The Black & White Rules of Indie Filmmaking – part 1

First off, when I say indie, I don’t mean Hollywood indie. I don’t mean a $10 million budget. There ain’t nothing indie about $10 million, unless it’s coming out of your pocket. I’m talking micro-budget here. $10K to $25K to make a feature film. It can be done. It can be done well. And if you know what you’re doing, if you have some talent and a little business sense, you can turn it into a career, where you can make the films you want and never never never have to listen to development notes from someone who hasn’t a creative bone in their body. (Despite the fact that they personally believe their ideas are genius.)

I call these the “black & white rules” because to me they are pretty much written in stone. You can veer a little off route here and there, but ultimately you will need to end up here.

1. Start with the script. A well-written script that follows some sort of three act structure. I’ve said it before, every good film, every good story, follows some sort of three act structure. It might be fucked up and inverted, but it’s there. If it’s not, the story just doesn’t work. There are no examples to prove otherwise. Don’t email me with them, I’ll just have to write you back and show you the three act structure that’s right there in front of your face but you’re too dumb to see.

No indie script needs to be more than 90 pages. If it is, cut it down. Locations should be kept to a minimum. Stay away from exteriors, your sound will suck and you won’t have the money to fix it. No car chases, no explosions, no helicopter shots. No mansions, unless your rich uncle owns one. Use your head. What and where can you get for free? Alfred Hitchcock once said you could make a great film in a closet if you know what your doing. Limit the number of characters, especially background extras. You don’t have the money for crowd scenes. Even if you’re not paying them, you probably have to feed them.

Write believable characters, who speak believable dialog (no Diablo Cody-speak please, no one on the planet talks like that). Write about people we care about. (Not mumblecore losers who have no life, and no job.) TELL A FUCKING STORY. Keep it compelling, compact and real. And as great as your script it. Be prepared to see it morph before your eyes during rehearsals, then again during shooting, and yet again during the editing process. But that’s okay. Never be locked to the words on the page, be locked to the story you’re telling. Even though the script is complete you might not yet even be sure what that is. If you have talent, the story will emerge, and hopefully hold a few surprises even for you.

Next up: The Crew

My filmography

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Filed under directing, filmmaking, independent film, script writing

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