March 16, 2014

Filmmaking Tips from SXSW: Some of Indie Film's Biggest Movers & Shakers Sound Off

Lena DunhamSXSW saw tons of great minds -- filmmakers, executives, and creatives -- come through and participate in panel discussions (some of which we had the pleasure of attending). Indiewire has compiled some great filmmaking advice shared at several of these panels by some incredibly talented and influential industry professionals, including producer (now Fandor CEO) Ted Hope and filmmaker Lena Dunham. Continue on to check out what they said.

Indiewire collected insight from panels attended by VHX co-founder Jamie Wilkinson, the "BeforeTrilogy producer John Sloss, micro-budget pioneer/producer Jason BlumHouse of Cards producer Dana Brunetti, Tiny Furniture and Girls director Lena Dunham, and Fandor CEO Ted Hope, all of whom are changing the way we create, share, and view cinema. So, if you're a filmmaker looking for a few words of wisdom -- a new way to look at the craft -- then check out a selection of their helpful tips below.

We are greater than the sum of our parts

One of independent cinema's greatest allies is producer and Fandor CEO Ted Hope, who has been working to further the industry by speaking out about changes that could help make indie films and their makers flourish in a marketplace that has, and continues to dramatically evolve. One of these changes includes shifting the power from the "gatekeepers" to the "stakeholders" -- the artists and fans -- something that can't be done without the indie community working together to serve the whole. ("Independent" means "independent of major studios", not "independent of each other".) Hope says:

The problem in the film industry is that people think they can do it themselves. They think that they matter more than the collective whole and I don't agree with that, frankly.The most powerful thing that we can do is think outside of ourselves and work together to advance the things that matter most to us.

Listen to your audience

If you're a filmmaker and you don't use Facebook or Twitter, you're going to have a hard time connecting with your potential audience, because these days, that's where they are -- and it's no secret how powerful and influential people with social media can truly be. Making a real, genuine connection with your fans is not only a great thing to do as a human being, but it can really help create some buzz around your project. From Dana Brunetti:

Listen to what the fans are saying and what they're doing from a content creation side and what they want and what they expect so you can create and make for them. They can make or break a film. Between Twitter and Facebook, early word of mouth for a film can destroy it immediately or take something you've never heard of and make it a huge hit.

The bit about making films for your fans may not sit well with some of you. (Granted, we don't really know the full context in which it was said.) But let me just say this: there are no rules to filmmaking. If you want to make films for your fans, yourself, or your mom, then do it. If you want to cater your films to your audiences suggestions, do it. If you want to keep your own vision, keep it. But, do listen to your audience either way. (By the way -- the thing they might "want and expect" from you could be another film made by you!)

Don't wait! Just make a film already!

Jason Blum and Lena Dunham echo each other's sentiments on this one, which is great, because they both understand what making films without money or resources is all about. Blum's production company Blumhouse Productions produced the Paranormal Activity and Insidious films, as well as The PurgeThough they had to work with low-budgets, they managed to maintain high production values, as well as wide releases for each film. Blum explains:

The advice I give for filmmakers starting out is don't wait for me. Don't wait for the industry -- It's a mistake to wait for Hollywood to tell you you have a good idea. If you have a good idea, try to make it on your own as cheaply as possible -- on your phone.

Lena Dunham won the Narrative Feature prize at SXSW in 2010 for her film Tiny Furniture, which had a budget of $65,000. Accessibility was the name of the game for Dunham. Since she didn't have much to work with in terms of funds, she cast her real life mom and sister as her mom and sister in the film, shot on a Canon 7D, and filmed in the apartment building she lived in with her parents in downtown Manhattan. Dunham says:

The best advice I can muster after exactly four years in this business [is] -- don't wait around for someone else to tell your story. Do it yourself by whatever means necessary.

Be sure to check out Indiewire's post to find out what else these industry pros said.

What do you think about the tips shared by these SXSW panelists? Let us know in the comments below.

