The 5 Rules for Making an Outstanding Indie Film
These days, it’s easier to make indie films; more than ever, almost anyone can access filmmaking technology, even on their smartphone or tablet. New platforms on the Internet allow indie filmmakers to present their creations to a worldwide audience at the click of a mouse. The number of first-time filmmakers grows each day. As a result, competition is hard, and it’s almost impossible to stand out.
Of course, not everyone can make a good film; especially if you have no experience, knowledge or passion. But if you’re passionate enough about your story, and believe in its message, you can create a successful film, and start your path on a career in the filmmaking industry.
But what about the budget?
Yes, the budget affects the film’s chance to set itself apart from the others, but in most cases it won’t be the main component when the jury selects their winners.
We’ve all been in the cinema, watching a big budget film, not knowing how we just wasted two hours of our lives. It’s NEVER about the budget. It’s ALWAYS about emotions. If it scared us, made us laugh or cry – we would love it.
As a festival director (Top Shorts, Festigious and Los Angeles Film Awards), and a documentary filmmaker, I’ve been reviewing thousands of short films a year. I’ve been watching films from everywhere, in every possible category, and of all kinds of productions: from first-time works and low budget indie films to award winning feature films.
So how do you make your indie film stand out? Here are my five rules:
Rule #1: Watch more indie films
You can’t watch a Hollywood blockbuster and then go filming. Indie films look and feel different. Many times, these films impress me much more than those Hollywood films, for one simple reason: their creators have dealt with many more constraints than top directors who have the studios’ back.
Behind the scenes of Captain America: Civil War. Not exactly an indie film.
It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t watch Captain America, for example. But you’ll learn much more from films that had a lower budget and simpler stories.
One short indie film that I can recommend is Sleeping Death (״La Muerte Dormida״), directed by David Casademunt.
"This film moved me deeply." -Ms. Melissa Jo Peltier, Festigious Premier Judge, on Sleeping Death
The film won the Best of Fest award at Top Shorts 2015 (selected by Academy Award- and Emmy-nominated Director & Producer, and Top Shorts premier judge, Mr. Mike Tollin) and the Best of Fest award at Festigious 2015 (selected by two-time Emmy Award-winning writer and producer, and Festigious premier judge, Ms. Melissa Jo-Peltier).
The film is now available online, and you can watch it for free:
Sleeping Death - Full Short Film
While it always helps to watch other indie films, and become inspired, there's no need to "imitate" these films. Tell the story you want to tell.
Another Festigious winner, Diana Galimzyanova (Inspiring Woman in a Film, "February 28"), shared her point of view about storytelling: “Be yourself and try to find a story that only you could tell, even if it’s gonna be a story that only a few people would get, those few people need stories too”.
Diana Galimzyanova, director of February 28
Rule #2: Improve every day
Not all indie filmmakers have a full-time job in the filmmaking industry. Even those who do are required to learn the craft and try new things every day.
Even when you don't have a big budget, famous actors or three assistant directors, you can still make a good film. You are the only one who can create your reality.
Laszlo Barbo is an Italian filmmaker. After his short film Light Games ("Doppia Luce") won the Best Thriller award at Top Shorts 2015, I asked him to think about three tips for indie filmmakers, based on his experience.
His answer was:
"If you have an idea, write the script and then write a very short teaser of the story and shoot it", Barbo said. Yes, it's that simple.
Laszlo Barbo on the set of Light Games
Do something today, that you’ve never tried before. Explore new compositions, try a different way to tell a story and most importantly, listen. The creative minds around you might have brilliant advice.
Light Games - Official Trailer
Rule #3: Learn from the best
Speaking of advice, some of the best advice for filmmakers is available online. There are so many inspiring interviews of the world’s top directors, actors, screenwriters, etc...
The world's top directors share their thoughts about filmmaking
Watch interviews and speeches on filmmaking, and learn from the best.
Rule #4: Stay positive on set
Especially for first-time filmmakers – CRAZY things can happen on set, and most of them are negative.
From a problem with the most important location to a sick main actor who cancels on the morning of filming, negative things happen all the time.
This could really ruin your day, but more important, could influence the overall atmosphere. It can also be those small ego games between the crew members. Just like a CEO in a moment of crisis – YOU are responsible and should not collapse. A bad atmosphere on the set is the worst thing that can happen to a film.
Justin Suttles, whose film "Hominid" was a part of Top Shorts 2015 (and won an honorable mention for Original Score), explained the importance of positive energy on set: "It's amazing what you can achieve when everyone on the crew wants to be there, and is having a good time."
Justin Suttles on the set of Hominid
I called rule 4 “stay positive on set,” but actually it doesn’t refer to the set only. Try to keep positive vibes throughout the making of your film, before and after the filming days.
Rule #5: Consult with others
At each stage of the filmmaking process, the more advice you seek, the better your film will look.
When I made “The Other Dreamers,” I created a small group of 30 people – some from the filmmaking industry, others were just film fans, and asked them to read the script, to watch the rough cut versions (and there were many rough cuts!) and comment.
A screenshot from The Other Dreamers
‘Which scene touched your heart?’, ‘What made you laugh?’, ‘Which scene wasn’t clear enough?’, ‘Which story wasn’t relevant?’ and many other questions helped me make better decisions. Yes, I could make the decisions myself, but it always helps to get a second opinion.
Ask for feedback from professionals, film fans and even family and friends. Everyone can shine your film in a new light from their various perspectives.
And of course, none of these rules will get you to the next level unless you’re passionate.
Daniel Webb, director of The Rite of Rosemary (Top Shorts 2015 Special Screening), once said that "filmmaking is an addiction. Most people that you talk to, after they have poured their heart and soul into a single short film, will tell you of the exhaustion they feel afterwards. So why keep doing it? Because it’s an addiction. I for one, frequently walk away from films and say “Never again”… and then I sit down to do something different, and there’s a little tiny thought in your brain that begins to grow. You start forgetting about all the difficult and harsh aspects of getting the film made, and start to only see the good in it."
Daniel Webb on the set of The Rite of Rosemary
Be committed to your cast and crew, keep an open mind and never give up on your dream, the best is yet to come!
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"My mission is to support indie filmmakers worldwide, promote their works and be another step up in their careers."