Friday, June 12, 2009

Indie Filmmaking: 35 Tips from Experts

Just saw this posted on Nikki Finke at Deadline Hollywood Daily. Thought it would be an interesting read for those trying to get into the independent game. With the way things are today, it seems just as tough as getting into Hollywood. The one thing going for you is that you can, if you want, just go and do it.


They came out of the mouths of the experts at last weekend's "Produced By" Conference during panels devoted to the financing, production, and distribution of independent films and documentaries. Here are the 35 tips compiled by a DHD stringer:

1. Change the title of your indie film to begin with an “A” or a number to get higher placement on iTunes.

2. “Experiment and try new ways of getting your indie film out there.”

3. Clark Hallren, Managing Director of the Entertainment Industries Group for JP Morgan Securities warned, “Guys it’s tough. Phenomenal events that statistically cannot happen did happen: we’re at an interesting point in the business.”

4. Lisa Nitti of Greenberg Traurig offered a financing checklist and the necessary groundwork that indie producers must complete to have a shot at getting money: a preliminary financing plan, a solid budget and schedule, and an understanding of Hollywood guild requirements.

5. Foreign pre-sales are not as readily available as in years past.

6. Established indie producers with a successful track record have a somewhat easier time than newcomers in getting attention from international sales companies.

7. Genre always makes a difference. Forget costume dramas and spoofs.

8. “Indie producers must have names that mean something to TV worldwide; [before pre-sales can be made] international distributors need time to talk to TV folks who are covering 60%-70% of minimum guarantees,” said Edward Noeltner, President of Cinema Management Group.

9. The number of banks involved in indie film financing has constricted and greatly impacted funds available. Previous to the financial market meltdown, there were 30 to 35 players. That number has been cut by 2/3s.

10. Financiers basically want a return on their investment. “I encourage indie producers to understand their film’s audience as much as they can. Understand what you mean when you pitch project. I want to support a film, but I care about capital and return on that capital. I just want to get my money back,” explained banker Hallren.

11. Risk tolerance by investors is at an all-time low. "We’re all in a back-to-basics environment,” advised Danny Mandel, Managing Director of Newbridge Film Capital. “We won't return to where we were; now investors are all about preservation of capital.”

12. Mandel predicted that by 2010 indieprods could see more capital available.

13. In indie producers favor: distributors will always need new product to fill pipelines.

14. At the Cannes Festival, Mandel met five international distributors who wanted a movie with "Wedding" in the title.

15. New financing models are having some success, says Danae Ringelmann, Co-Founder of IndieGoGo. She cited documentary producer Robert Greenwald as an example of a new paradigm: Greenwald needed $200,000 to finance his Iraq For Sale. He turned to his substantial email distribution list. Nine days and four emails later, he had raised $276,000. Think of it as “raising money Obama-style,” suggested Ringelmann.

16. Build a fan base for an indie film before it’s even made.

17. The disappearance of a number of local and regional film critics is a major concern because it makes it tough to launch an indie movie, noted Lawrence Bender, the Oscar-winning indie producer of Pulp Fiction, An Inconvenient Truth, and the upcoming Quentin Tarantino film Inglourious Basterds. So Bender said indie filmmakers must now be content with “tweets and the craziest things,” but not the critical insights of years past.

18. Roger Corman, the quintessential indie producer (Death Race 2000, Grand Theft Auto, Rock N' Roll High School) sees the Internet as a “ray of hope” for indie producers.

19. Corman envisions a day when distributors and theaters are gone and an ASCAP-type organization collects revenues for indie producers.

20. Concensus advice on how to get an indie film made: never give up.

21. Finding a documentary subject that’s worth a two to four year commitment comes down to “you know it when you see it,” related Marina Zenovich, Director/Producer/Co-Writer of Roman Polanski: Wanted And Desired, Director/Producer of Who Is Bernard Tapie?, Director/Producer of Independents Day Zenovich.

22. “Always good to get an idea from a financier,” quipped Davis Guggenheim, Director/Producer of It Might Get Loud, Gracie, and Director/Executive Producer of An Inconvenient Truth. Guggenheim was lucky enough to be pitched by financier Thomas Tull who asked, “Do you like the electric guitar?"

23. RJ Cutler, Filmmaker and President of Actual Reality Pictures (The September Issue, The War Room) noted that marketing and outreach for every documentary film is something of a riddle, but advised producers to investigate ancillary revenues. He pointed to Morgan Spurlock who had significant returns in the educational marketplace for his feature Super Size Me, which he cut down to an hour and created an accompanying curriculum and guide.

24. Before an indie film gets to the marketplace, producers must know who the audience is for the film, counseled Dennis Rice, Founder of Visio' Entertainment. “If you can’t market your film, you shouldn’t make it. If there’s no audience, you can’t get a return on investment.”

25. Once an indie producer knows who the film’s audience is, reaching them cost effectively is the next hurdle.

26. There’s no longer a one size fits all model for indie distribution; patterns and windows are changing as are the means of distribution. New strategies include video-on-demand, checkerboard release patterns, digital downloads via iTunes.

27. “There are at least 10 distribution structures out there, and new companies popping up,” offered Liesl Copland of William Morris Endeavor Entertainment's Global Finance and Distribution Group. Among the new companies she cited: Big Beach, End Game, and Zip Line. All have been smart about marketing spends, she says.

28. Indie producers need to move past the old distribution model and learn from experimentation.

29. Copland advised indie producers to think about own their own consumer habits when making movies in this kind of market “though clarity hasn’t surfaced in new revenue streams”.

30. Ted Mundorff, CEO of Landmark Theatres, sees video on demand pre-release and then theatrical release is working for some indie titles like Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience. (Bubble ignited the trend. But Mundroff worries about cable companies saturating the market with titles.)

31. David Straus, Co-Founder and CEO of Withoutabox (a division of, implored indie producers to find ways to connect directly to audiences. “You don’t have to throw a ton of money to push a film to an audience; in an ideal world, the audience pulls film to them.”

32. Aggregating an audience is the lynchpin of this new world order. But is it something that impresses banks enough to lend money? Doubtful.

33. It’s not all doom and gloom despite the disappearance of studio-backed indie film divisions like Warner Independent.

34. There is opportunity for indie producers as long as they don’t get hung up on a 35mm theatrical film release. Ira Deutchman, CEO of Emerging Pictures, explained: “With digital, we can begin to play around with release patterns.”

35. Deutchman also recommended that indie producers “aggregate your communities.” He finds that his network of theaters does well with Jewish, gay-themed and French films as well as those that are spiritual and have "Wedding" in the title.

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