Link: 7 Tips for Filmmakers From SXSW: Words of Wisdom from Lena Dunham, Dana Brunetti, Casey Neistat, Ted Hope and Jason Blum -- Indiewire

Your Comment

22 Comments

Ted Hope posted here about a week ago ... I wish he had time and desire to post more often.

March 16, 2014 at 9:16AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

I love Casey Neistat's tip from the article: "Ideas are cheap. Ideas are easy. Ideas are common. Everybody has ideas. Ideas are highly, highly overvalued. Execution is all that matters." Very true. Just because you think of a better painting than Picasso, doesn't mean you can paint it.

March 16, 2014 at 1:01PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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It's hardly an original sentiment though. This was John Landis a few months ago.
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From the Hollywood Reporter :
"When asked if Hollywood's response to a lack of original ideas is to rely on remakes, the Three Amigos director replied: "There are no original ideas. What there is -- and this is something no one understands -- is that it is never about the idea, it is about the execution of the idea."
http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/john-landis-rails-studios-theyre-6...

March 16, 2014 at 4:35PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

I'm sorry, but Lena Dunham is the product of nepotism, not merit, so she shouldn't be taken seriously nor should she be giving advice. Tiny Furniture is horrible and to say that $65,000 is not much to work with on a mumblecore film is a disgrace to all filmmakers.

March 16, 2014 at 10:10PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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I know…all of those 'Girls' fans are just playing favorites.

You don't gain the success/fan base that Lena Dunham has through nepotism, but through talent, and she's insanely talented. Why would anyone think her advice isn't valuable?

Also, I never said that $65,000 is not much to work with.

March 17, 2014 at 2:32AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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V Renée
Nights & Weekends Editor
Writer/Director

Actually, you do gain a fanbase like that with nepotism. Her work prior to Girls didn't merit her getting a TV show, but since her mom is a well known artist it opened doors for her that otherwise would've never been opened. The fans she has she owes to HBO, not her so-called "talent". There's nothing special about Girls, it's boring, bland, unoriginal, and myopic. It's hipsterdom at its worst.

I can name hundreds of comedians that are infinitely more talented than her that probably will never get their own show. To say that she is the sole reason for Girls success is a disgrace to the hundreds of people that work on the show. If anything, they deserve more credit than her.

You said "she didn't have much to work with in terms of funds" which is saying that $65,000 is not much to work with.

March 17, 2014 at 12:37PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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1.) So, are you trying to tell me that people watch "Girls" because of HBO? How do you figure? People are out there saying, "You know, this show has absolutely nothing to offer -- it's boring, bland, unoriginal, and myopic. But hey, it's HBO, so I love it!" That's not how that works. People may check out a show because of the network it airs on, but they come back (or don't) based on the quality of the show.

2.) You know what the funny thing is about nepotism? Everybody hates it until it works in their favor.

3.) Never said she was the sole reason for the show's success.

March 17, 2014 at 3:16PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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V Renée
Nights & Weekends Editor
Writer/Director

The "Girls" ratings are very low though for an HBO show. Its season 2 finale was only watched by about 650K people. Even with good demos, this is soccer ratings (and I am a big soccer fan, btw) and it speaks to the dearth of hits at HBO. The "Walking Dead" got nearly 13M last week for AMC and even similarly ghastly Kardashians pull over 2M on ENT. (and the reality shows are much cheaper to produce as well)
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Below are some HBO ratings charts (which are skewed toward the new shows since the online and same day DVR was not tracked or available a decade ago)

http://www.vulture.com/2013/06/game-of-thrones-huge-ratings-chart.html

March 17, 2014 at 3:53PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

Apparently there are hundreds of thousands of self-loathing hipsters that revel in banality.

As pointed out its rating are extremely low for an HBO show. It's clear that Ms. Dunham has a few very powerful people in her corner propping her up for reasons unknown [but most likely lead back to her parents]. The Neistat Brothers show is infinitely better than Girls, yet it only lasted one season and is considered a failure. This is wrong on so many levels. She epitomizes everything wrong with Hollywood.

