20 Independent Filmmaking Pointers from SXSW
If you’re like me, you probably weren’t at this year’s SXSW festival — but through the magic of the internets we can still reap some of the knowledge shared there. Filmmaker Magazine’s blog covered two filmmaking related panels, “The Great Cinematography Shootout” and “Making it Happen: Financing an Independent Film”, and boiled each down to 10 ponderable tips. The first panel looks at how cinematographers handle low budget constraints while the second provides insight into what independent producers face while putting films together:
Many of the cinematography tips apply regardless of the budget, but I found this one particularly pertinent:
4. Location, location, location. “If you don’t have a budget for lighting, the most important thing is to make sure you don’t wind up in a location you can’t make look good,” advised Lipes. Raval, who shot Sunset Stories with a lighting kit consisting of three lights and two gels, said he looked for colorful locations with ambient light. “The Canon 5D allows for a lot of available lighting,” he said.
Finding a location that is inherently cinematic and naturally lit in an interesting way is half the battle for most no-budget filmmakers. It’s like visual casting — if you can find the right place to shoot, half of your worries are taken care of. In fact, the right location will inspire its own story, its own characters and mood — I always find myself looking at buildings, and other random spaces and wondering: what kind of story might take place here?
For the second panel, a lot of the financing/producing tips are for folks in the “more than a few hundred thousand dollars budget” range, but I did find this tip pretty interesting:
2. Think about the ticket-buyer. “[Make] smart genre, what I call ‘elevated popcorn,’” said Dion. “That’s what I tell independent filmmakers. I like relationship dramas and small road-trip movies too, but try to make movies people will pay to go and see. Think of [your movie] as a campfire story where [the audience] always asks, ‘What’s going to happen next?’ and with a vision that elevates it above the rest.”
I think this tip only tells half the story — I have had people tell me some fascinating stories that involved nothing more than a strange encounter at a cash register, or moving out of their girlfriend’s place. If you’re a good storyteller you can keep a campfire audience mesmerized with a relationship story. But I think what the producer is really saying is that it’s a lot easier to get people to come out of their tents and gather around the campfire if you promise a story full of danger, laughs or scares or any of the other genre tropes that immediately sell us on wanting to check a story out. Let’s be honest, it’s easier to cold sell your friends on hearing a scary story than one about your relationship with your dad — even if the latter may be richer and far more rewarding in the end. The trick is to mix the “come out of your tent” excitement with the richness of a heartfelt story. Next time you’re thinking about how to describe the story you’re working on, think about what kind of pitch would get a stranger to come out into the night and sit for half an hour listening to you.
For the full tips, follow the links below. Do any of the other tips strike you? What kind of story would get you to come out of the tent and sit around a campfire?