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Indie Film Doesn’t Have To Suck!

I was enjoying a Jack and Coke with one of my buddies after sitting through a particularly excruciating indie film premier. The producer was one of our acquaintances. I asked my buddy what he thought of the film. He said, “If that was a fight, they would have stopped it.”

We’ve all experienced it: struggling to sit through the uneven, incomprehensible film offerings of our compatriots. But there is so much good stuff coming out of the independent film scene it’s clear that indie film does not have to be lame.

There a many ways to classify indie films and film makers. I’m sure you could add to the list below:

  • Student films.
  • First time hobbyists.
  • Full time hobbyists.
  • Full time hobbyists with delusions of grandeur.
  • Vanity projects.
  • Poorly funded but produced by industry professionals.
  • Fully funded and produced by industry professionals.
  • On and on…

The spectrum is wide and diverse. I’m going to focus on the lower end of the spectrum–the hobbyists and vanity projects–and why they don’t have to turn out a bad product.

There are a lot of reasons why these projects often turn out poorly. I’ll spare you a rant, but what it boils down to is a lack of experience, preparation and practical budgeting of resources. And delusional thinking. There is very little understanding about how much work a film really is. The post production fairy is not going to show up, wave her magic wand and polish your turd into Citizen Kane. But I rant.

Let’s take it back to the positive and examine what can be done to make a good product, whatever the budget.

  • Be realistic about what you can actually do. I can’t over-emphasize this enough. If you have five hundred dollars to your name you are not going to be able to film a feature script. At all. Never mind Kickstarter and indiegogo. It’ll never happen. You’ll be better off filming a five or ten minute short. There’s nothing wrong with shorts. Better to have a brilliant short than an unfinished feature. Get another five hundie? Make another short that builds on the last one. String enough of ‘em together you’ve got yourself a series, or a feature. Strip down your crew and resources to the bare minimum. It’s amazing what can be produced by one person with a camera and a couple actors. Some well known, recent films have scenes in them produced in this very fashion. It’s about the story, not the bells and whistles. Speaking of the story…
  • Make your script lean as a racehorse, compelling, engaging and suited for your budget. No one wants to be told their baby is ugly, but get all the feedback you can on it. Send it out to professionals for coverage. Ask random strangers what they think of it. Get people to help you fix it because it probably needs it. There are plenty of good writers who are willing to help other writers for free. Don’t try to film a script with lavish costuming, over the top fight scenes and special effects, it’ll never work. Instead try focusing on the characters and dialog, using locations that are commonplace and readily accessible. Make sure your dialog is realistic. Nothing derails a film like shitty dialog.
  • Get people who can actually act. Don’t hire an actor simply because you are trying to bang them. Stop it already. It’s never going to happen for you. And don’t hire them simply because you are banging them. Good lord, people! Just stop. Hire actors who fit the parts and can do a good job. Have a more experienced person help you cast if you need to.
  • Get a director who knows what they’re doing, understands your vision and will take the time to get good performances out of your actors. If you are directing it yourself, god help you. Go buy a book, take some classes. Actually learn how to do it. It’s not as simple as sitting in a beach chair, wearing an ironic hat and yelling action.
  • Don’t skimp on post production. If you have to spend money, this is the place to do it. Before editing and the addition of sound and music your footage is little more than a pile of nuts and bolts. It takes a skillful editor to fit the various parts into something usable and compelling. And don’t overlook the music. Music can make or break a film. And don’t add special effects unless you can afford to do them properly. Nothing will drag you out of a story like poorly executed CGI.

In short, foresight. Think your project through from beginning to end and realistically evaluate how much time and money it’s going to take. Be honest with yourself and others. If you can’t realistically pull it off, scale back your expectations to fit your available resources as they exist now. You may succeed in getting others to drink the Kool Aid you have been gulping in disgraceful quantities, but you’ll never be able to bullshit a bunch of files on a hard drive into spontaneously generating themselves into a brilliant film. 

  

You can make something awesome. You really can. But it may need to be something modest and awesome. Is that so terrible?


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