25 Years Making Independent Films.
Over the past 25 years, my journey in filmmaking has been about making independent films. I’ve authored books, graced the red carpet, and even found myself in the shadows of industry legends. As I approach my 46th year of life, I ponder what lies ahead for my career. The one constant in making independent films is change. Year after year, the landscape evolves, driven by technological advancements like virtual production and AI, making it an exciting time for creative artists.
Yet, amidst this transformation, a question lingers: where does our micro-budget filmmaking industry go from here? Since the mid-2000s, low-budget independent films have flooded the market, a wave I’ve contributed to. With intense competition, the value proposition for independent films has shifted dramatically. Streaming services have surged, offering a potential boon, but not all folks making independent films find success. Some films struggle to break through even with named actors and brilliant production values. So what gives? Why does it feel like quality indie filmmaking is becoming more of a liability with each year?
Sub $100,000 can still be profitable, but…
For movies with budgets under $100,000, generating revenue in a streaming environment can be challenging. However, you can turn your micro-budget movie into a net positive with the proper focus. These focus areas include a great screenplay, finding talented and emerging performers, and creating a narrative around a topic that can resonate with audiences.
First, finding a great screenplay is one of the hardest things any filmmaker must overcome. Every young filmmaker believes they are the best writers, and often, they discover the contrary. A great screenplay is more than a clever plot idea, witty dialog, or interesting characters. A great script is a body of text that serves as a roadmap to tell a story visually. Furthermore, a great screenplay understands how to connect with its audiences through visual cues rather than plot-driven dialog. A great screenplay speaks the beautiful language of cinema while offering escapism.
When seeking great performers for your movie, it’s crucial to know your limitations. Making a low-budget film requires some severe self-examination. Your script has to first attract quality performers. Performers who will do any type of movie project are not the best candidates. You want to find selective people drawn to the story who can put their heart and soul into their performance. If they do it just to get a credit on something or make a quick day rate, move on. Find people that are in it for their love of the source material.
Back to screenplay – think about the story you want to tell before writing your script. Ask yourself the hard questions about who your story is for. Who will care about this? If your plot and story are self-serving, you better ensure that your vision of entertainment aligns with your audience.
What About Short Films?
The current media consumption landscape reveals a clear trend: social media has claimed a significant share of the audience’s attention. Platforms like YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram have become the preferred choice for younger audiences, posing a formidable threat to traditional entertainment, especially the low-budget indie film.
This leads me to a crucial question: Can short films substantially impact the marketplace? I know others have tried to make short films a thing, and it’s failed, but what about really high-quality, low-budget short films? When I mention short films, I’m referring to short-form narratives spanning 3 to 15 minutes. These are short films that maintain the high-quality level of a feature movie production and start conversations with its audience.
While my career has revolved around feature-length films, short films are becoming increasingly appealing to me. Considering the value proposition, creating smaller, more cost-effective films to accelerate my visibility as an artist and open new revenue streams online makes sense.
Making Independent Films in 2024 and Beyond
In 2024 and beyond, making independent films will require multiple revenue channels. Independent producers must diversify their income sources beyond just movie production. This might involve merchandising, influencer roles, video production services, or other derivative products or services related to their filmmaking.
In conclusion, be mindful of the evolving marketplace, whether it’s a short or a feature film. Take a hard look at your personal goals, and create a plan that can give you the maximum leverage. Learn as much as possible about new technology, and do not be afraid to study your contemporaries. The entertainment landscape has shifted, and adaptation is critical. It’s all about embracing change and finding new ways to thrive in the evolving industry. Making independent films will continue to be a journey filled with challenges and opportunities, and I’m excited to see where it takes all of us next!
Kelly Schwarze is an Emmy® Award-recipient filmmaker and co-owner of the Las Vegas-based Indie Film Factory. Learn more about IFF and its team by contacting us.