THE CHALLENGES OF INDEPENDENT FILMMAKING AND HOW TO OVERCOME THEM
by Mariam Habib, Kaveh Daneshmand
Filmmaking is not an easy endeavor. Both the art and the business of indie films are constantly evolving. New challenges emerge at every stage of development, production, post production and distribution. This is why of the millions of ideas that are turned into concepts, a few thousand are transformed into scripts. Few scripts are shot and edited into films and fewer still are released to an audience.
Farsi Cinema Center takes a brief look at a few aspects of filmmaking that are particularly challenging for indie filmmakers today. We highlight the challenges and present a few helpful approaches to understanding and navigating each of the challenges. Our goal here is to equip first or second-time filmmakers with a few key guidelines to follow at every stage of their journey in filmmaking. Although these hurdles are not by any means exclusive to Farsi filmmakers, challenges are exacerbated for filmmakers who tell stories in diverse languages. We hope these simple rules will make funding an independent film and finding its audience a touch less burdensome for emerging filmmakers.
Challenge: Concept to execution
The first hurdle you will encounter as a filmmaker is when you sit down to turn your idea into a script. A lack of experience means you likely won’t have the foresight to anticipate the challenges ahead. This is why many first time filmmakers start with complicated, ambitious scripts that are never greenlit. The number one rule in overcoming this challenge is to keep it simple.
The most important skill in making your first indie film is simplicity. Simplicity is the key to getting your project off the ground, and keeping the momentum going all the way through to post-production and distribution. This does not mean taking a reductionist axe to your beautifully intricate ideas. It means finding the simplest way to tell a complex story.
How does simplicity translate onto your script and shot list? A couple characters, a few locations and longer shots – as opposed to many shorter ones. You have to make sure you understand your limitations and your possibilities very well and you manage to reduce the number of complications you will have to deal with. Keep in mind the feasibility of your project from the very beginning of idea development. Limiting your story to only two or three characters means you will only need to hire two or three actors. This is especially important for projects that are primarily non-English but are shot in territories where the main language is not the language of the film. For instance, there are considerably fewer actors that are Farsi-speaking outside of Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, and casting them is no easy task.
In addition, having one or two locations instead of four or five will save you both money and time during your shoot. It will also mean that you will spend less time collecting all the funds you need in order to get your project into production. These are all ways in which you can make your concept more practicable and as such, move forward with funding your film.
Do not forget that for your potential producer, it’s imperative that your ideas, ambitions and imaginations are grounded in a clear understanding of the market. A strong and simple idea for a story is much more appealing to a reputable producer who is looking for new voices in film.
The next, and arguably the biggest challenge for first time filmmakers is rounding up the funds to complete or even begin their projects. Today, indie filmmakers find themselves in an oversaturated market with a limited number of funding channels. Due to the lack of access to public funds, which often come with long and complicated application procedures and require a record of experience, many emerging filmmakers opt for the less formal route of seeking private investors or even self-funding. Whichever route you choose to take, you will be a more favorable investment if you have a clear and reasonable budget.
Budget well and budget wisely. It’s not enough to have a good script. Having a clear budget is key for funding your film. Investors are more likely to bet on you if you know exactly how much you will need and what for. This is why it’s important to be as precise as possible. Do not underestimate or overestimate your budget.
As a rising talent, you will need to have a lot of patience and persistence. You cannot do everything yourself. Having a sensible and reputable producer next to you will help you immensely when you are putting different aspects of your film together, including the budget. A good producer understands the structure of public funding and the right approach for it. They can also help immensely with many functional aspects of the process that are very tiring and demotivating for a young filmmaker.
Your producer will be able to come up with a realistic budget with your own help. It may also be a good idea to enrol in educational workshops offered at organizations such as LIFT and FCC, that cover budgeting and grant-writing. This is not to say that producers have no effect or say on the artistic aspect of your film. A dedicated producer will bring a lot of creative energy to the world of your film.
Challenge: Maintaining quality
Our final challenge here is one that you will encounter at every stage of making your first film. Quality is often seen as a consequence of good funding, and as such treated as a secondary goal. We argue however that maintaining a high level of quality is precisely what distinguishes excellent art house independent cinema from the thousands of amateur films submitted to festivals every year.
When making an independent film, there will be a number of factors throughout the journey that will be beyond your control. Budget constraints and lack of experience will make it seem impossible to predict let alone determine the quality showcased in your film. The key here is to prepare rigorously; what you lack in funds, you must make up for with time. The reality is that cheap and quick cannot produce high quality outcomes. Taking shortcuts is the easiest way to diminish the artistic value of your film. So if you can’t afford to spend money on an expensive location, you must spend more time scouting for that rare find that is cheaper. If you cannot afford to hire more experienced actors, you must take time both during casting and rehearsal to curate the right chemistry between the characters in your script.
Many famous actors we know today are in fact friends who helped a rising filmmaker and acted in their films for the first time. So do not underestimate the magic that limitations can sometimes bring to the world of your film.
Challenge: Getting seen
This is perhaps the biggest fear of any artist regardless of their status. It is not only the rising talents of film that will have to worry whether their films get picked by prestigious festivals. Even established and hailed filmmakers can be rejected by the same film festival that had awarded their previous film a few years earlier.
Bear in mind that quality will never go unnoticed. If you follow your heart as well as take all the right steps before your film is finished, there is a very high chance that your film will garner some justifiable attention.
This means that if you manage to write a strong and simple script that your producer, your crew and your cast all fall in love with and if you manage to acquire the funds you need to execute your film the best way you imagined and if you managed to make up for the lack of necessary funds for certain decisions with brave and unorthodox creative solutions and finally, if you manage to shoot your film and put it together flawlessly in edit, then your chances of getting noticed are much higher than those filmmakers who failed one or more steps along the way.
Nevertheless, it is hard to predict the reaction of festivals, distributors and sales agents towards your film. What you need to understand is that you will have to create a very strong package for your film with the help of your experienced producer. You will also need to stay in touch with target distributors, sales agents and festivals from the early stages of development of your film until it is ready to be offered to them.
Like any industry, the film industry functions through networks, common interests and friendships. You can see that as a filmmaker, you have many more responsibilities than just an artist in order to make sure that your film will find its way to the right audience.
Cinema is not for the faint of heart. There are many more challenges to making an indie film than the ones we’ve addressed above. FCC strives to use its industry knowledge, expertise and global network of film professionals to alleviate some of the challenges faced by Farsi filmmakers.
But don’t lose hope. If you are a true believer of what you are doing, if you have a great simple script and if you have the right people around you to help you create your film in the best way possible, all you need is patience and persistence to go through this adventurous journey and make your debut feature.