January 7, 2013

So You Want to Be an Indie Auteur? Raindance Film Festival Wants to Teach You How to Fake It

You've probably seen at least one of them if you've ever been to a film festival. Some of them are long, some are boring, some are downright brilliant, but one thing the biggest ones have in common is that they can launch an indie career. Suzanne Ballantyne, the Head of Programming over at the Raindance Film Festival, has put together some tips for budding amateurs from her experience watching over 500 potential festival feature films per year -- and hopefully by the end you'll have the knowledge to fake being an "Indie Auteur."

Here is Suzanne on why this list exists and who it's for:

This is not about how to make Hollywood films, made-for-tv films or even low budget films. This is not about making films whose purpose is to entertain. This is about a different species altogether – the indie auteur film, short or long – the darling of the latest ‘it’ festival – with city names likes Gotenburg, Hamburg, Kerala and Rotterdam in their title. The kind of film that press people, pretentious programmers, art house proprietors and film academians piss themselves for. The kind of film that might just launch your career.

A couple of my favorites from the post:

3. Dialogue

Dialogue should be minimal. You do not want to overstate the case. Keep the audience guessing as to what exactly your film is about. Pauses are more important. Have lots of them and keep them long. The camera can then focus on the motionless faces of the actors as the audience desperately try to interpret their thoughts while struggling to figure out exactly what is going on.

7. The “Look”

Shoot on film or dv made to look like film (using filters, programs anything you can) – preferably on black and white or even better, black and white with nano second shards of bright colour interspersed for an almost subliminal amount of time to convey murky plot points, back story etc. into the mix. Despite digital advances proclaim your love for the “look” and smell of film.

Mix up your formats. Shoot parts of your film on a mobile phone, use found footage, photographs, alongside that indie darling, super 8mm. Shoot on recans and ends, preferably donated to you by a famous director. Scratch and draw on the surface of the celluloid. Be bold. The less understood the finished product, the better.

If any of these really upset you in any way, just know that some of these are my favorite films (and there's probably a good chance I'll make something long and boring one day that will torture audiences -- assuming anyone watches it). This list isn't to say that all independent films made in this way fit this particular mold, but if you've been around the indie world long enough, you know exactly who these people are and exactly the films they've made. This isn't even to say that making one of these films is a bad thing, because it's clearly started a few careers along the way. There is clearly a fine line between obscure and truthful with some of these films, and specifically with the choices that directors make, but it can't hurt to take a few pointers from someone who's been at this since independent film really took off.

You should head on over to the Raindance site to read the rest (don't forget part 2), and if you're a fan of independent filmmaking at all and one of them doesn't put a slight smile on your face, you might just have to have your pulse checked.

What are some of your favorites? Do you have any to add to this list? How about ones that you might be guilty of?


Your Comment


Raindance link doesn't work.

January 7, 2013 at 9:50AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Their whole site seems to be down at the moment.

January 7, 2013 at 9:53AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

Joe Marine
Camera Department

Ill check back.
Thanks for this article. This should be booming with filmmakers venting their disdain for a lot of the poser tropes we've had to sit through and endure.

One of my peeves are stories that automatically open up with a couple sitting face to face depressed. Their melancholy expressed in this shot seems to run for standard two minutes before single word is spoken. But the longer nothing is said, usually means the more painful and deep their story is.

Movies that start off at the end, then rewind to the start with subtitles that read: “Two weeks earlier...”
To me this is tiresome. And some movies actually sacrificed good endings for stylize introductions.

Movies that try to have impact title sequences that jump out and boom after a build up in the prologue.
Sometimes, the build up doesn’t warrant a booming in your face reminder of what you paid to watch.

Rape as a plot device to vilify you villain. I went to a horror film festival in L.A.
Five horror shorts played back to back and all of them involved women being raped!
The uneasiness I felt wasn't from the storytelling, but that from having brought a date who sat there with her arms folded. There was more tension exuding from her than what was on the screen as I thought about the car ride home.

Text on screen to set up your movie. Show me.
After three paragraphs, it seems that’s where the movie should had started. OR you just cheated yourself out of a prequel.

Horror movies that end with text on screen, telling about what happened to the characters after the movie.
Are you trying to get me to believe that this is real? Just include the conclusion in the story.

Bad flashbacks. If your dialogue/ story is engaging, people will follow and remember. No need to flash to something that happened earlier in the film. Don't pander to those with low comprehension. IMHO, it's better they be lost then ask somebody who paid attention, providing the movie actually makes sense.

Music. I would rather watch a movie that works around no music, then to have to be force-fed the emotional map with non subtle or poorly orchestrated choices.
Kevin smith’s Red State comes to mind.

January 7, 2013 at 11:01AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


I agree with everything you said. And let me just add: If you're going to spend the money and time to make a film, please, please find good actors. I can't tell you how many indy films I've seen with beautiful cinematography and the worst blank expressions, bad timing, excessive pausing, dead eyed acting. I would rather see a movie shot on DV with good actors than one shot on a RED and sub-par acting. I really wish there was as much information on directing actors and acting it's self as there was for cinematography.

January 7, 2013 at 3:07PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Lol. That should had been number 1.
Find actors that make you look good.

January 7, 2013 at 5:55PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Agreed 100%. And great acting is worthless without great editing.

January 8, 2013 at 11:02AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Oh, I get it. Sarcasm.

January 7, 2013 at 9:57AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

Christian Anderson

hahahaha....lmfao. almost fell off laughing t the points. the thing is they kinda seem like what the indie crowd specifically the hipster crowd's aiming for

January 7, 2013 at 10:06AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

thadon calico

January 7, 2013 at 10:36AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Exactly relevant. Black and white, angled shots, no dialogue, scratched up video, sounds exactly like the pretentious art house flick I avoid.

January 7, 2013 at 1:43PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Was she smoking weed for the interview or was it "tongue in cheek"?

January 7, 2013 at 8:32PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

William Scherer

It was both! Weed in cheek

January 8, 2013 at 6:21AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Look no further than every Xavier Dolan film ever made. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BgCqY3cE-VM&feature=youtube_gdata_player

January 8, 2013 at 6:40AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Suzanne needs to know that Kerala is not a city. It's an Indian state. Duh.

January 10, 2013 at 2:36PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


January 10, 2013 at 3:45PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Amen! I used to shoot stuff with friends as actors and one the day the light bulb switched on when one cancelled on me and another could barely stay awake during the shoot. Since then I get professionals and pay them! I will rather scrounge on gear than talent, its hard to fix bad acting in post!

August 14, 2014 at 2:31AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM