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How Do Indie Filmmakers Make a Living? 30 SXSW Directors Tell Us

30 directors premiering scripted narrative features at SXSW share how they make ends meet when they aren’t making independent films.

Jessica Oreck on the set of "One Man Dies a Million Times"

Jessica Oreck on the set of “One Man Dies a Million Times”

Getting a feature film into SXSW is a big accomplishment for an independent filmmaker. It’s an important building block toward a full-time career in the industry, but for many it is not an achievement that can, in and of itself, pay the bills. IndieWire asked 30 directors premiering scripted narrative features in one of four SXSW 2019 categories (Midnighters, Narrative Spotlight, Narrative Feature Competition, and Visions) how, when they are not making independent films, do they make a living? Here’s what they had to say.

Sandy K Boone (“J.R. ‘Bob’ Dobbs and The Church of the SubGenius”): I am a licensed realtor and have sold luxury real estate for over 30 years for my day-to-day living.

Travis Stevens (“Girl on the Third Floor”): Since 2010 I’ve been fortunate enough to pay my rent by producing independent films.

Emily Ting (“Go Back to China”): I’ve been working as the Creative Director for my family’s toy business for the last 12 years. The film is actually based on that experience!

"Go Back To China"

“Go Back to China”

Alex Thompson (“Saint Frances”): Before “Saint Frances,” I produced independent film and worked constantly on sets as a set PA and eventually AD — I came up from production. But these days I direct, produce, and edit commercial and narrative projects on the side, and teach production, directing, and on-camera acting at schools in the Chicagoland area and at my alma mater, DePauw. I also — and probably most notably — lead a movie club in Highland Park, several members of whom are now getting involved in the industry in a big way. You never know what ambitions are brewing in the back room at Panera.

Numa Perrier (“Jezebel”): I work as a writer and actress — I’m a recurring guest star on this season of Showtime’s “SMILF.” I’m always in some state of production in front or behind the camera, whether it’s my own project I’m creating/developing or collaborating with others.

Elizabeth Sankey (“Romantic Comedy”): I am a musician in a London-based band called Summer Camp. I also write and act.

Stephen Cedars & Benji Kleiman (“Snatchers”): We’re spending all our time and money in coffee shops writing the next one! It’s been pretty touch and go financially for most of our adult lives, but we managed to support ourselves through odd jobs (videos for YouTube channels, barista-ing) up until relatively recently, when we’ve been able to fully commit to filmmaking.

Hilary Brougher (“South Mountain”): I’m a faculty member at Columbia University’s School of the Arts MFA Film Program and current Film Chair. I’m a teacher, worrier, and booster for new filmmakers.

"Daniel Isn't Real"

“Daniel Isn’t Real”

Adam Egypt Mortimer (“Daniel Isn’t Real”): I’ve been able to just scrape by running my own tiny production company Destroy All Entertainment that does music videos and tiny commercials. I produced some features, particularly “Holidays,” and that got me through; in the run-up to this shoot I was hired to write an IMAX documentary about apocalyptic asteroid impacts, which was fun; and I’ve had a freelance gig on and off for years working on film-marketing campaigns with a company called Division13. That said, in the months before shooting “Daniel Isn’t Real”…it got extremely dire financially.

Jeremy Teicher (“Olympic Dreams”): I’ve been lucky in my career to have a partner in both work and life, Alexi Pappas, who is an Olympic runner. A big part of my day is helping her be a successful athlete. It’s definitely not the typical “day job” situation — income from film and from athletics can be unpredictable, but between the two of us we were able to create stability for ourselves through our early career and now we’ve managed to stay on our feet long enough to see both careers grow.

Richard Bates, Jr. (“Tone-Deaf”): Write.

Annabelle Attanasio (“Mickey and the Bear”): Before making “Mickey and the Bear,” I worked as a television actress on shows such as “Bull” and “The Knick.” The past five months have been spent in edit rooms and color houses and on the mix stage and in recording sessions for our score, trying to get everything together for our premiere. After the experience of shooting “Mickey” and being on the other side of the camera, I am pretty determined to stay on that side going forward.

