Why Indie Filmmakers Should Look to Poker as an Ideal Genre

We love indie films. Not just the quaint and eccentric storylines that often diverge from typical Hollywood fare, but also the ambition and unique visions involved in the making of independent films. If the camel is a horse designed by committee, then big productions have a hump or two, while the indie film looks much more like a horse. They’re not all successful horses… some are perhaps ponies in fact, while others are lame and could do with a trip to the glue factory.

Indie films are also disaster-resistant in some respect, because directors of these low-budget events find a way to get them made. NBC reports on how indie filmmakers got through the pandemic, while Statista lists The Gentleman and Emma among the top-grossing 2020 indie films in the UK.

All that said, there are restrictions facing independent filmmakers; namely, the budget and genre. It’s tougher
(although increasingly less so) to shoot big action movies without a Hollywood cash injection. All this means that indie directors sometimes have to get creative with their film and genre choices. Poker is a great example of an intriguing story area that is unlikely to break the bank. There are many reasons to turn to the card game, as an independent creator.

It’s more affordable than most genres

Let’s face it, you’re unlikely to have to film too many explosion scenes, when dealing cards. Never say never, of course, but a poker movie styled like Rounders or Mississippi Grind doesn’t have to cost much. You might just need a camera, some actors and packs of cards and chips. And while it’s not exactly the zero-budget filmmaking of our Outward Film Network blog post, there’s no need to break the bank, even as your protagonists make (or lose) the big bucks. Of course, some such movies will splash the cash – just look at Casino Royale. But not all films are expected to make as big of a buzz as Bond.

They’re character studies

Movies about poker are typically character studies. Think of 21 or Molly’s Game, and the deep dives that we get into the minds of the personalities in these films. With fewer distractions from explosions and car chase scenes typical of the big-budget movies, we’re free to hang on every word of the characters, as we attempt to discover who they really are. Indie directors thrive on such character studies.

Poker films allow for experimentation

Another thing indie filmmakers love more than anything is a chance to experiment and hone their craft. You can play with light to show and hide the expressions on the faces of the players and make subtle cues to the audience. The stage of a poker room (smokey or not) allows for all sorts of dramatic choices. The director can shoot scenes from several different angles to symbolise certain aspects of their characters, or to foreshadow later events in the film.

The game is becoming more familiar

Although rare is the filmmaker who’ll admit it, they all want to get eyes on their film. Even if it doesn’t make money, they want as many people as possible to see their artistic endeavours. And why shouldn’t they? They put a lot of effort into it, after all.

Over the last 25 years or so — in part thanks to great movies like Rounders — poker has become very popular. Indeed, Texas Hold’em poker, as explained by Poker.org, has become extremely familiar to a whole lot of people. This means there’s a built-in audience for a movie like this, and there’s no need to hold the audience’s hand with the subject matter.

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