March 16, 2012

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?

[via Filmmaker Magazine]

Your Comment


Hey Koo are you still here on Nofilmschool, not tying to be rude but you seemed to dissappear after we founden manchild... :(

March 16, 2012 at 3:52PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


I imagine he's concentrating on making Manchild

March 16, 2012 at 5:15PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

Andy Smith

I guess that you wrote your answer yourself. Why would doners give away their money? For Koo to keep posting or Koo to shot his film?

March 17, 2012 at 9:11AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Great pointers. 2 especially. Film is a way of expressing ideas but at the same time, in my opinion, one can't take that notion too seriously. If we go back in history, it started as a way of providing entertainment. Film has always been about fun, magical moments, and great memories. Love Hitchcock's view towards film. He said, "For me, the cinema is not a slice of life, but a piece of cake."

March 16, 2012 at 4:49PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


We all miss koo but these two are growing on me and loved this post. Keep it up.

March 16, 2012 at 6:21PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


+1, I thought bringing new writers was going to kill this site for me, but now we still have Koo posting but also much more content the new writers are doing a great job ! keep up the good work

March 16, 2012 at 7:06PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


I'm here. :)

I took 10 days off to focus on writing the next draft of Man-child:!/ryanbkoo/status/180525632931905536

... it's time to get this movie made!

But I will always be around as an editor, even if the byline isn't mine.

Joe and E.M. are doing a great job!

March 16, 2012 at 8:47PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

Ryan Koo

glad you are still around! ;)
wish you all the best with your next draft, Koo!

March 17, 2012 at 1:22PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Yeah...the articles are good..actually have gotten better if anything.
But the 10 FINANCING/PRODUCING TIPS link does NOT work. Thank you.

March 17, 2012 at 2:20PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Whoops! Fixed, thanks for pointing that out.

March 17, 2012 at 2:57PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

Reply we can all get some $$$...

March 17, 2012 at 3:00PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


A screenplay is never done, it changes as you do.

The best way to see what you want is to shoot it quickly on something cheap like a DV tape, find a heartbeat in the material and figure out what is you're lacking or what it is that your characters want. If the content is strong it doesn't matter what you shoot on and vice versa. The camera never lies it's true. If you've spent a solid two years on a script it's time for you to see what it looks like in the can, even if it's a really cheap can. You'll learn stuff about your characters and you'll learn stuff about yourself that you never could have noticed while you were sitting behind a laptop. You're afraid that it's not perfect, that's okay, nothing is.

This isn't just to Koo because I've no idea how much time he's spent on the script or if he's shot any of it yet. Knowing him, he probably does have a 5D/7D version in the can already.

I'm glad to share what I've found out over the years to NoFilmSchool and look forward to seeing Man Child whether it debuts on the web or in theaters, hopefully both.

March 17, 2012 at 10:49AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM