Filmmaking in an Independent World: Part I

By Shea Lord | Tags: ,
October 30th, 2011

Filmmaking in an Independent World: Part I

By Shea Lord | Tags: ,
October 30th, 2011

The Savannah Film Festival kicked off Sunday evening with a screening of Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist (last year it was Aronofsky’s Black Swan, which I managed to sneak into as a festival volunteer). With the coming of the SAVFF are many fantastic panels concerning various topics of filmmaking. This morning I attended one of the four I’ve scored tickets to: Filmmaking in an Independent World. There were 10 panelists, as shown below- all of whom were wonderfully passionate about what they do and enthusiastic in giving advice to us student filmmakers (undergrads and grads alike). Among the panelists was only one non-filmmaker and self-titled “black sheep of the group,” Charles Adler, one of three founders of Kickstarter.com– the hippest way to raise money for just about any endeavor in this modern, creative, indie world. So glad he was there! Anyway, down to brass tacks.

Panel: Filmmaking in an Independent World

Shawn Ku: Director Beautiful Boy; Stratton Leopold: Producer; Charles Adler: Kickstarter Co-Founder; Sally Jo Effenson: Producer A Year in Mooring; Mike Magidson: Director Inük; Brian Jett: Director Let Go; Paulinha Lima: Director Angelito; Bernardo Nascimento: Director North Atlantic; Bill Borden: Producer; Julie Yorn: LBI Entertainment

The old paradigm: find/write a great script, which attracts B-list actors (or an agent with A-list actors, if you’re lucky), who then attract a director. This package attracts the deep pockets of studios/investors. The movie is made and maybe you get a theatrical run. Then the deep pockets pay to distribute the film on DVD. These days, however, DVD sales are pathetic (video game sales more than quadrupled them last year) in the domestic market and practically nonexistent on a global scale. It often costs more money to produce the hard copy than is usually returned by its success (or lack-thereof), so forget about profiting on the film itself. Then there’s the issue of pirating, as always. This is the current dilemma faced by all filmmakers- but low-budget indies especially.

This issue has recently sparked plenty of discussion across the blog-o-shpere (’tis the season of festivals/panels). A new paradigm has yet to be established for getting films produced from indie roots, likely due to the rapidly-expanding media resources and outlets of the times. There are studios established specifically for indie films, such as FOX 2000 (a child of 20th Century FOX) and Screen Gems, which are certainly worth working with if it can be managed. Pitching is a whole other discussion- but the panel did try to sell the idea of finding A-list talent. The cast is part of the package you are trying to sell. If you can manage getting a recognizable name in your film, funding will easily multiply and studios are much more likely to sign a contract.

How does an unknown writer/director/producer sign A-list talent? Hopefully, you have some connections- friends who know friends, who are tight with celebrity actors. The panelists could not stress enough the importance of building relationships among contemporaries in the industry. (Burning bridges is not usually a good idea, CYA!) If you’re like me and don’t really know anyone (or so you think), there are options. 1. Have a script that you can believe in. With this, gain representation and find an agent to attract actors. 2. Hire a casting director. It’s a risk, but forking out the cash may pay off in the long run.

Let’s not get caught up with finding names for your package, though— it’s not always necessary. Character driven stories like RomComs really do need big names to carry a story commercially, but a scifi film, for example, may have an interesting enough plot that it doesn’t matter so much. There are exceptions, like Juno, in which the stars Ellen Page and Michael Cera were relatively unknown before it’s success. While it’s certainly not a RomCom, it is not a particularly thrilling adventure, either, but the characters drive the entire story. What does matter, in terms of not only marketability but also a film’s ability to communicate, is the audience.

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