The Art Of Independent Cinema – Tips From B.C. Field

The term “independent” has changed quite significantly over the years. Night Of The Living Dead was an independent film made in 1968 for a total of $114,000. Today indie films range anywhere from $1-5 Million, movies today are just more expensive today. So what about people who want to make movies who don’t have $1 million or even $10,000?

Movie making is a grueling process that takes months or even years to complete. So I thought I would maybe give the weary some tips on how to shoot your own movie on a shoestring budget, because I of course know what it’s like to want to make a movie with no resources. Film school or not, this is what I find helpful since this is exactly what I did to complete Kill Day. KD was my first feature, it opened at the Wealthy Theater to thunderous applause and acclaim. Since it’s release it has gained a cult following and offers began to open up to me. Little do people know that Kill Day had a combined budget of about $1000, which we stretched thin. So how do you make an underground hit for under $1000? Here’s how.

1.) Story/Script – Writers write everyday. Ideas, concepts and general thoughts. This allows the creative juices to flow and will ultimately lead to an idea that’s screen worthy. Just remember that the ideas are yours and you are your own critic. Just be original and good things will form.
a.) Read scripts and books on script writing to get the proper format down, this will help — trust me.
b.) Write to your limitations — meaning, don’t write in a giant car chase and explosions if you can’t afford it. This will force you to be more innovative and thinks of unique ways to get what you want.
c.) Know your genre. Don’t write what you don’t now. If you’re a horror buff don’t write a romance (trust me) and so on and so forth.

2.) Equipment – This is actually the most crucial part in the process. Getting a decent camera and microphone is key, now you don’t have to get crazy with it but make sure you have a good chunk saved up. You should probably do this before anything else, a solid DV Camera will run you around $1,500. One camera should be fine, you’ll just have to shoot more coverage for editing.
a.) Editing software is essential, learning how to chop and paste are skills you can obtain by sheer practice and patience. Run of the mill software (i.e. Adobe Premiere or Element) will run you around $200. But it is important to the process since most movies are truly envisioned through the editing process.
b .) A movie (aforementioned) truly takes shape through post-production. I for one always shoot my films through an editors point of view. Keeping in mind multiple angles and enough coverage to fill out the film.
c.) Sound is very important (especially to a horror film), clarity and proper editing absorbs the audience into the film. So a decent boom mic is required.

3.) Production – This is where things take off, if you’re shooting guerilla style then you skip the storyboard process. Take your time and plan accordingly.
a.) Locations are important, make sure you script scenes to locations that are within reach. Don’t write a scene in the alps if you can’t shoot it, friends (if you have any) are important here. Houses and properties will be lifesavers.
b.) Illegal shooting, as bad as it sounds is the only way you can do what you want. Shooting permits are expensive and troublesome. Permits restrict you and consume too much time and money, not to mention you need to hire an off duty police office to be on set at all times. My recommendation is to go out and shoot, if a cop shows up the only thing they can do is ask you to leave. Confiscation of film is illegal. Kill Day was shot on back roads and locations off the beaten path, to avoid civilian interruption and headaches.
c.) Just do it. Don’t sit around talking about making a movie, go out and shoot it. Good or bad, at least you get the experience in. Learning what works and what doesn’t will prepare you for the next shoot.

4.) Do what you want – My philosophy is don’t conform to what’s popular. Don’t go out and make a movie about vampires that sparkle, be creative and original and people will notice.
a.) With no MPAA comes no restrictions. Take advantage of your freedom and do what you want, censors and moral concern suppresses your first amendment right. Kill Day is littered with taboo material that would never pass the censor boards, this doesn’t mean that community out cries won’t come your way.

5.) Distribution – Probably the hardest part in the long run, never go into a film project with aspirations of wide release. This will only lead to disappointed, instead look into festivals in your area. This will lead to recognition from the local community, there are new venues popping up everyday — keep your ears open to anything new.
a.) Don’t do it for money. If you’re making movies for the cash, you’re in the wrong place. Don’t get me wrong, the money is a nice bonus but the love should come first. The joy of offering an escape to a room of people is tops and money should come last. Chances are, you will lose more money than you make. On Kill Day, we pretty much paid for people to see it — but in the long run worked perfectly because the word got out.

6.) Criticism – Dealing with critics is hard, you can work a movie for a year and some no talent reporter tears it apart in a few paragraphs. But at the end of the day, you made a movie and if you like it — there is nothing else. Movies are meant to entertain and act as a form of expression, if the audience comes out of the theater with a different emotion or outlook — you’ve done your job. People told me that Kill Day gave them nightmares, or they couldn’t sleep, or couldn’t even get through the movie because of the intensity of the scenes — no critic can take that away from you.

Obviously more can be said in detail and books are published on this topic, but this is just a few points to help with a process I had no help on. Movies are the great escape, if you can take someone out of their mindset for a moment then it doesn’t matter what the budget or type of film it is. Please feel free to email me if anymore questions sprout up, I will be glad to answer them.