March 19, 2014 at 3:22PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Dunham is quite privileged, no doubt. But she's also quite good, Girls is one of the best shows on TV and it's doing things a lot of other shows aren't in terms of its writing and casting. It is myopic, but most TV shows are. It's a very time limited medium, and you have to know what your focus is. No one complains that everyone on two and a half men is only rich white people. She made a show about the white New York she understands, the truth is out culture should allow there to be an equally good show about the other ethnicities in NY and their experiences, but we're not there yet.

March 18, 2014 at 8:36PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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IAN

Can we see your film(s) somewhere Mike?

March 17, 2014 at 4:41PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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seth.iamfilms

well seth, i usually don't do this, but since you asked...go ahead and rip them all apart, which is what you want to do, right?

• i made this experimental feature as a response to mumblecore crap like tiny furniture. it was a complete joke, made to be unwatchable, and ironically it's my most viewed movie.
http://youtu.be/kwbFM8NWJg4

• this is an experimental feature i made that is completely comprised of youtube videos and is a meditation on life in the 21st century digital world: https://vimeo.com/51766623

• this is my most liked video: http://youtu.be/T0cM9YFuU8U

• here are two feature documentaries i'm currently editing:
https://vimeo.com/85118489
https://vimeo.com/28517226

• this is part of a 6 year work-in-progress documentary that i hope to finish in the next few years:
https://vimeo.com/61212596

• last but not least this is the first act of my first feature documentary, started in 2003, completed in 2010: https://vimeo.com/17452422

cheers!

March 19, 2014 at 3:43PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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props to you for for posting your work, most don't.

March 23, 2014 at 9:08AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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andy

Disagree with you Mike. Tiny Furniture is a interesting film and Girls is one of the best shows on tv right now, in my opinion. Just because you don't get it or like it doesn't mean it isn't good.

March 17, 2014 at 6:50PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Stu Mannion

It's definitely not b/c I don't understand it. It's as shallow of a show as there can be.

There's nothing of quality about the story or the characters. Its low viewing numbers support this. Most people with a brain and at least some self-respect have no interest in the lives of vapid, shallow, self-entitled, idiotic, ugly twenty-something characters. And when I say ugly, I don't mean outward appearance, I mean inward ugliness.

If you want to talk about quality, then talk about Game of Thrones or even The Niestat Brothers cancelled show, but don't talk about Girls. It should be retitled to the cancelled show Bored To Death. That would be way more appropriate.

March 19, 2014 at 3:50PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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I find the characters and plotline very (gasp) relatable. Hannah and co. manage to be likable and then, as you grow to know them like everyone else that is close in your life, you notice anything unappealing. Dunham's ability to build on that to create catharsis is very fine and, as a filmmaker, very inspiring.

March 19, 2014 at 10:52PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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i feel bad for anyone that finds enjoyment watching girls. the show is about the vapid lives of self-entitled affluent twentysomething c$#ts. how in the hell is this relatable?

March 26, 2014 at 1:25AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Anybody can and should give advice based on experience; it is up to us to decide how useful it is, but serious storytellers would not disregard her advice "... do not wait around for someone else to tell your story. Do it yourself by whatever means necessary." and Mike, about "Girls", those growing up in a big Cosmopolitan city can relate to the show and dig it, but may not waste time watching one set on a prairie ranch or suburbia. To each its own, and yes, a lot of success in entertainment comes to who you know in the business, and if you do not have connections, that is more of a reason to heed her advice.

March 18, 2014 at 1:48PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Agni Ortiz

I must wait, even to get 100$ :) and then start to produce film, just money for drinking

March 17, 2014 at 4:54AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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mike, i took a look at your work...
Yea...
i can see your frustration. Maybe in 100 years they'll look back on your genius... In the meantime I'm watching hannah.

March 20, 2014 at 6:32PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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adrian

Hey dude, this isn't about me.

March 26, 2014 at 1:46AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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I.m really inspired after reading some of the above comments. I have a script and I,m going to make a start, funds or no funds.
Thanx.

March 24, 2014 at 5:42AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Yusuf