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10 Secrets of Independent Film | Aria Pictures Weblog

McKenna Whiting hold the slate, Brendan Brooks is behind the camera, and Gary L. Conover in the background is ready to act. photo by ©2012 Patracia Collins.

Date: January 30, 2014
Author: Gerald Martin Davenport
Reading Time: 7 minutes

The original article was written by Elliot Grove for Rain Dance FilmFestival (no date on when it was posted): I have altered it a bit to reflect my views, knowledge, and opinions about Film Festivals and Independent Filmmaking, these are in italic.

1. There is no such thing as an independent film

The film industry is all run by the conglomerates and studios who hatch small boutique companies to trade on the name “independent.” These production companies are run by the same moguls as their bigger budget Hollywood counterparts. In this corporate realm, moguls offer actors scale work on the promise that the cool films and directors they work with will enhance their careers. The producers of these lower budget films are offered elusive back end deals based on the success of the distribution process. Of course, any profit is gobbled up by expenses.

If you think Independent Film, is truly Independent, then you need to open your eyes and look at who is behind the films that go to these Independent Film Festivals. They are already in the industry.

2. It is who you know, not what you know

the WATERING holeA good political mind is a far better asset to a budding filmmaker than anything else. Get really good at building relationships with the people that will matter to your career; distributors, sales agents and journalist. While you are at it, find out who the hot new PR’s are, and budget their fees into your monthly budget.

3. Casting Counts

Forget talent. Low budget films are bought and sold depending on the cast. Develop your relationships with new and established talent. Prove to them that you are the ‘Next Hot Thing.’ Demonstrate your skills working with actors by taking gigs in fringe theatre and by directing award-winning short films.

I have made some great films with some great talent and won a few awards. And I am positive that I am going to make it; ‘Next Hot Thing’ is a bit strong and arrogant, especially when they are not looking for you or do not want you in their circle. So the best thing is to show them you make watchable movies and take care of the cast & crew; anything beyond that is ridiculously stupid.

4. Originality is shunned

The film industry is very conservative. Remember that your original idea might just terrify a studio executive at a production or distribution company. Find the basic message of your movie and learn how to tone it down so the suits can swallow it. If you want to slip in some controversy, great, but do not flag this during the pitch, or you will not get through the front door.

If you are going for the major bucks, sure change, but honestly, you will never get your foot in the door, so do your own thing for now, because if you try to do what they want then you are limiting your creativity, and not being who you are, which is more important. Do not sell your soul.

5. Want to get into a film festival?

All festivals get thousands of submissions, and who are you? You are unknown, untried, and untested. The major festivals rely on a handful of their trusted advisers to recommend the films that will make them look good and guarantee good press and box office. It is these people you need to get to know and schmooze. It is a fact of life. It is the way it is.

Are film festivals worth it? Well, when you already have an established name in your film or backer, then a film festival for them is like a little look at what we have done party; taking away the outlet and possibility for someone like you, the unknown. Film Festivals are worthless for the TRUE Independent. See 10. The Truth.

6. Awards are meaningless

The original text is based on their festival, but the topic is contradictory to his earlier information under 3. Casting Counts, where he states:

“Prove to them that you are the ‘Next Hot Thing.’ Demonstrate your skills working with actors by taking gigs in fringe theatre and by directing award-winning short films.”

I agree that Awards are meaningless, but I have made award-winning films, and I am proud of it, but have they advanced my career? Depending on the award, most awards are only known by a small circle of peers, so beyond the award, it is meaningless.

7. Mentors, Champions, and Orphans

Until you get a mentor or champion for your film, no one is going to care about you, or your film. Until you get such a person – your film is an orphan.

What influential person, in the film industry, is attached to your film? I am hoping that Michael Klemp, Charlie Merlo, Gretta Sosine, Karly Avva, or any one of the wonderful people I have worked with becomes famous, then my films will have more credibility, as people will look into their past work; so this is in connection with 3. Casting Counts. If you can get an up and coming actor who has the chance to make it, then cast them, as I have done. Will it work? Time will tell. My Actors, Crew, and I, are working hard to help each other. It does not matter who gets us there, just as long as we get there.

8. Looks, count

The trick is to give your film a look, a style, and a presence that makes it stand out from all the other newbies clamoring for attention.

As I have mentioned in my Filmmakers Guide to Completion (to be continued), as well as, stated to many fellow filmmakers: the look is a large part of creating the emotion and feeling of a scene or the entire film. Flat camera angles and coloring makes you stand out like a beginner. Everything I have ever edited gets a look of color and pacing.

9. The industry loves new talent

Oh no, they do not. The industry is petrified by new talent. Everyone inside the film industry is worried that someone smarter, brighter, more capable, younger (and cheaper) comes along and snatches their job. The film industry shuns new talent.

Explains why it is so hard to break into the Film Industry as an Actor, Writer, Director, and Editor. These are high paying positions, and they don't want to share their piece of the pie with you. So before you go all half-cocked thinking you are going somewhere with your little film, your mediocre acting, or your limited skills; even if you are better than anyone already established, you are not welcome in their world.

10. The Truth

There is no such thing as the film industry. It is a total misnomer to describe a collective of a dozen or more industries loosely linked by a film. There are the camera manufacturers, the equipment rental houses, the labs and post-production suites, the unions and guilds, the lawyers and accountants, the distributors, and exhibitors (both on and offline), and of course the film festivals. None of these sub-industries trust, or even like each other. And they all pretty much hate filmmakers.

Everyone in the film industry lies. They lie about what they really think about your work, when they are going to pay you, lie about you to their friends and colleagues. It is a pretty unpleasant and nasty business.

I have never misled anyone about my productions; my intentions are honorable and real. A few things may not have come true, but not because of anything I have done, or not done, but due to unreliable sources; growing and learning, is a constant thing anyone should do, and I am no different. But there are no guarantees in the business. Just learn from your experiences.

How do you survive?

By being honorable and truthful. Everyone, even the crusty owner of a lab will respect that. And respect gets you an awfully long way in the film industry.

Your Choice, Your Time

There is always that one time, against the greatest odds in the galaxy, that YOU are that one special talent that is accepted into the mainstream entertainment world with open arms. then by God, more power to you for never giving up, and learning about it the hard way. It is Your Choice and Your Time. Do with it as you see fit; but remember words of wisdom, which is why I am here to help you not make the same mistakes as I or others before you have.

Just make movies, write our stories, perform in as many things as you can, and hone your craft and build your portfolio; live, just live and enjoy it while you are living.

Remember: Lights on for safety. even during the day