The warning – As always these are my ramblings so please forgive any grammar or spelling errors cause I surly did not notice them.
“A place for everything, everything in its place.”
The purpose of independent film is usually wisely summed up as doing what Hollywood can’t. This is an excellent starting point on the role independent films play in the general cinema universe. Large Hollywood studios are getting increasingly limited in the risk levels they can tolerate, as their business requires increasingly larger budgets that require increasingly larger debt borrowing while dealing with the ever-present demand from shareholders to increase profits. Today large studios are making fewer and fewer movies and the ones they are making are tent poles caring big budgets, featuring a number of big name stars and high dollar production budgets. Making today an even more important and opportunistic time for us independent filmmakers.
We have an obligation to take the risks that studios cannot. We get to push the envelope and roll the dice on making something that resonates with people beyond the stereotypical summer popcorn fare. The most important thing for independent filmmakers to remember is do not try to make a cheap version of what Hollywood is doing. I mean really why bother? Does anyone really think they can make a better version of say The Conjuring with their $20k than the studio made for $20 million? Besides they already did that and marketed the fuck out of it so most dollars that would be interested in that movie have already been spent and there is no reason to make a movie nobody wants to see. So if nothing else be original and do things a large studio can’t. Also there is nothing wrong with being inspired by genius but don’t attempt to imitate it because your end product will be nothing but a poor copy of an amazing original rather than an amazing original inspired by equally impressive originals.
As we push the envelope we also have to make sure we control the direction in which we push. A little business 101 from years spent as a management consultant and business owner: all business begins with knowing your customer intimately. Seriously that bit of knowledge is worth more than most MBA programs. Know exactly who your customer is before you begin, and know them extremely well. As an exercise I want to know them so well I can tell you their middle name and what they had for breakfast. Without customers you don’t have a business you have a hobby and without knowing exactly who your customer is up front you don’t know if you have a business so before you take on one fuck of an expensive hobby you might want to sit down and identify exactly who that customer is. Once you know your customer so well you can pick them out of a Starbucks 8 am lineup you can decide where exactly you are going to push the envelope to give them what they aren’t getting from mainstream Hollywood offerings. In fact everything you do from the script to the budget to the casting to the editing to the color grading should be built around that audience. Your audience is whom you are making your product for so they ought to be top of your mind all throughout the process.
Also important is to make sure you are filling a need in the market. If there is no need in the market their will be no need for your film, which in layman’s terms means you will lose your ass on it. So make sure you evaluate the market before pissing your money away.
Another thing to remember is to make the movie you want to make and have a strong passion for. The reason for this is simple; most movies never make a profit. So you are about to embark on a long road of hard work and sleepless nights which may only offer your finished work as a reward. Oddly enough the independent films that do strike gold tend to be those that defy conventional wisdom and are driven by a strong vision and obvious passion, so either way your best bet is to make the film that fulfills your strong passion and follows your clear unique vision.
Ok before this becomes a post on business and filmmaking, which I plan to do at some point, let’s get back to the purpose of independent film. Another purpose is to give your cast and crew the opportunity to stretch and show what they are capable of in a way they would not get in a large studio production. This ought to be an opportunity for them beyond what they normally get offered. Think about it if you a micro or small budget film you know they aren’t showing up for the big paycheck so give them something in exchange for all the hard work and talent they are about to pour into your production. Write the type of characters that will really show their ability and range and give them a story they can really believe in. The same goes for the crew, be the one who gives them the chance they have been hoping, working and waiting for and see how much more dedicated and invested they are in the project.
For many reasons there have never been a better time to be an independent filmmaker, a topic I will cover in a later post. As independent filmmakers we have a clear purpose in the overall cinema universe and as long as we remember that purpose and make intelligent decisions we have an opportunity to create the types of films that last long after the aftertaste of the popcorn summer fare has faded.