Thursday, April 26, 2007

A Beast Of An Email From E. Grove

The A-Z of Independent Filmmaking
Filmmaking taught by filmmakers - for filmmakers March 2007


I am always asked what “Independent film” really is, and I have to say that the entire concept of an independent film is totally strange. In fact, all art is independent, the mere fact of labeling any art form as independent is redundant. Independence is the only true state of art, and if cinema is an art form, then surely all films are independent, This is why we don’t talk about independent opera companies, or independent ballerinas. We don’t debate whether or not a museum or art gallery, a writer or sculptor is independent: we just assume that they are, and if they weren’t we’d soon ignore them.

It is only in the corporate nature of filmmaking in America that has made independence seem unusual. Hollywood has created this crazy situation where businessmen basically create the majority of films as a way to realize their multi-million dollar business deals – so much so – that any film made outside of this nutty-dizzy factory has to call itself an “independent” film in order to distinguish themselves from the suits. So we create this special category of art called “independent film”. The major film festivals and so-called cultural institutions can invite failed studio hacks in to give expensive lectures on the pros and cons of being independent. How ludicrous! Let's never forget, the independent artists are not the oddballs in the history of art; the businessmen are.

Of course, a buzzword is a buzzword, and corporate America recognizes the value of this one, so independence has been turned into a mass-marketing trademark. Once it gets in the hands of the ad men, the meaning leaks out of it, of course. Everybody is an independent – so long as it sells tickets. In Miramax's definition of the concept, Tim Burton becomes indistinguishable from Shane Meadows.

Lots of people call Raindance for filmmaking advice, and a couple of weeks ago, I started to ask them what an independent film was. Wow! Did I get a range of answers? Some said they were films made outside the studio system, others said it was a film made under a certain budget, one tried to convince me that Harry Potter was an independent film, others said it was any film made by an unknown director, others said it was a film aimed at film buffs. One sharpie said it was a film made with poor lighting and a shaky camera.

I tell everyone I meet that independent film is more about a state of mind or the state of your soul than the state of your budget.

An independent film is any movie that uncompromisingly expresses a unique, personal vision.

And that is what Raindance is all about

I have put together this list of definitions in order to give you the buzz words used by artists who work in the film industry: the independent film industry.

The A-Z of Independent Filmmaking
A is for Actor

...the most exploited component of an independent film. Usually actors work free in a feature film hoping that they will be discovered and be able to launch their careers. Often, independent filmmakers will hire a name actor for a day or tow on the set in a cameo role hoping that the 'name' will help to pull in investors and enhance sales. In America, the actors on low budget independent features are called 'the moveable props' in deference to their abundant supply.

In the USA, actors are represented by SAG, and in the UK by Equity.

B is for Blonde

... the nickname for a 2k portable light that can be plugged into household current. A 750 watt light is called a redhead. These lights are considered the staple of independent filmmakers. Thus the phrase: I'm shooting with a blonde and two redheads. This equipment can be packed in a small case and easily transported with a camera in the back of a taxi.

At Raindance we have a great evening course called the Power of Lighting in which simple three point lighting is explained.

BIFA: Acronym for the British Independent Film Awards, the only awards specifically for independently produced film in Europe.
Not to be confused with Biffa - the London-based waste-disposal company.

B is for Budget - uuaully the first thing you get asked when you are trying to drum up interest in your film.

C is for Culture Jamming

...a publicity technique employed by many independent filmmakers as a way to enhance scanty marketing budgets by associating themselves (uninvited) with successful brands, or by courting controversy.

Camera is used for image capture. Independent filmmakers chose the right camera for the story and the budget. Rentals can vary from £50 per day for a near broadcast quality DV camera to £10,000 per day for a large 35mm kit with track, dolly and lenses.

Film cameras are defined by the width (gauge) of the film stock: 8mm, 16mm, 35mm and 70mm. Specialty gauges are super 8mm, super 16mm, and super 35mm. Imax cameras take 70mm film sideways to allow for a 135mm x 70mm frame.
Tape formats are VHS, Super VHS, Beta, Digibeta, Mini DV, DVCAM, DVPro and HDTV.

Raindance Film Festival screens work originated on all formats.

D is for Distribution

... the most difficult barrier for an independent filmmaker to surmount. Filmmakers can resort to alternative distribution techniques (see four walling). In Europe, over 95% of the cinema screens are owned by American studios, making access to distribution even trickier.

Digital technology has revolutionised the filmmaking industry by lowering the financial threshold for entry to the film industry, making filmmaking very democratic.

E is for EDL

... Edit Decision List - the cutting points of all the edits during the movie. Creating the EDL is the job of the editor, one of the key creatives on any filmmaking team, and perhaps the least respected. The editor is responsible for reordering the visual and audio material colleted during the shoot to enhance the story. Inexpensive desk top editing systems like Apple's Final Cut Pro have made it easier and cheaper for filmmakers to edit their material.

Raindance offers two introductory desktop editing courses.

F is for Film festival

... traditionally the launch pad for independent films. At a festival, filmmakers hope to "be discovered". Filmmakers attend hoping to achieve one of two goals: either notoriety or celebrity status. They also hope to sell their film to a distributor.

Four wall: The self-distribution technique employed by filmmakers with no distribution deal or who want to control the release of the film. They purchase all the seats in a cinema at a discount and then program their own film and resell the tickets. An excellent example of this strategy is the campaign engineered by Raindance student Ed Blum for his film Scenes Of A Sexual Nature which screened at Raindance in 2006.

G is for Grips, Gaffers and Gophers

...the nicknames for a crew persons who move anything on set.

A grip moves or rigs anything that camera equipment attaches (or grips). In charge of dollies, cranes and special camera mounts. First assistant is called the Key Grip.

