June 11, 2012

Are You an 'Indie-friendly' Director?

Making a low-budget independent film is hard - there are budgetary limitations, crunched schedules, and the inevitable last-minute change of plans.  It's no surprise then that some traits might make you better at handling these conditions and constraints.  Are you the kind of director who will halt production if the right extra isn't on set?  Or someone unwilling to be a jack-of-all-trades over the course of a film's production cycle?  Can you offer creative alternatives at the drop of a hat?  Independent film producer Mynette Louie outlines what she believes to be the 12 key traits that make for "indie-friendly" directors, in what ends up being a revealing and challenging list for all filmmakers:

The following trait stood out to me because it's something I've personally found to be very true in my own process, and it's something I've heard some of my directing heroes mention in interviews:

3. Editing Experience

It is so valuable for a director to have editing experience because she or he will know on set what’s important and what’s not, what can be sacrificed and what can’t. Indie films are scheduled so tightly that it’s often very tough to make the day. All of my feature productions have been between 19 and 24 days, shooting between 4-7 pages and 15-35 setups per day. Sometimes, shots and even scenes have to be cut on the day of shooting. A director who also edits will have a much better sense of which shots are expendable, and how to make up for losing them.

Even if you aren't doing the frame by frame editing, sitting down and learning how to edit your own work is incredibly beneficial -- especially when you're starting out and learning your craft.  You realize what you're missing in terms of coverage, but more importantly, you realize the power of the cut in molding and transforming your story in often unexpected ways.  You learn to problem-solve the visual story, how to make do with what you have, and just how little you might actually need to get the idea of a scene across.  When shooting, it's easy to get caught up in the performance, production design, framing, etc., but if you can also make snap editing judgements when running out of time then you're two steps ahead of the game.  Remember, editing is where you draw up the story's final draft.  Not only does editing experience make you a better low-budget filmmaker, it makes you a better storyteller period.

For the full list, go here.  Even if some of these traits aren't your strengths, you can always be improving on them, and making yourself a more resourceful filmmaker -- and that's what indie filmmaking comes down to.  With low-budgets, you have to make up for material resources by being twice as creative and resourceful with the materials you do have.  Developing and honing these traits will help you get the most out of what you have on hand.

Do any other traits come to mind for you?

[Director's chair photo by Flickr user TheLivingRoominKenmore (CC)]

[via FilmmakerIQ]

Your Comment


Wow, E.M., another phenomenal post. NFS is my one-stop shop for awesome indie filmmaking articles, and this doozy is no exception. I'm directing my second feature this summer, an "unbelievably micro-budget production". (That is, no one outside the indie community would believe me.) Editing is definitely my strong suit and I definitely think I benefit from my intuition when shooting. Thank you for sharing, I'll now go hone my skills! ;-)

June 11, 2012 at 2:51PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Thanks for the kind words, Gabriel. Good luck with your feature!

June 12, 2012 at 2:09PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Unfortunately, Ms. Louie omits what may well be the most crucial requirements: freedom from the solitary, introspective temperament traditionally associated with the practice of the arts, and an imagination sufficiently normative to have wide, effortless and instant paper appeal to a large number of readers, from whom work, money and favors are required at well below market rates and commercial expectations.

June 11, 2012 at 3:04PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


"... shooting between 4-7 pages ..."

You do that before lunch, if you work in Series TV.

June 11, 2012 at 4:33PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


E.M., I like how you think bro'...as stated before, another great post. Glad you're here on this site...

June 11, 2012 at 4:40PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Thank you, hope to keep them coming!

June 12, 2012 at 2:11PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


I like the article, but want to point out that all of these "What it takes!" lists are unnecessary for people who have developed confidence and quite destructive for those who haven't. It's critical to know that for every "What it takes!" list, there are successful individuals who not only "suffer" from having the opposite of one of the items, there are ones who in fact have the opposite of all of them and do more than fine.

You have what it takes if you decide you do. Insist upon it, and make it work.

June 11, 2012 at 7:43PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Excellent comment Peter, I wholeheartedly agree.

June 12, 2012 at 7:38AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


I just won my 2nd award for the pilot episode of Day Zero the series, and it's because I control all of it -- editing, directing, camera, producing, acting (yep), grip, lighting, gaffing, etc. etc. I do it with one other guy mainly, we get lucky when there is a P.A. or two!

June 16, 2012 at 9:51PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM