stay. Digging around online I came across a little place that wasn’t listed in any of the books or brochures I had. It was a gem; great pictures that made me envision cabana-huts right on the beach.

Problem was that on every "about us" description this place kept pushing how it was an independent resort. From what were they independent? The Mexican government? On every page, they were so independent they got me worried because I wondered if it the place was run by two managers who wouldn’t be around in the middle of the night if an emergency arose. Was it safe? Did they have enough staff to purify all the water and food?

At the local art fair yesterday I stopped at a booth which hyped a new indie magazine. The booth staffer explained that the mag was started by a couple locals who were sick of mainstream media and wanted to create their own publication. Looking at a support-the-independent subscription offer, I asked, "These people have any prior journalism or editing experience?" No. So by being independent they classify themselves as inexperienced with no customer service.

Yes, I realize that in the media industry it's a marketing term. But people should know that some hear the term and think it’s an excuse to offer in advance a reason for why the product or experience won’t be as enjoyable or thorough as other similar offerings.

More appropriate terms:
-Family-owned and operated (retail)
-Owner-occupied (real estate/apartment)
-Feature film producer

rowan's picture


Out of curiosity, how would you define the term 'independent,' and in what situations would it actually be appropriate to describe an entity as such?

"You of all people should know that plastic surgery can do wonders." --Amber Fitzgerald
"And you're living proof that mistakes are sometimes made." -- Charisma Weaver
[a hlink="htpp://"]DC After Dark[/a]


How I Define Independent

Hey Sammy -

This article was a part of a follow-up blog... thought you might enjoy it (even if you might not agree with it):

Dependent, Independent, and Indie

Sammy G's picture

Hey Jay

Read it, trying to respond, can't figure out how to log onto your blog?

Dah Blog, Boss, Dah Blog!


It's a Blogger account. You can post anonymously just by going to the bottom and clicking "Post A Comment" if you don't want to create a blogger account. Sorry about that - Blogger was one of those "Seemed to be a good idea at the time" things, and it's pretty low maintenance.

Sammy G's picture


Independent Counsel
Independent Review Committee
Independent Auditor

Among others...

Timpane's picture

Independent pie.

I love me some independent pie.

Visit the Official Justin Timpane Website
Music, Acting, and More!