How to Make the Best Indie Film You Can
How We Produced Our Film ‘GAME’ With Luck, Goodwill, Willing Talent and STILL NEEDED A LOT MORE?
FIRST THINGS FIRST.
- There is no such thing as failure. This is the most important thing you need to know. I could just say this and leave- leaving the rest up to you. But I’ll say it again There is no such thing as failure. There is only where you’re going. From now on if someone says you failed, tell them: “No. I’m on the road.” You can’t have failed to get to somewhere you haven’t arrived.
- You’ve got to be disciplined. Sorry about that one. It’s just true. Not obsessive, but ‘on it’.
- The next thing is that you need to believe yourself worthy of being here. Here being in this space. This world. This filmmaking place. No one can give that to you. You have to give that to yourself. I was once introduced to Spike Lee in Cannes. He thought I was a producer (which I wasn’t then) and was kind of interested to talk – I was sitting in the Majestic waiting for a friend of his and that helps. When he found out I was a writer, he all but ran! The thing was so many writers were chasing him. I got it. It could have been a blow to my ego. It wasn’t. I knew I had the right to be there. For a writer, this is crucial because you are going to get so many rejections and those rejections will teach you a lot.
- You will be making long hours so make sure you get enough sleep.
- Laugh a lot. You are going to be asking a lot of people. So make it fun. Nothing is going to be that big a problem. And if it is, you are still going to need some of that humor.
- Communicate well. Be clear and honest. Everyone knows you have no money. Everyone knows they are worth more than whatever you are giving them or not giving them – and if they don’t know, tell them. There is no need to lie or hide anything.
- During our shoot, I ran out of money. I stood up and told everyone if they were prepared to go on I would get the money. They did. I did. I still don’t know why I thought I could, but in two days I had 25,000 Euros. We all took a risk, luck and a really good vibe was with us.
- Remember as a producer you are the boss – that means you are responsible, nothing more. You are responsible for everyone who decided to take the journey with you. Try to do the best you can. There will be fallout – but try. Our veteran actor, ROY MARSDEN, said it was the best shoot he’s been on. We took care of him. We knew he was doing it for love of the film. We gave it right back.
- Make sure that everyone working on the film is clear about their reasons for doing it. You may have some reasons you can suggest like no pay and long hours, but they need to have a reason. Thinking it’s fun won’t last – believe me. Having said that, the warmth and the friendship and the bond you all grow together will take you through – and that does last.
- And of course, don’t forget… You may not have money, but it’s all about the best food you can get your hands on!
ONE, TWO, THREE GO!
We had a script. If you don’t have one, you’ll need to have one that everyone wants to get on board with. What does that mean? I think it means to get the best script you can for the project. Keep in mind the better the script, the easier it is to get people to commit.
With script in hand, I began to pull in every friend I had that knew anything better than me. Kees Kassander, Peter Greenaway’s long time producer, read the script and met with the director. This was important to me. I once developed a script and took the director to meet Kees. He said, ‘Make the film, but not with that director.’ He was right. Kees was also a great help in the edit ‘that, that, not that.’
The Director was Miles Roston, who came from a documentary background, so this would be his first feature. He was fantastic working with me on the script, wonderful with actors and able to shoot a film in 11 days. That’s ELEVEN DAYS! You’ll need that kind of director.
My Line Producer, Jelle Nauta, was someone I knew through a friend. We met the day I was shooting some stills for our package with my friend Martijn Corbijn. Jelle was looking for something to do and I was looking for a Line Producer. He was fantastic, loyal and a hustler! You want a house for the shoot two days before you actually shoot – here. Stuffed animal heads- here you go. Free first class tickets on the Thalys -no problem. Hotel, don’t even ask! BAM!
I also worked with the fabulous Robert Graham, as our accountant. I wanted everyone to know that everything was straight and professional.
I unashamedly got every pound of flesh I could from all my good friends with law degrees and used my friend’s house to camp out when in London.
The money I got from friends, within a week. We shot for 55,000 Euros (total with post ended up being 125,000 Euros). Now this was one of the lucky breaks. I had tried to do this several times before and it didn’t work. Nothing. This time, it just went like a dream. I have no idea why. People even raised money for me. It was wonderful.
This was THE CORE TEAM. The rest followed. Most tumbling in through one contact or another. We got a great Casting Director Gillian Hawser, who got us the cast – Roy Marsden, Jotham Annan, Leila Mimmack. The one Dutch actress – we shot in Amsterdam – was Susan Visser. Later I got Garland Kirkpatrick, whose great work I saw on the internet and called him up in LA, to do our poster. Talking to Garland about the poster was really one of the highlights. He is such a creative mind. Later I realized he had worked with indie film heavyweight Richard Linklater. We became friends. Our score was done by the brilliant William Wells, who I saw the other day in Amsterdam. He was taking a break from a year-long tour with Imagine Dragons!
