What it’s Really Like to be an Indie Filmmaker

A love letter to the film industry.

You stand outside — an unlit cigarette in hand — feeling the weight of a ten hour editing session, that stretched far into the night, begin to slide off your shoulders, and drip on the pavement. Buried deep inside your mind, fragments of audio and film flash sporadically in front of your eyes, as you watch an old, bright yellow VW Beetle loudly rattle past, and then disappear into the 4 am fog. Three frames added here, ten frames cut there.

“Well… that’s one way to get around,” you say to the person next to you, the one who you started this with, and you both laugh about the old, loud Beetle. Somewhere in the distance, a siren wails. Four frames cut, nine frames added.

Five floors above, an apartment filled with scattered remains of sleepless nights, awaits your return.

You both light your cigarettes and chat for a while about how none of this will probably matter. It’s just a bloody short film. Self-deprecating humour and light hearted stabs at the core of what you and all those people have created clears the 4 am fog. The fog that was brought on by the ten-goddamn-hour editing session, you realize. Or the fog of twelve months of production, echoes your brain, depending on how you look at it. The fog that distorted the sidewalk outside your building into a more cinematic version of the real world.

It starts to rain. “At least someone is crying for us,” you remark.

How fucking cinematic, you both agree and go your separate ways after a long night of working. Many long nights of working. Five seconds here, eight seconds there.

You go back upstairs, five floors above ground, to the place where it all began. Snake-skin blackout curtains, screenplay pages strewn around. Guitar cords running to an amp, a voice-over mic mounted proudly on a stand. 4.17 am — you check the time on your phone and have another cigarette on the balcony, remembering the fog that crept the street below. None of this will probably matter, your brain echoes. You look at the city, almost judgmentally, and the city stares back — not caring. But maybe it will matter. To someone, somewhere — you later add, sinking into deep, dreamless sleep.

Six months go by and all your film-festival submissions return a politely written letter of non-acceptance. “No, we didn’t get in anywhere,” you tell all those people that have created this with you. Film-making is a social venture, and that disappointment is shared. You start to think that in the world of today film-festivals are a very low-tech, slow turn-around, antiquated solution to the creator’s dilemma:

You’ve created something — now what?

Relating that to the movie industry — you’ve made a film… and… seriously what now? The TIFFs and Sundances of the world have value propositions that are outdated, but at least somewhat clear — they are market festivals where A-List studio features go to build their marketing, and independent features go to find distribution. But it’s 2015, you think, and the first studio that releases their major A-List feature on demand (read: streaming, directly to consumer) on the same day as it comes out in theatres near you — will change everything, forever. Twelve frames cut, one added.

Now what about short films? Outside of learning how to make them — do they have a place in the world? Any corner of the market they can call home? What do they offer their tiny audience of auteurs and proud close friends whom you invite to tiny private screenings?

“When is your next film coming out, Mr. Spielberg?”
“You haven’t even seen this one yet.”
“Yeah, I have this grrrrreat idea for a movie!”

Starting at the bottom of the market, an innovative new product or service can disrupt an incumbent by relentlessly moving up market, displacing established competition. Hollywood’s promise of fame, fortune (and whatever else Entourage portrayed) shines very, very bright. Blindingly so, and more than enough to make people want to be in Hollywood, not disrupt it.

Combined with that, a simple fact that the only competition that matters, and will matter in the future — is for people’s time. The competition that only effectively occurs between the Big Six. As in the Big Six Studios. As in Warner Brothers (15.1% market share) Disney (15.7% share) Universal (11.8%) Columbia (12.5%) 20th Century Fox (18.8%) and Paramount (10.1%)

As in every company that makes Hollywood, well… Hollywood.

The Big Six, flying in high orbit over Earth — the Millennium Falcons, USS Enterprises, and the Death Stars. To get into that orbit, a short film, you realize, is simply not enough. Despite what every B-List film-festival with a $40 submission fee will attempt to sell you on. Getting into that orbit, you need a spacecraft (a production company + great IP’s) and a lot of rocket fuel (capital and tech to develop/market/distribute those IP’s.) Every independent production house, company, distributor, and indie filmmaker — are all just kids playing in the sand with plastic rockets, fiercely competing with each other for the wrong thing — to be noticed by Hollywood.

You’re half-way into principal photography on your second film. A comedy this time. A broad-appeal short film this time. The one we’ll just have fun on set with, the one we raised Kickstarter money for, the one we all signed up to do six months ago, the one that will be different… this time.

You run into someone who tells you they watched your first film for the third time last week. The one that’s now online, the one that didn’t get accepted into any film festival it was submitted to.

“It made me feel a bit better about my life,” that person says, and that’s your audience, right there. The audience for whom you and all those people made the film for. And it means everything. And it mattered to someone, echoes your brain. You wind the clocks one year forward, and let the weight of another small production drip off your shoulders.

And all that could and could not have been are now two sides of an infinitely long canyon, metaphor bridging the chasm of uncertainty below. Art and entertainment are both equally important — just as important as technology and science. We need art that makes us feel less alone in this world, stories that make us believe that insurmountable odds can be overcome. Humanity as a whole needs tales of monsters slain by heroes, and some where the monsters win.

We need entertainment that is capable of transporting us into other worlds — worlds that exist in our collective imagination. The idea space — where Nautilus travels twenty thousand leagues under the sea, and Luke destroys the Death Star floating in high orbit; where humanity boldly goes where no one had gone before — a place from which some ideas leak back into the real world. Our world. This world.

The world we’re building.

We wanted to talk a bit more about what a film studio of the future might look like, so we wrote more words on this subject. You can read them here.

If you enjoyed reading this, please hit recommend. Because you’ve read thus far, we thought you might want to subscribe to our newsletter.

If you’re an indie filmmaker, or a freelancer looking for a better way to find gigs in film — we’re building FilmYeti.

Thank you for reading!

Humans of Magyon.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.