Call it “Netflix for indie movies”; that’s how founder Scilla Andreen describes IndieFlix, a streaming service for shorts, documentaries, and feature films made outside the Hollywood complex. Based in a waterfront suite in Madison Park, the company aims to make filmmaking lucrative for more than just the Hollywood elite. “It’s the same recess playground but allows more people to play,” Andreen says. But first she took a roundabout route to her groundbreaking business model through some of the biggest TV shows of the 1990s.
Andreen’s half-Chinese heritage made her a target at her Breckenridge, Colorado, school; she had an imaginary friend named Oliver and was bullied so much she’d affix Band-Aids to her eyelids in hopes of making them “round and not slanty.” When a new girl named Lisa Levy befriended her, Andreen suggested they pretend to be strangers at school for Levy’s sake; the new girl refused. “Thank god for Lisa Levy and the other Lisa Levys of the world,” she says. Andreen’s family eventually moved to the Northwest, stranded in Seattle by the gas crisis on the way to Vancouver, BC.
While working a college catering job in New York City, Andreen was passing out crab appetizers on a rooftop (Dustin Hoffman’s, she thinks). One minute she was saying, “You’re a pig” to a party guest who kept gobbling the messy bites, and the next she was dating him and learning his field: commercial directing. After a breakup and a move to LA, Andreen’s life changed on Super Bowl Sunday 1988 when she caught the premiere of a nostalgia-soaked TV show about a suburban boy in the ’60s.
Andreen hounded the staff at The Wonder Years until they gave her a job tidying wardrobe hangers; five episodes later the college dropout was leading the costume department. In dressing Fred Savage and company, Andreen was quickly nominated for an Emmy and always came in under budget, using thrifting skills honed at Seattle’s Lakeside Rummage Sale. Her biggest challenge was finding ’60s and ’70s pieces that fit the contemporary actors, most of whom had thighs too muscular to fit vintage bellbottoms.
After years of doing costume design for Party of Five, Dawson’s Creek, and an Amanda Bynes sitcom, Andreen was hungry to make her own art. She shadowed directors and produced short films. One of the first, Bit Players, followed two fictional Oompa Loompa actors on the set of Andreen’s favorite movie. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory once taught her, “Be kind to yourself and to others and the world will carve out a path for you.” Her flick made it into almost 100 film festivals, including Sundance.
Indie filmmakers, if they’re very, very lucky, can score traditional distribution—but for little cash that won’t cover their modest costs. “I sort of felt like Hollywood was a bit of the bully to the independent filmmakers of the world,” says Andreen. So she gathered a few dozen indie films and started a DVD subscription service, just like the emerging Netflix. Nine years later it streams 8,000 titles to hundreds of thousands of users, and Andreen pays filmmakers for every minute. “I grew up not fitting in, so I’m not worried about being liked,” she says of IndieFlix’s disruptive model. “But it’s important to me to do something good for the filmmaking community.”
This article appeared in the May 2015 issue of Seattle Met magazine.