Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

"The Ambitions of Most Independent Filmmakers": Indie Production, the Majors, and Friday the 13th (1980)

Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

"The Ambitions of Most Independent Filmmakers": Indie Production, the Majors, and Friday the 13th (1980)

Article excerpt

SCHOLARSHIP ON 1970S AMERICAN INDEPENDENT filmmaking has tended to fall into one of two categories. First, there are the examinations of maverick filmmakers? Hal Ashby, Robert Altman, Arthur Penn, and others? whose "independence" is determined largely by the exceptional levels of creative control that they were given by major studios such as Warner Brothers (Gilby; Kolker). Then there are those projects that focus on so-called exploitation companies such as American International Pictures (hereafter AIP), Dimension Pictures, and New World Pictures (Hillier; Hillier and Lipstadt; Lowry). These outfits, like the majors, operated on lines of credit that had been arranged with banks and controlled the production and distribution of their product. The "independence" of these companies is thus defined by the fact that they, unlike the major studios, were not members of the Motion Picture Association of America (hereafter MPAA). For the record, in 1979. the MPAA members were the majors Columbia Pictures, MGM/UA, Paramount Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, Universal Pictures, Warner Brothers Pictures, and DIsney/Buena Vista and the mini-major Avco Embassy Pictures.

Whether it is claimed to be a result of a distinct authorial vision or by virtue of attempts to profit from niches that the majors had overlooked or were under-exploiting, the content of the films of iconoclasts such as Ashby and businessmen in the mold of Roger Corman typically has been contrasted to that of major studio releases. These tendencies, in conjunction with the due attention that has been paid to early post-classical era blockbusters (Hall; Kr?mer; Schatz, "The New Hollywood"), have left a significant gap in the recent history of the American film industry; they have obscured the fact that there was a different breed of American independent filmmaker who at this time was aggressively targeting the MPAA members by offering to them for distribution completed films that had been tailored to meet their needs.

That breed of independent filmmaker was described in 1976 by film industry analyst A. D. Murphy as operating from an "outside world" in which such a filmmaker had "no ready entree into major distribution companies [and] no bank loan guaranteed by a major studio" (1, 32). It is a team of these "outsiders," as I call them here, on which this article focuses: the team of outsiders behind the low-budget teen slasher film Friday the 13th (1980). Moreover, it is in reference to these particular outsiders and to others like them that I use the term "independent filmmakers" in this article. I also use the term "independent distributor" to refer to any company that, in 1979, was responsible for delivering films to theaters but that did not belong to the MPAA.

The MPAA members, as several scholars have argued, were by the late 1970s releasing film types and mobilizing content and themes that hitherto had been associated with independent studios such as AIP and New World and outsiders (Hall; Schatz, Old Hollywood). It has been shown that in response to these developments, AIP and New World increased their production budgets and gentrified their films in an attempt to compete head-to-head with the majors (Hillier; Tzioumakis 204-05). The responses of outsiders have, however, drawn little academic attention. This article contributes to this under-researched area of American film history by employing formalist content analysis and industrial analysis to examine the logic and the strategies that underwrote the production of the 1980 teen slasher film Friday the 13th.1 1 show that the outsiders behind Friday the 13th crafted their film not for the exploitation circuit of grind-houses and drive-ins, as is often suggested (Clover, Men, Women and Chainsaws 21; Dickstein 74), butto attract an MPAA-member distributor.2 By showing that the exchange of content between the majors and independents was a complex two-way process, this article demonstrates that the conduct of the major studios and American independent filmmakers was more heavily intertwined In the late 1970s than has commonly been thought and that, rather than always being in opposition to one another, some independent filmmakers and MPAA members were able to forge a mutually beneficial existence. …

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