Indie Filmmaking As Your Business

If you’ve been following Filmmaking Stuff for some time, you probably know that this site really pushes non-permission based filmmaking. This concept means that if you’re a filmmaker with ambition and a dream, you should not hesitate…

You should not wait for Hollywood to give you permission – but rather, you should pick up a camera and Make Your Movie Now!

For some of you, this is easier said than done. Part of why this seems challenging and impossible is because many of us start our career with the belief that filmmakers need a gazillion dollars, tons of experience and an address in Hollywood to make a living as a “real” filmmaker.

While this was once true, the new model of movie making allows you to create and sell movies from anywhere in the world.

For many, this filmmaking evolution is exciting. But the classic elements of filmmaking remain. You still need a great story, the passion and persistence to bring your movie to life, and the guts to share your work with the world.

To give you a rough plan of how to get your indie movie business up and running, I’ve provided a few steps. (Where I thought it would help, I also included links to some sponsored filmmaking tools and services.) Ready:

1. Build A Team: Create relationships with at least 5-10 collaborators who complement your skill set. At the very least, you’ll want to find a writer who understands budgets, a physical producer experienced in low budget movie making, a tech guru who understands cameras and modern production gadgets, an editor with Final Cut Pro and an internet guru who can help you promote and sell your movies online.

Bonus points if you can find a lawyer who can provide you with the necessary legal advice, contracts and advice on setting up a business.

2. Create a Manageable Movie Concept: Come together as a team and design a movie that can be explained in one high-concept log-line. It has been my experience that original, genre specific movies with a bit of controversy, geared towards a clearly defined target audience will later help you when it comes time to market and sell your movie.

Above all, your movie idea should be totally fun and captivating. (Otherwise, why make the movie?)

3. Break Down Your Screenplay: Out of this, complete your schedule and your budget. Then analyze your budget. Ask yourself: If we do not garner a traditional distribution deal, how many $4.99 VOD downloads will we need to sell to get a return? At this point you can decide to decrease your budget, or not. But once you decide on your budget and the amount of sales you’ll need to get a return, you can then begin planning your marketing strategy.

If you have money, hire a great Production Manger. If you don’t have money, you’ll have to do your own breakdown. Check out my sponsor, LightSpeed EPS.

4. Go Get The Money: Once you have a concrete filmmaking strategy, you can go after your money. Investors like to see three things in your business plan: Who is running the company? How will you spend the money? And how will you make a profit?

Unlike years past, iTunes, Amazon and (sometimes) Netflix provides you with an accessible distribution pipeline. This will assist you in getting the necessary movie money. If you don’t know how to find prospective investors, see: www.GetMovieMoney.com

After you lock down your money, you can go into pre-production full force. Hire a great 1st AD.

5. Sell Your Movie: Once you get the money, I’m assuming you’ll make the movie. After that, two things have to happen. You have to spread the word about your movie. And you have to figure out how you are going to sell the thing. Once you get your movie out there and selling, focus on fueling your marketing with ads, PR and partnerships with other filmmakers.

After you do this once, the way to become successful is to create more and more movies. Remember, your goal is to create at least 20 movies in your life time, so that you can get at least 20 checks in the mail each month!

If you like this filmmaking stuff, you’ll love this resource: www.FreeFilmmakingBook.com

Filmmaking Tools You Can Use Today

If you’re a member of the Filmmaking Stuff newsletter as well as our Facebook group you probably know that we try very hard to answer every moviemaking question you send. Now, granted sometimes we get busy.

So, I wanted to provide you with a list of useful, no-fluff filmmaking tools. (Disclosure: Where possible, I included affiliate links. If you don’t want to buy anything I’m selling that’s totally cool.)

With that said, if I were once again putting together my first feature, this is a loose road map of the filmmaking tools I would utilize to make it happen.

How to Make Your Movie Now!

Before you get started, set up a profile with my friends at Movie Set – I consider this site to be the glue that binds. Well beyond your typical social networking site, this service will help you create community around your movie the whole way from script to screen to your movie marketplace.

