SECRETS TO SUCCESS FROM OUR CASE STUDY COLLECTION
As we all know too well, there is not one road to success when you choose a career making films. Each filmmaker must forge their own path by
considering what is right for their film and their career. However, the experiences shared by others can provide some direction to help us travel the rough terrain of independent film. In today’s case studies, three different filmmakers offer their approach to success.
Look Beyond Your Borders
Film Independent Fellow Javier Fuentes-León made his debut film Undertow (Contracorriente) in 2008, combining different international funds from Europe (Germany and France) and Latin America (Colombia and Perú).
After several years of making the rounds with his script in Los Angeles, he was not getting any closer to raising the funds to make his film until he was invited to the Berlin Talent Campus, where he found producers willing to take a chance on his project. “Don’t underestimate the potential of any ‘door,’” says Javier. He was unsure of the worth of participating in the Berlin Talent Campus, but that’s where it all started. It made him realize that there is a lot of financing available to filmmakers outside their own borders. “It’s worth looking.”
Since its debut in the San Sebastian International Film Festival in 2009, Undertow went on to play at Sundance and multiple international film festivals. In 2010, it was Perú’s official submission to the Academy Awards and was nominated for the Goya Award for Best Latin American Film.
Javier is currently working on his second feature, The Woman Who Feared the Sun. (Which he work shopped in the Film Independent Screenwriters Lab)
See Your Film as Your Calling Card
In 2005, two unknown brothers, Jay and Mark Duplass, took the Sundance Film Festival by storm with their quirky film The Puffy Chair, which they had produced with a very small budget of $15,000. Even though many distributors loved its fresh attitude, and could see its appeal to younger, hipper audiences, they did not think they could market a film with no stars and by two unknown young filmmakers. They went on to distribute their film with Roadside Attractions and saw modest Box Office results. However, many executives could recognize the talent of the Duplass Brothers, and based on their debut film, several studios went on to offer them different deals for future projects.
“You should look at distribution as a way of getting your movie out to the world, and not as a way of making money,” the brothers pointed out. “Thinking you’re going to make money without stars is an unrealistic expectation. In independent film, distribution is rarely about making money, it is about getting your film out to the world and using it as a stepping stone.” Following the success of The Puffy Chair, the Duplass brothers went on to make Baghead (2008) and Cyrus, which Fox Searchlight released in 2010. The brothers have several projects completed, including the documentary Kevin, and Jeff Who Lives at Home (starring Jason Segel and Ed Helms), which premiered at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.
Look Ahead, See Your Film(s) as Your Livelihood
Award-winning documentary filmmaker Arthur Dong (Hollywood Chinese, Licensed to Kill) has been a pioneer of self-distribution for over twenty years. From theatrical releases to home video, television, and the educational market, to complex collaborations with museums and social outreach organizations, he has mastered the art of exploiting the rights of his films and creative work far beyond a festival premiere.
In 2009, as we interviewed him for the case study of his latest film Hollywood Chinese, Arthur stated: “Since my 1982 film, which I self-distributed, I’ve learned that my films are my social security. Make no mistake about it; I’m no Ken Burns or Michael Moore when it comes to attracting production money. But what I do retain from my self-distribution earnings help me through the (very many) lean years so that I don’t necessary have to take on gigs just to pay the bills; that gives me a certain amount of freedom to develop ideas without worrying every second about money. I also tend not to sell all my rights to a film wholly to one entity, and try to control what I can in areas that I think I can do well. I’ve worked with distributors before with satisfying results so I’m not against going that route — it’s just always a gamble and I’ve had to weigh many factors when it comes to distribution strategies.”
Arthur Dong will share the secrets of his ongoing success in making a living through expanding the life of his films at our Film Independent Forum in a presentation titled, This Film Has Legs: Extending the Life of Your Doc.
You can read the complete case studies of Undertow, The Puffy Chair and Hollywood Chinese, here.
October 6th, 2011 • No Comments