Start with the question: what do we have? We had a script. We had a team. We had goodwill . We had a phone. We had some money (at that stage 10, 000 Euros).
Everything else was about what we didn’t have and how we were going to get it. So our checklist became a check-off-list. What you NOW have and what you THINK you can get. It was also a wishlist, which is actually a fuck-it-list. ‘Fuck it, I’m going to get it anyway.’ This is what people don’t tell you when they talk about DIY filming. You have to have that mentality. If this type of filmmaking is a science, that’s a big part of it. You have to believe stuff can happen and it can happen to you.
Organize as much as you can. And long before you get to the organizing stage, make sure your script is fit for purpose. We shot in one location with four actors. That was it. At least that approach held out a possibility of being financed and being done on a low budget.
SOME NOTES – I’LL KEEP IT SHORT
- Be really clear about the story you are telling.
- Trust your gut instinct.
- Work together with the director – if you are the producer. Try not to be the producer/ director.
- Trust that everyone is good at what they do. But don’t let that mean you let things go.
- When you do a Shooting Schedule, make sure it works for everyone.
- Although we shot inside, shooting outside is economical- less lighting.
- Try to do a complete rehearsal with the cast. This will save time and the cast will be able to get to know each other. We did this in London before shooting in Amsterdam and it really helped.
- In your Script Breakdown make sure you know what props you need and have someone to get them. Having said that were running around looking for animal heads and a house when the actors were arriving to shoot the next day. Jelle found the heads in the house of Susan’s dentist- long story. He found the house by walking into one- short story.
- Love your DOP. Actually, love everyone. Carry a medium-sized stick for when the asshole appears- he/she will.
- Keep an eye on personalities getting in the way. Keep your personality out of the mix.
- Make sure you’re insured. It’s expensive. Have the money for it.
- Everything takes longer than you think. Don’t panic.
- DO NOT HAVE BAD SOUND AT ANY COST.
- If you are working long hours, don’t pretend you’re not.
- Don’t let on-set relationships distract you.
- Be organized- again. Worth repeating.
- Work with an editor who has a feel for THIS story. You don’t need the best editor in the world.
- DO NOT SHOW THE INCOMPLETE FILM TO ANYONE WHO IS NOT DIRECTLY INVOLVED IN THE PROCESS.
- DO show the movie to people who can add value to it.
- Be creative with your soundtrack.
- Try and use original music. William Wells made a beautiful score for us. Listen to our trailer. Better, see the film 😉
Here I made big mistakes. I didn’t want to go to festivals. I didn’t want to spend 18 months picking up awards, if we were lucky, and making no sales. I had investors and although they were not pressing me, I felt that wasn’t the way to go. I still think, for our film that was the case. But there is no ‘one size fits all’ for that.
We allowed ourselves the vanity of thinking we could get theatrical, but at the same time, we were thinking digital. We got some very good feedback from distributors, but the general consensus was that they couldn’t see how they would make money on the film. I was told that several times. We ended up working with a new concept in Holland called We Want Cinema, people would vote you into the cinemas. It was a good idea, but the platform was under-funded and there was very little traffic.
We did get a US distributor through a lot of hard work and money spent, but I soon realized they were just going to put us in a bag and throw us at a variety of platforms. I decided to pull out of the deal. What I had come to see was that DISTRIBUTION IS KING.
You have to have the money, the network, and the digital presence to start with BEFORE you start going on platforms. That lesson took me two years! It’s an expensive lesson to learn and an expensive one to execute.
Film financing works contrary to what we need to be doing as filmmakers. We need to spend our money online before we make the film. However, we only have money – when we make the film. This has to change.
We all moan that the ‘star’ model isn’t working, but what is? Well, actually, the data model. We have to be out there finding our audience and talking to them. We have to embrace the e-commerce and find a way to love it and embrace it as much as we do film.
I think, for independent films, the age of Big Data is going to be a new coming of age for us and our audience. I believe, like solar, we will be soon plugging into a distribution grid and paying far less to find our niche audience. All it will take is some smart guys with some deep pockets and a long view, to kick it off. Ownership models will have to change. There will be many ups and down and many failures- sorry, many ‘roads’ to go down and back up again and down again and up again. But in the end, there will be enough audience for everybody. I am a believer.
Talk to us. ‘We love to talk about film.’ firstname.lastname@example.org You can see GAME on our website: www.nmncfilms.com Leave a comment. Send us a mail. Join us on Twitter: @charlesliburd We are also on Pinterest and Facebook: NMNC Films