Your Script – The First Draft:

This seems obvious. But without a screenplay, it is very difficult to make a movie. Yes, I know some of you are interested in making an “experimental” movie. If that’s you, then ignore the following screenwriting tools. But if you would like to write a screenplay, here are some filmmaking tools that I recommend:

  1. Final Draft – This is industry standard screenwriting software. You can also get Movie Magic Screenwriter. But I never used it. And if money is tight, you can get FREE screenwriting software here: Celtix
  2. The Independent Producer’s Guide To Writing Movie Scripts That Sell, by Jason Brubaker – Yes, this is THE screenwriting Action Pack that I created. In it, you get a decade of experience, a workbook and MP3 Audio, so you can listen to it anywhere. Call it screenwriting from a producer’s perspective.

BreakDown Your Script

Ok. After you finish your screenplay, you will want to break it down. What is a script breakdown? Basically, you take everything in your script (wardrobe, stunts, locations, characters, props Et AL. . . ) And you put these elements into a schedule. Since this is your “initial breakdown,” you will use this information to determine the ball park budget of your movie. Here are the filmmaking tools I recommend:

  1. Peter Marshall’s Script Breakdown and Film Scheduling Course. Peter has been in this game a long, long time. He will show you the fundamentals of script breakdown. These lessons will help you see your movie from a totally different, producer perspective.
  2. There is industry software to help you break down, schedule and budget your movie. One is called Movie Magic Scheduling and Movie Magic Budgeting. If money is tight, you can also grab a copy of Gorilla. These software tools are great because you can put them on your laptop and use them in remote places, even if you don’t have an internet connection!

Get Movie Money

Once your screenplay is broken down, scheduled and budgeted – the next step in the process is getting the money. To do this, you will need to create a movie business plan. After you have your business plan, you’ll want to contact a lawyer to draw up some paperwork and help you establish a corporate entity. And after that, you’ll go out and get your movie money. Here are some great filmmaking tools:

  1. Your Film Business Plan. For this, I recommend a website called Film Proposals. They have created a great business plan kit, which will provide you with a step-by-step approach to all the business stuff you would rather not bother with. Get Your Movie Business Plan Here.
  2. When it comes to entertainment attorneys, one of most accomplished is Gordon Firemark. He runs a website and has very informative podcasts, full of valuable legal tips – And if you need some work beyond that, including legal releases for your movie, Gordon can help. You can check out his site by clicking here. Get on his mailing list. . .
  3. Getting a business plan and putting your legal ducks in a row is only part of the process, the next aspect is getting money for your movie. I recommend “How To Make Rich Friends and Finance Your Movie” by Jason Brubaker. OK. Once again, this another one of my Action Packs. As usual, this is no-fluff. Different from all the other BS out there, you will discover how to seek out and make friends with rich people, even if you don’t know rich people. (Yet) – Access The Independent’s Guide To Financing Your Movie by clicking here.
  4. I can’t forget my friends at Indie GoGo. This site will allow you to set up a profile, promote your movie project, set a financial goal and find folks to sponsor various aspects of your movie. And if you actually raise 100% of your goal, the company will throw in a bonus percentage. To GoGo, Click Here.

Going Into Production

Once you raise the money, get your cast, crew and equipment, locations and craft service, the next step is going into production. In this stage, you’ll find out if all of your planning holds up. This is going to be both adventurous and grueling. But an awesome time you’re sure NEVER to forget.  Here are several filmmaking resources that I recommend:

  1. Rick Schmidt’s Extreme DV. He has a great workshop in the Bay Area where you actually complete a feature film. He is also the writer of one of the most empowering filmmaking books I’ve ever read. To check out the book, click here. To learn more about Rick Schmidt’s filmmaking workshop, follow this link.
  2. Rebel Without A Crew. This is another personal favorite. Perhaps it’s a little dated, but if you can ignore the ancient filmmaking technology mentioned in the book, you will finish your read with a new found appreciation for how difficult the filmmaking process used to be. No more excuses! Get the book here and Make Your Movie Now!
  3. If you’re looking for a longer workshop, I recommend the New York Film Academy as well as the Maine Media Workshops.

