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Caitriona Balfe, Ann Dowd, Dakota Johnson, more experienced freedom on latest films

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Caitriona Balfe, Ann Dowd, Dakota Johnson, more experienced freedom on latest films
Caitriona Balfe said making "Belfast" independently allowed the film to focus on characters more than historical politics. Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

Nov. 13 (UPI) -- Caitriona Balfe, Ann Dowd, Dakota Johnson, Nicolas Cage and Simon Rex said independent films offered them freedom from the micromanaging that often comes with studio budgets. The actors were on an AFI Fest panel on Saturday discussing the state of independent film.

Balfe stars in Beflast, writer/director Kenneth Branagh's film about a child in Ireland during The Troubles. 42-year-old Balfe, who plays the boy's mother, said she feared if Branagh had made Belfast at a movie studio, they would have demanded he explain the historical conflict between Unionists who wanted Northern Ireland to remain in the U.K. and nationalists who fought for a united Ireland.

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"You'd get these glimpses of what's going on, but it's not really important if you understand every nuance of what was going on in Northern Ireland at that time," Balfe said. "It's about how this child was feeling at that moment and how it affected his life."

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Dowd, 65, stars in Mass, a drama set entirely in one room as four parents discuss a school shooting in which their kids were involved. Dowd said lower budget independent films inspire more collaboration than large studio productions.

"What I love about an independent picture is that it's, in a way, like the school play in the sense that no one is more important than the other," Dowd said. "Nobody's hopping off to the trailer for privacy or the nap. You do it right with everybody, crew and cast."

Johnson, 32, stars with Olivia Colman in The Lost Daughter, written and directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal. Johnson said independently made dramas like Lost Daughter allow the audience to feel conflicted about mothers expressing their frustrations with parenthood.

"Why I love it and love indie films is you're not being spoon-fed information," Johnson said. "You're not being told how to feel."

Johnson starred in the trilogy of Fifty Shades films, based on the hit novels about a woman's relationship with a bondage enthusiast. Johnson said the Universal Studios productions frustrated her.

"Something like Fifty Shades, it was almost like an algorithm," Johnson said. "You really had to get certain things right rather than just tell the truth. Larger films are oftentimes scared of the truth."

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Cage, 57, stars in Pig as a truffle hunter pursuing the kidnappers of his truffle pig. Having starred in blockbusters like Con Air, Face/Off and National Treasure, Cage said the presures of larger budgets inhibit a storyteller's freedom of speech.

"More money is being spent and there are more people trying to tell you what you should do with your story," Cage said. "At the basic roots, which is freedom of speech, to tell the story honestly, you can do that a lot easier with an independent movie."

47-year-old Rex stars in Red Rocket as a former adult film star who returns home to Texas. Rex said writer/director Sean Baker asked him personally to drive to Texas to make his production schedule, which invigorated his performance.

"He said, 'I need you here in three days but you have to drive here. If you fly here, we have to quarantine you for a week and that'll fall into the production of the movie,'" Rex said. "So I basically had to drive three days while memorizing a lot of dialogue."

Limitations can often increase the creativity of an independent film, Balfe said. Balfe said the production designers of Belfast could reuse a single set for multiple locations in the film, since they did not have the option to rent multiple locations.

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"We spent, I think, four or five of the seven weeks in this one old boarding school that they kept finding different ways of using it, making it work for this location, that location," Balfe said.

Cage also said studio films can become cluttered with distractions. Cage said he has been distracted by behind-the-scenes crews filming him work.

"There's more oxygen in the room when I'm making an indie movie," Cage said. "You're not micromanaged that much."

Dowd shared a similar experience. Dowd has found still photographers snapping photos mid-scene distracting to her work.

"Step away," Dowd siad. "I'm happy to stand for you afterwards but we're not doing dog tricks here."

Zola star Colman Domingo was also on the panel. Pig, Mass, Belfast and Zola are out now. Red Rocket opens in theaters Dec. 10 and The Lost Daughter opens in theaters Dec. 17 and premieres on Netflix Dec. 31.

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