My basic advice for indie film success: stay ambitious. Sometimes you have to compromise, sure. But that shouldn’t be your first thought. Got a crazy location in your film? If you have time on your side — that is to say, no money for production yet — then stay ambitious with that location. For instance, let’s suppose you want to shoot in NASA mission control.
I would budget at least two years to establish residence in Houston, befriend a few employees, learn everything you can about shooting regulations and so forth. Now, you’ll probably never get permission, and even if you did, maybe two years of life isn’t worth it. This is an extreme example, of course, but you get the idea.
In “The Young Kieslowski,” our mission control was the Caltech University campus in Pasadena, CA — certainly easier to get than NASA, but still no picnic. Maybe you tried to get permission, but they refused. So you tried to find a University to double for Caltech, but in Los Angeles they all run about $4-10,000 a day. So perhaps you’ve begun reimagining all the university bits as scenes that now take place in your friend’s house. No, come on. Don’t just throw in the towel. Instead, budget some lead time. Five months, maybe 2-5 hours a week.
That’s about how long it took to lock down Caltech. That’s time to visit, learn the hierarchy, find and befriend people who had already made an indie film there, beg and so forth. The details are not particularly interesting. The takeaway, though, if your interest is in making indie films, is hey, budget some lead time. People are nice and usually want to help. Of course, remember you are the one asking for the big favor.
A couple other things for indie-film success: one, you should have some money. For me, that was $50,000 I’d saved up over about six years of working as a tutor. Not enough to make the film, but enough to attract more investors. Just don’t tell anybody that the first $50,000 you’ve raised is in fact your own life savings, it’s kind of tacky. Play it cool — unless you think telling someone will entice them to invest. In that case, say you’ve put in $100,000.
Two, you must have a core team of people. They should be willing to work — for free, for months (maybe years) before you actually begin filming. On “Kieslowski,” this core included the producers, the first AD and cinematographer Ricardo Diaz (he asked me to state his full name). Just a note, Rick’s rates have gone up considerably, so you’ll need to find a different cinematographer. Or raise more money.
Finally, for the sake of your mental health, I suggest equating “success” with “completion.”
Watch the trailer for “The Young Kieslowski” below:
Written and directed by Kerem Sanga,“The Young Kieslowski” won the Audience Award at the Los Angeles Film Festival, and will premiere in select theaters and VOD on July 24.