No room for the fun stuff: the question of the screenplay in American indie cinema | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 1, Issue 1
  • ISSN: 1759-7137
  • E-ISSN: 1759-7145


One of the most interesting trends in recent independent cinema has been for film-makers to avoid using traditional screenplays in making their films. Not only have emerging film-makers associated with the so-called mumblecore movement, such as Joe Swanberg, Aaron Katz and Ronald Bronstein, veered away from depending on conventionally written screenplays, but other critically acclaimed films, including (Smith, 2008) and (Hammer, 2008), have as well. Indeed, some of the most notable American indie film-makers Gus Van Sant, David Lynch and Jim Jarmusch have employed alternative strategies to the screenplay in such recent films as (2003), (2006), and (2009). What is behind these developments and why has the conventional screenplay been under attack? What are the aesthetic benefits of choosing not to rely on a traditional script? Is this a completely new phenomenon or has the industrial screenplay always been an obstacle? I explore these issues by looking at three major strategies that indie film-makers have used in place of the traditional screenplay: improvisation, psychodrama and visual storytelling. Finally, I argue that for current independent film-makers in the United States of America these methods provide an appropriate model for a practice that is attempting to create a truly viable alternative to Hollywood cinema.


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