HowTo: Seven: Tips for the Indie Filmmaker

[Mike’s Comments:] via Cinematical by Chris Ullrich on 10/26/06

Filed under: Comedy, Horror, Independent, Thrillers, DIY/Filmmaking, Cinematical Seven


When the realization hits you that what you really want to do is direct, produce or otherwise make independent films, just like your heroes Robert Rodriguez, Eli Roth, Kevin Smith or James Wan, there are many thoughts that may go through your head: “What should I make my film about?”, “Where should I shoot my film?”, “Who can I get to be in my film?” and my personal favorite “Do I have enough room on my credit cards to pay for all this?” The answer to that last one is probably “no” but heck, don’t let that stop you!

These are all valid questions that haunt many an aspiring independent filmmaker, causing more than one sleepless night. Over the years, I’ve spent some time in the trenches making independent (and not so independent) films. So to help alleviate some of your anxiety and hopefully reduce the number of your sleepless nights, I’m presenting some tips for the independent filmmaker. Hopefully, these seven tips can serve as a guideline to those of you brave enough — or dumb enough — to want to make independent films. Actually, being both brave and a little dumb probably doesn’t hurt.

Anyway, here we go.

1. Keep it simple
– Sure, a film about World War II featuring the invasion of Normandy like Saving Private Ryan or a movie where the climax takes place on top of the Empire State Building like King King or a film with thousand of computer generated soldiers like The Lord of the Rings might seem like exciting projects, and they are just not within your budget. When you start thinking about what kind of film to make that will define you as a filmmaker, the most important thing to remember is to keep it simple. Scripts with lots of speaking parts, extras, stunts, locations, or scenes where entire city blocks explode are probably not the films you should be making right out of the gate. Instead, stick to something small and manageable, perhaps a movie about a boy and a girl that takes place in an apartment and a restaurant or an apartment and a coffee shop or an apartment and another apartment. Few actors, few locations, a simple story and that’s all. Simple, got it?

For locations, also consider things like where you work, who you know, where they work and most importantly, what you think you can get for free. Also, seek out local film schools or community theaters in your area as resources for talent to help you make your film. You can also advertise online at places like Craig’s List to find crew, locations or pretty much anything else to help you. Just remember, no matter what you do, keep it simple. Save all the explosions, stunts and special effects for your next movie. I know it might sound boring but a simple film, completed reasonably well, is much better than a complex film that you can’t afford to finish.

2. Write a script – As unbelievable as it may sound, many producers and directors of small budget (and big budget) films often just grab a camera and a bunch of actors and go out trying to make the “magic” happen. This is, of course, a huge mistake for one simple reason: You need a plan. And not just you, the rest of your crew, actors and everyone else associated with your film needs a plan too. Your script is that plan. So, chain yourself to your kitchen table or whatever else you need to do to get motivated and bang out a script complete with dialog, description and all the rest of the things that go into it. You might be asking yourself “well, if the big movies don’t always have a script when they start why do I need one?” That’s a good question and the answer to it is simple: They have money. You don’t.

Having a lot of money allows big movies the luxury of having the entire cast and crew sit around all day, at hundreds of thousands of dollars per hour, while the director and DP “wing it” waiting for the light to be “just right.” You will not have the money or time to “wing it” so get used to it and get your mind wrapped around the idea of planning ahead. One of the most important things I ever learned on a film set, besides “always make friends with the Teamsters,” is plan your work and work your plan. If everyone on your film is working from a plan and marching in the same direction, you chances of success are astronomically improved.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask


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