Sometimes, I get all “Midnight in Paris” and wish I was making movies back in the 1990s when indie filmmakers could actually make a decent living. Or if time travel was affordable, safe and legal, maybe I’d wander back and shoot character-driven films on 35mm film back in the 1970s. Or perhaps direct silent films in the early 1920s before burdensome sound equipment and studio executives with provincial taste.
But, you know, it’s Thanksgiving and I’m in 2014 Los Angeles where we develop our spiritual practice and live in the moment and all. So here’s my shot to articulate the top ten things that indie filmmakers should be grateful for right here, right now.
1. Laptops – Can you imagine how boring it was to write screenplays at home or in the office on a personal computer (or even more cumbersome, a typewriter…)? Lame. That’s right motherf$#$ker, I am sipping a latte with my sunglasses on while writing this synopsis at Intelligentsia. In the 90s, if you wanted to go out for coffee, you were taking paper and retyping that shit later. Or your ass was at home, bored and decaffeinated.
2. Better actors – Yeah, yeah, yeah, there were some amazing actors in the 1930s. There were also some pretty arch, fake-ass performers back then, too. So let’s break it down – for the most part, actors are much better trained now than they were in the past. There’s so much more competition in the field of acting that actors have been forced to improve to continue to book jobs. Even big stars have the humility to coach with svengali’s in our field, oftentimes with good results. And it’s not just the stars who are talented, dedicated and skilled. Working actors across the board have gotten better to the point that I think it’s pretty rare that you see a laughably bad performance in a major film, which used to happen with more regularity. Before people blow up leaving comments refuting this, EXCEPTIONS EXIST. But most of the times when I see a bad performance these days, I blame the director. Either he/she doesn’t know how to get a performance out of an actor or has incredibly bad taste to either choose a bad actor or choose a bad take from a good actor. I also believe that – per capita – there are more good looking actors now than in the past. Admittedly, this is not a scientific study, but it seems like it. A lot more six-pack abs, etc.
3. Google – Imagine the wealth of information available to you that filmmakers in the 1950s had to learn by trial and error, by finding a mentor, by moving to Los Angeles or New York and hearing what was going on in the business. Everything from writing tips to video content to technology how-to’s to film theory to primers on the film festival circuit is far more accessible than it was to previous generations who minimally had to get to a bookstore, local cinema or library (now the problem becomes sorting through too much information but that’s a topic for another day). If you want to learn about filmmaking, there’s really no financial or access-based excuse not to make progress.
4. Come on, you really CAN make a feature film for less than $200,000 – Making a film is a huge undertaking that can take years and the work of dozens of people. I realize that making a quality film is never inexpensive in terms of resources or time. But, in this era, digital cameras and online editing technology make it possible to make a feature film for less than $200,000. Most Americans still believe they can earn enough money to buy a condo, townhouse or home, many of which are valued at far greater than $200,000. So instead of a home, if you’re willing to work and save, you can put your money towards a movie. When films shot on 35mm and had to go through a telecine process and then spit out prints, those numbers were a lot higher.
5. There’s an app for that – Scheduling used to be done by cutting little strips of paper and arranging them on a board. Ledgers were once used to track the complicated accounts created by the varied expenses involved in filmmaking. Polaroids were taken for continuity pictures. Wow, things have changed. Now there are programs that let you snap a picture with your smart phone and attach it to all the scenes in which it applies. You can enter in this same program how much the costume costs to rent and keep track of how many days and which days you’ll need it. All in the same program. That’s pretty incredible.
6. You don’t have to only make films about straight, white people – In the 1940s, if you wanted to create an interesting role for an ethnic or religious minority or someone in the LGBT community, good luck! Now, at least you have a chance to develop interesting characters from a much broader spectrum.
7. On-set selfies – Come on, you know you do it.
8. YOURNAMEHERE.com – It’ll probably cost you around the same amount of money to register YOURFILMNAMEHERE.com as it cost NBC to register NBC.com. And if you take some wordpress classes, I bet you can make your site look almost as good or even better. This is a huge competitive advantage for the “little guys” of filmmaking compared to the control over the means of distribution and promotion that the “big guys” had in the past.
9. Social media – so many people talk about how annoying it is and yet…so many people discover content they want to see through a tweet, post or blog article. And you don’t have to spend a fortune on it (although it helps if you do….).
10. Kombucha – maybe it existed before, but it’s only had its positive effects on sets all over Los Angeles in recent times.
Hunter Lee Hughes is a filmmaker and actor living and working in Los Angeles and the founder of Fatelink. His current feature film Guys Reading Poems is touring film festivals and this blog is dedicated to the process of making his second feature film, “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” If you enjoy the blog, please support our team by following us on Facebook, Twitter (@Fatelink) or Instagram (@Fatelink).