Post Production

After you produce your movie, you’ll want to edit it. This is the phase they call post production. And it really is the final rewrite of your movie. In the past, your post production expenses were crazy expensive. But like most things in filmmaking, technology makes your post experience awesomely affordable. Here are some tools:

  1. A decade ago, all the talk and buzz in the world revolved around Avid. Now you’re like Avid who? Seriously. If you have a Mac, get yourself a copy of Final Cut Pro. It’s all but industry standard. It’s powerful and affordable. Enough said.
  2. If you don’t have a Mac, find a friend who does. Re-read the previous step. And if you don’t know how to edit, find a friend who does.

Market and Sell Your Movie

I’m not going to tell you how to find a sales agent or how to make a 3 picture deal. Partially because that stuff is rare. And partly because those deals are old school anyway. I mean, who wants to hire a 3rd party when you can build a following and cash your own checks. I love this arena. I call it Digital Self Distribution. Here is how you market and sell your movie:The Indie Producers Guide To Digital Self Distribution

  1. Create a trailer that actually aims to sell the movie without giving the entire story away. They call this a teaser trailer. Make sure it includes a back link to your website. Once you have the trailer, put the sucka on YouTube and all the other video streaming sites you can think of.
  2. Get a domain name and website hosting. To do this, set up an account with a filmmaker friendly company. I prefer BlueHost. And yes, they pay me to say that. When you set up the site, I prefer to use the name movie in the URL.
  3. Once you have your website hosting, hire a web designer to create a website for you. (Actually, you should have built a website prior to production. But I know your mind was probably focused on actually making the movie. So it’s OK.) If you burnt all your money actually making the movie, then check out this website called http://www.fiverr.com – On this site, you’ll probably find a dozen people who will create an awesome website for a whopping $5 dollars. Seriously. I’ve used it and actually got some great work!
  4. Once you have your trailer and your website, you need to make sure you set up a Facebook page as well as other ways to grab visitor information. This is because most visitors will not buy your movie in their first visit. Having a YouTube page, a Facebook page and a newsletter will allow you to build a relationship with your visitors. If they don’t buy today, maybe they will buy tomorrow.
  5. Get your movie selling online. There are so many outlets for this. But one of the best that I’ve found is the very independent filmmaker friendly site called Distribber. You can learn more about distribber by clicking here. Please tell em’ I sent you.
  6. 5.5. And I almost forgot. Jason Brubaker (that’s me) has another product. It’s called The Independent Producer’s Guide to Digital Self Distribution. You can find out more information by clicking here.

Well that pretty much sums up the movie making process. Hopefully these filmmaking resources will be beneficial to your filmmaking process.

Extreme DV Interview with Rick Schmidt

Extreme DV at Used-Car Prices

Extreme DV at Used-Car Prices

Rick Schmidt has written, directed and produced over 20 features which have premiered at major national and international film festivals all over the world, including Sundance, Berlin and London.

His notorious filmmaking how-to books, Feature Filmmaking at Used-Car Prices and Extreme DV at Used-Car Prices have influenced countless up-and-coming filmmakers and many noted indies, including Kevin Smith and Vin Diesel.

Here is what some other folks have to say about Rick’s work:

“He (Schmidt) super-empowered me. The book (Feature Filmmaking at Used-Car Prices) changed my life.”  – Vin Diesel, Actor

“Without Rick’s book, Clerks would have been an idea that never made it past this page.”  –Kevin Smith, Writer/Director, Clerks, Chasing Amy, Dogma, etc.

“Rick Schmidt shows filmmakers (in Extreme DV) how to use these new tools to realize their visions”  – John Lasseter, Writer/Director, Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Cars, etc.

In the following interview, Rick Schmidt offers priceless filmmaking how-to advice for any filmmakers who want to make their feature now, without waiting around for Hollywood to give them permission.

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Extreme DV Interview ©2009 Jason Brubaker and Rick Schmidt

Jason Brubaker
Rick, thanks a lot for taking time to join us today. It’s a real honor to chat with you.

Rick Schmidt
Thanks Jason. It’s great you’re keeping the ‘film’ beacon burning in the middle of all this, and encouraging DV moviemaking as well!

