Independent Filmmaking – Can I? should I? Am I good enough?

‘The Race’ 2011, Burbank.

Feeling a bit overwhelmed and intimidated?

You are not alone…

This is the beginning of the season of awards, fall film festivals and lots and lots of screenings.

Living in LA we are surrounded by the movie business, and that can be intimidating for very independent filmmakers because, well, everyone is bigger than you.

Or at least that is how it seems at times.

But remember, everyone who lives in a big house, drives a big car and seems to know what they are doing certainly didn’t begin that way. And they still have mortgages and car loans and self-doubt.

So look at the plethora of film makers, venues, screenings, festivals and the like as a good thing.

Go to these events, watch whatever you can, and truly absorb the art of it, because, as very independent filmmakers, the business side of things can be a bit intimidating and ultimately, if you do ever get some actually money to make something, there will be someone else in charge of that stuff anyway.

You don’t need to know everything about everything.

Concentrate on what you do have control over. Right now.

That would be your film. Your art. Your baby.

I recently went to a film festival in LA, by the beach, let’s not say which one…

I had a lovely friend of mine who has made a beautiful and poetic short film, and it was showing at the festival, so I went to support her….

When I got there, things seemed somewhat chaotic.

Actually the people in charge didn’t seem to be in chaos exactly, on Zanex perhaps, or something that had taken them beyond the stage of calm and into the realms of zen.

While this may have been working for them, it certainly wasn’t helping the festival do what it was supposed to, namely show films. We found our way to the film ‘marque’, which is a very kind description. It was 100 degrees and the screen swayed gently as the trucks rumbled by. There was no introduction, no pageantry, and no refreshments. There was also, very importantly, no audience.

This is very important. Why would anyone go to all the trouble of entering a film into a festival, which involves a fee too, when, if they are chosen to take part, for which there is no guarantee regardless of the entry fee, the festival consists of a few people sitting in a tent with a projector and a DVD machine?
The point of festivals, whether it’s music or art of film, is to mix with people who are interested in the same things you are. To revel in the art form, to make connections, to get valuable feedback and maybe even future collaborators. That’s really what filmmakers pay for when they hand over their fees. The hope of getting seen and not just by the other filmmakers with films being shown who are attending the festival.

Clearly this festival was mismanaged. Unforgivable, especially for LA. My friend’s film wasn’t even able to be played! Something wrong with the DVD player! So we relocated to the main hall, which wasn’t bad actually, where it was finally shown but the sound was so low we could barely hear it. My lovely friend was very disappointed, she had just had an infinitely better experience at a festival out of town the week before, thankfully, and we did trot off for a nice lunch afterwards, but really…

I think my point is, if you are brave enough to write it, film it, edit it and put if out into the world, in competition no less, and pay for the privilege, you should at the very least have an audience, some snacks, AC and a bit of respect.

Being selective about the festivals you enter is one thing, and an entirely other article, but you also need to do your homework on what you are attending.

Once you have, with better luck than we had last weekend, then take everything in. The films, the audience, what they respond to and what they are bored by. They are, after all, rather important to the filmmaker. Not that I’m saying you should pander to the crowds, perish the thought, but its smart to know what an audience ‘feels’ and why. This can only benefit you as a film maker.

One of the most surprising things I have got from attending festivals, or screenings, is encouragement. I assumed, before I began attending festivals and quite incorrectly as it turns out, that seeing other filmmakers work and being surrounded by the success of completed projects, might make me feel less worthy somehow. That I would compare my work to that around me and that mine would suffer in the comparison.

But this is not at all the case.

I felt inspired. I felt encouraged and I felt completely at home.

Even though the films I make are made with no money, few resources and no intention for profit, to me they not only compare favorably to films from all over the world, but a lot of the time I actually come away thinking mine were just as good, if not better than most.

That’s not just because I’m being a twit, it’s because we are all talented, we are all capable and we all have our wonderfully unique perspectives and our stories to tell. So why wouldn’t my stories be just as valid as any other?

Sitting in the dark with strangers who are all as feverish about film and filmmakers as you are is a blessing too regularly overlooked and taken for granted. If you see cinema as your church, then being with your congregation, in venues large and small, and the collective inspiration that group worship affords, can only ever make you feel connected to your world of filmmaking.

It can and will inspire you to make more films, big, small and somewhere in-between and always very, very independently.