Stop The Whining, The Proof Is Out There

Today's GUEST POST comes fromfilmmaker, curator, programmer, and host Kristina Michelle, who had commented on this blog and I was so thankful to encounter her voice, enthusiasm, spirit, and practical approach.  I asked if she would consider contributing further for to the discussion.  I expect we will hear a lot more from her as this community grows.

Everywhere I turn these days, I am hearing people complaining about independent filmmaking. This isn’t the public opinion. It’s coming from the very people that make up this business, or people who once have. I remember when you could go to a film blog or meet up with other filmmakers and be inspired by what you read or heard, a time when the independent film community stuck together. Now, all I hear is, “Independent film is a dying industry,” or, “There’s no future in this business anymore, no money to be made.”

I understand that it’s a difficult economy right now, and it’s not so easy to get financing for independent films. What I can’t understand is why this has such an effect on people’s opinion on the filmmaking business itself. I’ve worked in independent film for quite some time now, and I can tell you that it is NOT a dying industry. It isn’t endangered or failing. Independent filmmaking is right where it’s always been – in the hearts of the filmmakers. Whether or not you can get the money you’d hoped to finance your film is not as big a deal as it seems, and it wouldn’t scare away a dedicated filmmaker. If anything, it will only push them harder.

It does not take millions of dollars to make a great film. In fact, it doesn’t take anywhere near that. Does it take that much to make them in Hollywood? Yes. This is simply for the fact of how expensive it is to make films there. A lot of LA Filmmakers travel to other states, or even other countries, for this very reason, just to make their film. Or, maybe – if they’re lucky – they can film just part of it in LA and the rest somewhere else. A lot of productions are being done in Chicago and Detroit because of the tax incentives, so filmmakers from LA fly there to make their films and benefit from these breaks. The truth is, most of the shows and movies you see these days are not filming in LA, where it costs so much to make a project.

I am one of the producers for an annual film festival, The Indie Gathering and we receive films from all over the world. The films submitted to our festival every year are amazing, and the majority of them are made on extremely low budgets. In fact, we've had films made for next to nothing beat out films with much higher budgets. These indie projects are fantastic, and most of these filmmakers have received success on much higher scales: worldwide recognition, distribution, money to make their next project or remake their original project. The fact of the matter is that you can make a great film on a very low budget. And I’m talking films that will get widespread distribution, be recognized nationally, play at Sundance and win. It’s all about finding the right resources and getting the right people (who know what they’re doing) to volunteer their work, working for lesser pay than they might usually or working on a deferred contract.

You can get a lot of stuff done for free when filming. If you need special FX makeup, check out the haunted houses that are only open for part of the year and looking to find related work the rest of the year. If you need stuntpeople, go to your local martial arts schools. Looking for scoring? Check out some local popular bands that may be interested in doing film scoring in their downtime. There are always ways to get things done for less without lessening your film’s quality. If this still doesn’t lower your budget enough to the point that you can manage, there’s always fundraising sites like IndieGoGo and Kickstarter. These do work. I personally know several filmmakers that have had success with these sites, and there’s a much greater chance of you finding funding through a lot of smaller investors than a few big ones.

Making films is not a glamorous business. It’s not always extremely lucrative for everyone involved. But there is money to be made. I’ve worked on films with next to no budgets, and I’ve worked on films where there was over $500k to burn. Some of the better projects I’ve been involved with were made with less money than the ones you’d think would be a higher success simply for the fact that there was more money involved. I’ve found this isn’t the case at all. I’ve known filmmakers who have had their projects play at Sundance with budgets of only $3,000, or films that have been picked up for distribution deals by companies like Lionsgate that were made with less than $70,000.

I rarely ever work on a project where I don’t get paid. The only time I do is if I really believe in the project and the other filmmakers involved. For instance, I produce and host a weekly web show, The REEL Show, and the sole purpose of this show is to support and promote Indie filmmaking, while linking filmmakers to like-minded individuals around the country. We believe in the filmmakers whose projects we air on our show. We believe that there is a large demand for unique films that can’t be found in theaters, and so do a lot of distribution companies. Most indie films are completely unrelated to the other side of the spectrum: Hollywood and all its excessive spending.

Indie filmmakers are not a dying breed. The market for indie films is not diminishing. Last year was a big year for independent filmmakers, and for some states, it was their strongest year for filmmaking, bringing them the most money. This year is set to be even greater, because independent filmmaking is on the uprise, along with the interest and support coming from the public. We indie film folks aren't in danger of anything, and our films are not endangered. Indie filmmaking won’t die. It might change, but not by much. If anything, it will change for the better. It will only grow to be more than what it already is.

Our economy as a whole is in an awful state, but that should not depress filmmakers searching for a budget. Instead, they should adapt to making their films on lesser budgets - all without diminishing the quality of their work. If they are good at what they do, they don't need a million dollars to make a great film. They just need the dedication and the heart that it takes to make an independent film. That's what makes Indie films so great - we aren't in it to make millions. I'm sure we wouldn't complain if we did, but our purpose for what we do is that it is the heart and soul of who we are. We are artists, and our art is what completes us. You don't see that kind of soul in Hollywood. In fact, I'm pretty sure one of the steps most people take to get there is selling theirs.

Kristina Michelle has been working in the independent film business as an actress, writer, stunt-person, host and producer for 7 years. She is a published writer and has worked on over 20 films, as well as several television and internet projects. More information on her projects can be found at www.KristinaMichelle.net, www.theindiegathering.com, and www.reelnewsshow.com.