Guerrilla filmmaking is the term describing any tactics that skirt the fringes of the law. For example: shooting in the street technically requires a permit, but guerrilla filmmakers shoot without a permit.

A gaffer is the chief electrician who moves and rigs lights (ie: gaffer tape). Gaffers are named after a hook for hanging overhead lights. First assistant is called the Best Boy.

A gopher is a runner who will 'go for...' anything required by the production.

H is for heli-cam

In order to emulate big budget films, indie filmmakers needing a helicopter shot often use inexpensive model helicopters fitted with cameras and remote control devices.

I is for Investor

and is the key to any film. Learning to approach an investor successfully is one of the most important 'filmmaking' skills to acquire. We teach how to Create A Business Plan: an evening course at Raindance.

Indiewood: a nickname for films made on large budgets which attempt to emulate the topics and look of indie films. Often financed by studios. ie Memento, Pulp Fiction, Gosford Park, Donnie Darko, The Good Girl.

Hollywood's 4 Biggest Lies are here...

J is for Job

What a lot of filmmakers do to keep the wolves from the door while they are making their movie. When you are filming, you often survive on eating bugs. According to Trey Parker, who attended Raindance Film Festival in 1994, the best way to attract bugs is to spill some sugar on the table and add a few tablespoons of beer.

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K is for KISS

Keep It Simple Stupid: the basic parameter of an independent film: No children, no animals, no special effects, minimal locations = simple to shoot, simple to edit, simple to finance.

L is for Location

The cheaper alternative to shooting on a set. The challenge for independent filmmakers is to find a series of locations that are close enough to enable them to shoot their films, and easy to travel between. Often, scripts are written with a series of locations in mind: el Mariachi. The ultimate low-budget films are shot in one location, in order to minimise costs: ie Reservoir Dogs, Blair Witch Project, Night Of The Living Dead, Shallow Grave.

M is for Mother

Even independent filmmakers get down sometimes and need a cuddle. M also stands for money, something parents often provide. Hence the definition of independent film is "no single source financing, your mother's excepted".

Mobilewood: movies created for mobile telephones, a trend started by Raindance in '03 with the Nokia 15 second Shorts.

And M is for MySpace - check out the Raindance MySpace page.

N is for Negative

... the most frequently used word in the film industry. But the actual word No is rarely used for fear that one could be accused of saying No to a future success story. Everyone in the British film industry said no to Guy Ritchie. Typical ways of saying no are: Yes; or, Don't call me, I'll call you; or, Thank you for sharing that with me.

O is for Oscar

... the Hollywood equivalent of knighthood. The top indie awards are the Spirit Awards (USA) and the British Independent Film Awards (UK).

P is for Passion,

... the one thing that distinguishes independent film. Passionate stories made by passionate people. You have to have a lot of passion to get your movie made.

Q is for Queer Cinema

... often on the cutting edge of cinema. Filmmakers like Greg Araki (Totally F**ked Up) and Percy Adlan (Bagdad Cafe, My Own Private Idaho) helped expand the narrative storytelling horizon.

R is for Rejection

Successful filmmakers must learn how to handle heaps of rejection. It usually starts with friends and family saying: Why don't you get a real job.

S is for Script

The most important element of any movie.
Famous script quotes:
"If it ain't on the page, it ain't on the stage."
"You can make a bad movie from a great script, but you can't make a good movie from a bad script."
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God." - John 3:12 The Bible
Raindance has the most advanced script training programme in Europe. Details here.

T is for Talent

You've got it or you wouldn't be reading this. Now shut up and PROVE it - grab a camera, any camera, find some film or tape stock, learn how to load your camera and expose the tape/film stock to actors. Thats what filmmaking is.

U is for Underground Cinema

... traditionally the name given to the cutting edge of cinema where filmmakers push the technical boundaries of filmmaking, and test the borders of cultural tolerance with the topics and storytelling techniques used. Many of the so-called 'hip' filmmaking techniques employed by Hollywood are derived from underground cinema. At this year's Raindance Film Festival, we are featuring the works of legendary experimental and alternative filmmakers like Jonas Mikas, Kenneth Anger, Don Letts and Captain Zip.

V is for video and DVD duplication

...the golden goose for independent filmmakers. Now cheap and easy to reproduce, filmmakers can even self-distribute their own movies direct to the consumer and bypass wholesalers and retailers.

W is for "www"

Who knows if film will become as available on the web as music? Studios are very paranoid that there could be an equivalent to Napster in the movie business.

X is for x-rated

... and censorship. Britain maintains the most arcane of censorship systems in Europe. It costs £28 per minute for film censorship. The certificate awarded will greatly affect the sales potential of a film. In the UK, censorship is much more geared towards sex. Any form of violence with sex is frowned on, and films will usually have to cut these scenes. Language is considered more dangerous than violence, with five 'fucks' earning a film a 15 certificate.

Y is for youth

The youth market (under 25) still accounts for over 70 percent of cinema attendees. (Screen International)

Z is for Zombie

The classic film that launches every writer/director/filmmakers career in America: Take twelve actors to a house and chop them up. ie: Reservoir Dogs, Return of the Secacus Seven, Night of the Living Dead. Raindance alumnus Edgar Wright’s Sean of the Dead is a terrific British example.


We all love to procrastinate - especially when it comes to following your dreams.

In the film industry, procrastinators are never tolerated, although they are humoured. If you are serious about filmmaking - either as a filmmaker, a cinema fan or a newcomer wondering about filmmaking as a career - there is a course for you at Raindance.

If you have any doubts, please call me on 0207 287 3833. If I can't answer your questions, I probably know someone who can.

I hope to see you soon.

Happy filmmaking,

Elliot Grove
Raindance Festivals Ltd

phone: 020 7287 3833

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