Founded in 1999, Independent Digital Entertainment (InDigEnt) has spent its first three years doggedly carving out a niche for low-budget digital filmmaking. Driven in part by star power, the company struck gold in January when it snagged three prestigious prizes at the Sundance Film Festival and a pair of distribution deals that would make any indie filmmaker green with envy.
“I kind of think our success at Sundance has made it a lot more difficult in a way because now that we’re more visible and proven, the expectation is that we’re going to grow and that we should spend more money and make more films,” says InDig-Ent co-founder Gary Winick.
Winick explains that he’s dedicated to keeping InDigEnt budget levels fixed at $150,000, which will keep his company lean and his filmmakers creative. And the proof of this strategy is in the films themselves.
“Tadpole,” directed by Winick and starring Sigourney Weaver and Bebe Neuwirth, was picked up by Miramax at Sundance, where it garnered strong critical response for topnotch performances and storytelling, and earned the prize for direction.
Winick attributes much of the film’s success to the on-the-go filmmaking style made conducive by shooting with mini-DV, and while the film is not particularly stunning visually, it does have a rare energy and intimacy.
InDigEnt’s other prize winner is “Personal Velocity,” written and directed by Rebecca Miller, and starring Kyra Sedgwick, Parker Posey and Fairuza Balk.
The film is based on a collection of short stories by Miller and features a distinct look for each section.
“Personal Velocity,” which was picked up by United Artists and will be released in November, won the grand jury prize and the cinematography kudo for d.p. Ellen Kuras.
“I think there are great advantages and disadvantages to digital video,” comments Miller, whose first feature film was “Angela,” a stunning 35mm story also shot by Ellen Kuras. “We used two cameras, and I was able to use very long takes, sometimes 15 minutes at a time. I was able to keep the actors in an emotional space and not break their concentration.
“Both Ellen and I felt very free, finding images, and there’s an experimental quality in the film as a result — little shots, that you can pick up quickly, things that end up giving a wonderful atmosphere to a film.”
This sense of experimentation forms the basis of InDigEnt’s filmmaking mandate. Indeed, Winick likes to point to the disparity between “Tadpole” and “Personal Velocity.” “The two films are great examples of DV filmmaking because they’re on opposite sides of the spectrum — ‘Personal Velocity’ is very beautiful and lyrical, while ‘Tadpole’ is a much more commercial project.”
And that an actress like Sigourney Weaver participated in a film with such a skimpy budget shot on a consumer-level camera is also noteworthy. Between them, the films could have a resounding effect on future digital projects.
Given all the recent success, it would seem that InDigEnt has it made. But Winick hesitates to be too celebratory, noting, “We’ve done nine films so far, and you’d think that it would get easier, but each movie has a different set of challenges.”
Upcoming InDigEnt projects include films by Alan Taylor, John Ridley and Peter Hedges.