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What's The Biggest Challenge of Being an Indie Filmmaker in the Digital Age?

Photo of Carlos Aguilar By Carlos Aguilar | SydneysBuzz August 8, 2014 at 5:38PM

For filmmakers working today, it's easier than ever to have access to professional tools and harder than ever to find an audience amid so much competition. Here's what the Sundance NEXT directors have to say about the challenges of indie filmmaking in the digital age.
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"Listen Up Philip"
"Listen Up Philip"

Jeff Baena, "Life After Beth": Primarily the saturation of the market with product. There are a lot of films out there being made, especially with the digital revolution and people being able to make films so cheaply and with technology readily available. With all the films that are out there it's hard to crack through and make an impact. Secondly, I think being judicious with the technology is a challenge. A lot of people overuse digital and visual effects. They overcompensate on the technical side as opposed to just telling a story.  There are a lot of people overdoing it, that's the challenge, to care about how much digital technology you are using.

"We are at a great time where if you can think of something you can create it." - Malik Vitthal

David and Nathan Zellner, "Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter": Things are constantly evolving, some things become easier and some become more complicated. I think there are always challenges presenting themselves. It varies; filmmakers have all kinds of different struggles with getting things made. It think is the same as being able to finance a film or find distribution, all those struggles that have been around since the beginning, they are just taking shape in different forms.

Alex Ross Perry, "Listen Up, Phillip!": I can't even begin to image what challenges other people face because the challenges I faced are a combination of ones that I could have never predicted and one that I'm incredibly lucky of being in a position to have to deal with.  It would be clichéd to point out that any number of auteurs, at one point or another, are in a position where it's very difficult to make any sort of strategic leap forward with what you are trying to do. Coming from my world of four or five movies that played at film festivals, is a huge challenge to leap into doing something with well-known people and with a serious budget. Now, that's jumping over the fact that it is a huge challenge to finish a movie even if costs $20,000, and get it to the point where it's playing in places that people are going to have any awareness of your work. I think dating back to five years ago when my first movie was premiering, like anybody, my challenge was to screen this thing because there are 3,000 film festivals and each one gets 3,000 submissions. Now my challenges are "Can we get bankable actors in order to finance this bigger movie?"

READ MORE: Sundance Film Festival Programmers Talk Zombies, Vampires and the Future of Filmmaking

The challenges are always there at every level. When I go to festival and I talk to my heroes or titans of cinema, the challenges they face are no different. They are looking for a little bit of extra money or they can't find the right actors. I feel like the challenges are still what they've always been, but in a much more topical way, the challenge is to differentiate your work from the vast pool of cinema that exists these days.

Malik Vitthal, "Imperial Dreams": I don't know if there are many challenges. We are pretty lucky right now. We are at a great time where if you can think of something you can create it. There is a director who made a monster movie and basically made his own digital effects himself. You have the ability to teach yourself a lot of things with all these tools; I think it is a very special time. If you really have a passion for filmmaking there are a lot of tools out there to make it really easy.

"A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night."
"A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night."

Adam Wingard "The Guest": I look at all these things as advantages, all the different places where you can show a movie and the ways that you can a movie nowadays. It is not like you really need to raise money anymore to actually make something that works because technology is at the point where you can either borrow or buy a good camera fairly affordably or equipment in general.  You can now do it yourself as opposed to have to lobby for it like you would have had to in the past.

READ MORE: What Will the Future Look Like for Indie Filmmakers?

Ana Lily Amirpour "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night": For me, filmmaking is more like I'm being an inventor. At different times in history there are different things that are getting invented based on what is available. Before there were no light bulbs, and then a guy figured out how to make a light bulb, then someone figured how to create Twitter. You are in the time and place that you are, and you are a product of the time and place that you are from. I don't even think about it. I'm not like "Damn, I want to shoot on 35mm." You just do what you do. I have my own aesthetic. In front of you is my film school [Points to a VHS tape on the Making of "Thriller"]. I watched that every day for months. I must have seen it thousands of times.

I just don't think in terms of challenges, it is all a challenge, just like being a mad scientist is challenging because half the time nobody believes you and the other half of the time they think you are crazy. It is all about problem solving, finding solutions. "I need to make the fangs pop, I need to make someone look like they are flying," you just find a solution. 

This article is related to: Festivals, Ana Lily Amirpour, Jeff Baena, Malik Vitthal, Nathan Zellner, David Zellner, Alex Ross Perry





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