Saturday 2 February 2013

The Truth About Independent Filmmaking

One thing I don't hear a lot of in the world of filmmaking is... the truth. The blunt truth. 

I hear a lot of sugar-coating, evasion, half-truth, prevarication, equivocation, and polite misrepresentation. I've largely despaired of giving feedback on screenplays. It's rare that a writer wants to hear what I truly think. They expect me to be their mother and tell them they're wonderful. Usually the worse the screenplay, the higher the unreal expectations. The more the loud protestation that they want to hear the truth, the greater the injury when it arrives. So I was delighted to read the following simple list published last year by Elliot Grove of Raindance: 10 Dirty Secrets of Independent Film

It put me in mind of the comment made by Kris Young, at UCLA, about teaching wannabe screenwriters:
Teaching newcomers to screenwriting, I try not to dwell too much on the negative aspects. I guess it’s like telling new soldiers, You’re all gonna get killed.”   
There's nothing new here, nothing that Elliot hasn't already said in a bunch of other places, but it did me good to hear it again. So, make sure you've added Raindance to your list of blogs, get yourself a cup of coffee, and luxuriate in a short sharp dose of the truth.

1. There is no such thing as 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.

2. It’s who you know, not what you know.

A 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 journalists. 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. 

    If pursuing talent is not your game, remember that you can always play the genre card and make either a horror or science fiction movie, where the concepts are generally so strong you won’t need cast.

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 don’t flag this during the pitch or you won’t get through the front door.

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’s a fact of life. It’s the way it is. Develop a strategy for dealing with it.

6. Awards are meaningless.

We’ve had filmmakers in the past say they have won an award at Raindance. When confronted with the reality of the fact they didn’t win an award at Raindance, they say things like ‘But you sent me an invoice for the submission fees. I thought that was an award.’ Still, an award with the olive branches on the poster for your film give it pedigree.

7. No one cares about 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. Despite what they say, no one in the industry gives a toss about orphans. There are so many of them. Don’t you be one.

8. Looks count.

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

9. The industry loves new talent.

Oh no they don’t. The industry is petrified by new talent. Everyone inside the film industry is worried that someone smarter, brighter, more capable, younger (and cheaper!) will come along and snatch their job. The film industry shuns new talent.

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 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 off line) 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. They lie about when they are going to pay you. They lie about you to their friends and colleagues. It is a pretty unpleasant and nasty business. 

How do you survive? By being honourable and truthful. Everyone, even the crusty owner of a lab, will respect that. And respect gets you an awful long way in the film industry.

1 comment:

Ed Love said...

Fascinating, and worrying, and good to know!