Jason Brubaker
I can remember getting your book, “Feature Filmmaking at Used-Car Prices” as a Christmas gift some years ago. After reading it, I was so inspired to make a feature, that I spent the entire next summer mopping floors and cleaning toilets to save up for a used Arri BL 16mm camera and film. I bet I’m not the only filmmaker who has been inspired by your work. Did you ever think your book would become such a staple for the up-and-coming filmmaker?

Rick Schmidt
At the time I didn’t really know what the book would amount to, beyond bailing me out for huge debts at the lab! First of all, I was happily shocked when it sold to a good publisher(!). And then, once I got paid, I was relieved that I finally had some cash to pay debts, get my wife out of a lousy job, and maybe keep making movies.

Actually I didn’t really understand the book’s total effect until internet came into existence around the time of 2nd edition (1995) and I began to get lots of e-mails from readers. Got over a thousand notes over a couple year period, telling me how readers were jumping into no-budget feature filmmaking.

Jason Brubaker
I think I was one of them! Sounds like you’ve empowered a lot of filmmakers to make their feature.

Rick Schmidt
Been wondering… What has happened to all those unknown features? It seems like somebody should start a venue to play these many works. Here’s a title that came to my mind: FORGOTTEN FEATURES FILM FESTIVAL (FFFF) What do you think? Any takers?

Jason Brubaker
Kidding aside, for a lot of filmmakers, actually MAKING a feature, regardless of financial outcome is still an amazing accomplishment.

Rick Schmidt
Given that it’s tough enough to make a no-budget feature WITH MONEY – sorry to hear that you (and others) had to sacrifice so much to get a budget. In this cultural wasteland, you have to be incredibly willful to do this particular art form (how do people go from ONE feature to the next, and on to a career!!).

To be an artist in American culture means that you have to plow ahead without much of any economic support (aside from the few NEA grants or local ‘film society’ funds). And without normal people’s understanding or support for what we’re doing (ART) with our time and resources, it gets even tougher.

A now-deceased friend of mine and great writer/director from former Yugoslavia, Franci Slak, used to get his features funded by the state. And after making one, he was put back on a list of a few hundred filmmakers, so he would be funded again for a new work (with the equivalent of a couple hundred thousand dollar budget). The US doesn’t honor its artists like even the smallest country in Europe. So it takes real guts and craziness to go against the flow and make our works, somehow fund ourselves over and over again through the years.

In any case, all those many thank-you notes for my book gave ME the needed positive energy to keep working against the odds (THANKS AGAIN!)  So the inspiration worked both ways.

Jason Brubaker
Aside from the book, you’ve done quite a lot of work over the years. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got started making movies?

Rick Schmidt
Nowadays I make movies through my Feature Workshops, collaborating with others who want to learn my approach, which is mostly improv and experimental, with a focus on real people and their personal stories and ironies. Aren’t there enough Hollywood movies being made that tell a simple story with known actors?

We should be making movies that we can afford, with our personal resources and groups of friends, that are original and unique in every way. It’s the best approach, I think, for an indie producer, as we head into 2010. As crazy indie writer/director, it’s not worth playing their game their [Hollywood] way.

And if the features we make don’t get in film festivals…who cares? The programmers may not be smart enough to get it.  Once, when I had a big walkout from a screening, an artist friend Mary Ashley asked me, “Rick, what did you do right?”  She thought it was a badge of honor for me, as a modern artist, to shock an audience and send them running!

Jason Brubaker
You were totally in the mix during the indie revolution of the 90’s! How has indie filmmaking changed since then? I mean, a lot of us ran around with cameras, filming stuff, excited about Dogme 95

Rick Schmidt
In the 1990’s we could still get in good film festivals (it’s a lot tougher now, don’t you think?).  I guess I have to believe that NOW IS THE REAL FILMMAKING REVOLUTION. I think that’s true because there really is NO PRESSURE to make something that could be called a ‘commercial’ movie.

Even hideously expensive Hollywood movies can barely get a screen for longer than a week.  So when we make our weird indie features, for the lowest budgets possible ($30 for three hour-long Mini-DV tapes, etc), the only constraint we have is being totally honest to our own intuition and urges. We even got a Dogme movie, Chetzemoka’s Curse (Dogme #10), that’s probably one of the first features made completely in the new millennium – shot & completed it during 10 days in January, 2000 through my Feature Workshops.  And it’s probably one of our best ones!

