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Celebrating 17 Years of Film.Biz.Fans.
by Paula Bernstein
March 13, 2014 11:38 AM
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7 Tips for Filmmakers From SXSW: Words of Wisdom from Lena Dunham, Dana Brunetti, Casey Neistat, Ted Hope and Jason Blum

Lena Dunham on 'Girls' Mark Schafer/HBO

Amazingly, I spent five days at SXSW and didn't see one movie. But it was far from a waste of time. Sitting in on keynote sessions and panel discussions, I came away with a broad sense of how technological advances and the internet have expanded opportunities for filmmakers who no longer have to rely on the traditional gatekeepers to pursue their projects.

After two years in beta, VHX, the direct-to-fan distribution platform, opened to the public during SXSW and all artists are now be able to sell their work directly to fans from their own websites. VHX co-founder Jamie Wilkinson said he was trying to get the word out to filmmakers that they don't need to wait for a distributor to acquire their film. 

"Filmmakers at Sundance are used to the model of the last 35 years which is I make a great film. I sell it to somebody else and they do all the legwork. That's where we're embracing the shift in the model where you can do it yourself," Wilkinson told Indiewire.

Meanwhile, for filmmakers who already have a distributor, producer John Sloss urged them to take control of their careers by demanding distributors to show them their VOD numbers.

While fledgling filmmakers continue to seek advice at SXSW about how they can break into the industry, hoping for some easy to follow answer, the panelists all emphasized that there are no rules. In the case of Casey Neistat and Jason Blum, they both attained success with commercial projects only to realize that they'd rather be in control of their own destiny. In both cases, they redirected their careers to follow their passion -- to great results.

Dana Brunetti, the producer of "House of Cards" turned to Netflix before it was considered an acceptable alternative to pay cable while Neistat became a YouTube filmmaker before it was cool. The overriding message from all of these creators is, as Dunham voices, "do it yourself by whatever means necessary."

Below are 7 Lessons for filmmakers from SXSW:

1. "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." -- Jason Blum

2. "Ideas are cheap. Ideas are easy. Ideas are common. Everybody has ideas. Ideas are highly, highly overvalued. Execution is all that matters." - Casey Neistat

3. "There's that maxim that luck is where opportunity meets preparation. So I think that opportunity has become something that's ubiquitous and accessible to everyone. The internet is opportunity. We all have the same starting point. It's what we do with that opportunity." - Casey Neistat

4. "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." -- Ted Hope

5. "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." -- Lena Dunham

6. "Tell the story you know...Stand up for your work and voice... Saying no is an amazing, amazing tool, but it’s also important to say yes." -- Lena Dunham

7. "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." -- Dana Brunetti


  • Jon | March 15, 2014 6:41 PMReply

    If your want or expect distributors to do anything you have to include it in your contract with them or with your sales agent.

  • Peppe | March 15, 2014 5:36 AMReply

    The last advice is such a disgrace. Listen to what the fans want using social networks as tool, oh my! Figuring out what people want and tailor it for the occasion! The fourth advice merits, though.

  • Matthew | March 13, 2014 2:57 PMReply

    so, basically - nobody knows.

  • Jon | March 15, 2014 6:46 PM

    There's one thing I see in common with successful people in the biz, they all do it differently. It's not that nobody knows anything, it's that nobody can follow how someone else did it. Everyone has their own success story and it is unique, and they have to find it for themselves. And then there's the reality of how potentially short lived any success might be. At what point do you end up selling wine to make a living, regardless of how great your work is?

  • Dax | March 14, 2014 1:08 AM

    Right! The one thing I hate about these so-called do it yourselfers is that they never tell the whole truth about "how they made it" You find out later or through much deeper info that they're mother in-law was related to Speilberg's sister in-law and that's how they even got in the door or Grandma died and left them $100k under the mattress and they used that for the 35 mm film mags or some other unreal shit like that!