Grace Glowicki (“Tito”): I play other parts in the filmmaking process. Partially out of financial necessity, and partially out of my curiosity leading me around, I’ve ended up embroiling myself in a bunch of different facets of filmmaking. It’s been one of the most positive consequences of the veritable SCROUNGE mentality that being an independent filmmaker naturally squeezed me into. Right after “Tito” finishes up at SXSW, I’m feeling grateful to be going into an acting role for a feature, made by “Tito” producer/co-star Ben Petrie. It’s going to be a very welcome break from the crucible of pressure that directing has been, to be in more of a supportive role for someone else’s bonanza!

Jessica Oreck (“One Man Dies a Million Times”): Having a varied life outside of the film world is a pretty essential part of my existence. I’ve worked for a decade as a docent and live animal keeper at the American Museum of Natural History. I’ve spent three years in Germany as a falconer’s apprentice. And I’ve worked several years in a military post office. I also make animated, educational content for web channels like TED. And I have a secret life as a visual artist — working on a multi-year, collage-based, mail art, travel diary, called “From Where I Am.” People also laugh at my obsessive collecting of discarded objects from around the world. Someday that collection is gonna be worth millions, right?

Kestrin Pantera (“Mother’s Little Helpers”): I direct digital TV series and commercials and run a legendary karaoke RV, called the RVIP Lounge, which is a mobile karaoke lounge housed inside a customized RV. The RVIP Lounge is in Austin for SXSW throwing parties for the “Mother’s Little Helpers” world premiere, which is a dream come true.

Dan Berk & Robert Olsen (“Villains”): We’re lucky enough to do this full time!

Bob Byington (“Frances Ferguson”): I’m an actor.

Andrew Hevia (“Leave the Bus Through the Broken Window”): When I’m not making deeply personal documentary projects about my feelings and getting lost in shopping malls, I’m a full-time film producer. I live in Los Angeles and work in the North American office of Fabula, the Chilean production company that produced the Oscar-winning foreign film “A Fantastic Woman.”

The Art of Self-Defense Jesse Eisenberg

Riley Stearns (“The Art of Self-Defense”): When I’m not making movies I enjoy training jiu jitsu and making bread. Neither of these hobbies are lucrative but they make me happy.

Colby Holt & Sam Probst (“Pig Hag”): Sam is a digital video editor and Colby is an event producer — we obviously both bring what we do into our film work together!

Ninian Doff (“Boyz in the Wood”): I’m a director of music videos and commercials, and also write for film and TV.

Esteve Soler, Gerard Quinto, and David Torras (“7 Reasons to Run Away”): We got different jobs: playwright, teacher, and journalist.

Richard Wong (“Come As You Are”): When not directing independent films, I DP independent films for a living. That said, I directed and DPed this film, so that may disqualify me from this question. I will say though that DPing many indie features could not have been a better way to prepare for taking on doing double duty on a film as ambitious as ours, considering our budget and timetable.

Flavio Alves (“The Garden Left Behind”): I work as a producer helping other filmmakers bringing their visions to the big screen.

"The Peanut Butter Falcon"

“The Peanut Butter Falcon”

Tyler Nilson & Michael Schwartz (“The Peanut Butter Falcon”): We write, and edit, and make commercials.

Tom Cullen (“Pink Wall”): I’m an actor. My first professional job as an actor was a film called “Weekend,” directed by Andrew Haigh, which made its premiere at SXSW in 2011. I have been lucky enough to go on and work on a mix of high-profile TV and independent cinema. “Pink Wall” is my directorial debut.

Ricky Tollman (“Run This Town”): I’m fortunate that I have been able to work in film even when I am not writing or directing. I have been producing other collaborator’s projects. I have a couple of films in development, which I am aiming to have up and running in Fall 2019 and Winter 2020. My producing partner, Randy, and I also have a boutique (some would say “small”) distribution company in Canada that picks up films we love to play theatrically that would otherwise get lost in the strange, Canadian landscape. We’ve worked on films like “The Square,” “The Insult,” and “Little Men.” It’s a way to see movies that I love over and over and over under the guise of “work.” When I’m not doing any of that stuff, I’m reading a lots so I can find stories like that to keep me active.

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