Anyway, we have no one to answer to but ourselves and our personal standards of excellence. I’m hoping to see some amazing works on websites and on YouTube.

Jason Brubaker
Before I made my first feature, I remember thinking I couldn’t make a feature because I didn’t have money for film processing. Or I didn’t have an audio recorder. With new High Definition technology, do you find filmmakers have less excuses and an easier time making features?

Rick Schmidt
Yes…and no. We have less excuses, but if we try real hard we can still make it appear impossible!

If you’re the kind of person who thinks they need all the best equipment and crew, real movie stars and a real budget, you’ve still got the problem. For some, the excuse will be that a RED HD Camera is $1500+ a day and too expensive to obtain. We are great at making up excuses, even when there aren’t any left. Art is risky! We are scared that we may reveal just how unskilled and stupid we secretly think we might really be.

But the alternative is worse. If we don’t ever take the risk and try, then life is just a pretty big boring mess where all we do is work to pay bills and there’s never enough money for anything anyhow. Some school near your house probably has a DV class where you can get your hands on a 3-chip DV camera. And there are other creative people around who just need to read the right Craigslist ad to get in touch with you to help with your feature.

In the Bay Area/Oakland/SF area where I now live, there are hundreds of good actors on sfcasting.com hoping to be cast for an unpaid part in a movie so they can add to their reel. These actors are growing their own careers. That’s what we filmmakers need to do!

For me it’s important not to let too many years go by without creating a new movie (I can feel the stupid blocked energy building up in my head…). If there’s absolutely no money, then you need to sell something (a used-car?) to jump-start things. Nowadays, a car of even the cheapest kind can generate a lot of DV hours of stock, along with some rental dollars for a good camera (DVX100b, or?). And as you ramp up for the shoot, read some of Boston University professor Ray Carney’s articles, interviews and mail to get inspired.

Jason Brubaker
In your book, you emphasize having a strong vision for the kinds of movies you want to make. What are your thoughts on keeping the momentum going when the going gets tough?

Rick Schmidt
If we’re talking ‘artistic vision’ then that means (to me) that each person needs to just jump in and try to make a feature or short movie without worrying about doing it ‘correctly.’ Shoot it YOUR WAY, edit it YOUR WAY, and you’ve achieved YOUR STYLE. In other words, don’t listen to what anyone else says or thinks.

The only momentum I know comes from KNOWING you are an artist (in film/DV, oil paint, clay, photograpy, or whatever). What media artists like us do is make movies. So, after awhile, we’re going to make another one. That’s just how it is!

When things get tough we have to adapt. That’s what my decision to shoot with a 1:1 ratio represents. And like I mention in my “Extreme DV” book, I met a guy who re-recorded over the same Sony 1-hr. mini-DV cassette 30 times (capturing his footage into Final Cut Pro after each shot roll) to make his feature. Total cost = $7 (plus a borrowed DV camera). Don’t let the doubters wear you down. If you wait for the ideal production situation you’ll never get started.

Forget about doing it ‘right.’

Jason Brubaker
I know from my projects, sometimes you want things to go a certain way, but they just don’t. The FX guy shows up late. The location falls apart. Some members of cast and crew leave the show for a higher paying gig… How do you recommend filmmakers stay flexible?

Rick Schmidt
My little mantra is – “EVERY PROBLEM IS THERE TO MAKE THE MOVIE BETTER!” So no matter what’s thrown at you, you absorb the punch and go on (think gung fu). Go get a better actor after the first one disappears.

My Emerald Cities had that kind of major problem. The actress, Carolyn Zaremba, moved to New York City to pursue her acting career before I could finish up my dragged on shoot (over more than a year of slowly attaining funds for more 16mm and prosessing). So I ended up appearing in the flick myself, in her place (you’ll have to see the movie to see how I did this. Emerald Cities is available at Netflix!

Jason Brubaker
A few years back, you told filmmakers to stick with a 1:1 ratio. That is, in production you should only shoot a scene once. Has this thinking changed with digital? I mean, if you ask me – it seems like digital can often make the days go longer.

Rick Schmidt
While that strict FILM shooting ratio seems no longer essential for saving money for a DV movie (was essential when shooting film; just 11 minutes of 16MM costing upwards of $500 when you cover stock, processing, workprint, sound transfer, etc), it still makes for a better (DV) movie if you proceed in a super-focused manner, taping limited takes that must be accurate enough to keep the story moving forward.

Jason Brubaker
Could you tell us a little bit about your Feature Workshop?

Rick Schmidt
At my Feature Workshops I work with participants to shoot and edit-to-completion in 10 days. So we make a feature in a week and a half.

Jason Brubaker
Wait… So you have a workshop where everyone collaborates to complete a feature in 10 days? That’s amazing!

Rick Schmidt
And just about each of the 17+ features we’ve produced this way have gotten in at least one international film festival. For six years in a row, a Portugese festival, Figueira da Foz International, flew me (or a participant) into Lisbon for an all-expenses-paid festival screening. Pretty cool reward to all the work.

(Click HERE for more info about Rick Schmidt’s Feature Workshop in the Bay Area this summer, August 1-10, 2010.)

At any rate, I’m proud of the features we’ve produced in this manner.

Jason Brubaker
What final advice do you have for filmmakers who have not yet made a feature, but want to?

Rick Schmidt
Bite the bullet and somehow get your hands on a good DV camera/Panasonic DVX100b would be nice!. Maybe an ad in craigslist.org will get you a great collaborator / co-producer/ cameraperson with the gear.  Then, get/advertise for a soundman/soundwoman (w/Sennheiser 416 mike, or some good mic & mixer).

Don’t let the lack of money distract you. ONLY if you believe…can this come together.

When I was in this state of activity (being an artist inspite of having NO money) my kindly landlord let me go 8 months without paying rent (see full story in Preface of my Feature Filmmaking at Used-Car Prices book).

The universe sometimes makes an adjustment for an artist like you! And if you’re not a writer, you can still build a story AS you shoot (see my Extreme DV at Used-Car Prices book for how this improv approach can work).

So my advice is – sell that used-car and BEGIN!


Writer/director Rick Schmidt, author of Feature Filmmaking At Used Car Prices, has more than a decade of experience conducting moviemaking workshops. Each workshop produces a full-length feature in just 10 days. For more information about Rick Schmidt’s workshops, check out www.lightvideo.com/workshop.aspx

UPDATE: As special offer for Filmmaking Stuff readers… If you sign up for Rick’s August 2010 Feature Filmmaking Workshop you’ll get 50% OFF the enrollment fee!

  1. Goto www.lightvideo.com/workshop.aspx
  2. Sign up for Rick’s newsletter and write the word “STUFF” where it asks for your “Your favorite film?”
  3. Questions? Email Rick with “STUFF” in the subject line at: [email protected]

NEW UPDATE: Just got word from Rick. He said spaces are filling up FAST and there are only a few seats left! If you want to participate and make a feature this summer, send Rick an email ASAP and reserve your spot.

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Increase the production value of your movie

poster for The Matrix
Image via Wikipedia

I’m going to ask a few questions today and also take us back in time…

Have you ever watched a movie where the story seemed like it was just a bunch of Visual Effects, with no substance?

Conversely, can you think of a movie where the FX and VFX were just icing on the cake?

When I first started out, the movie The Matrix was all the rage. I don’t know if you remember but at the time, that movie was fresh and exciting and as a filmmaker, inspiring. I remember enjoying the movie because first and foremost, it had a great story. The visual effects and fancy camera techniques were secondary, complementary and completely necessary to tell the story. (By the way, I’m not talking about The Matrix 2 or 3… I didn’t understand those movies.)

Two important lessons I learned during that time:

  1. The super cool techniques used in the movie were nothing new.
  2. And if you were making movies back then, you may have been inspired to mimic similar VFX in your own work.

I know this because, if you traveled the festival circuit after that movie, you would have seen all sorts of short films that tried to incorporate similar Matrix-esq gimmicks into a story that-didn’t-quite fit.

Why?

While your opinion of what makes a movie good might differ from mine, hopefully we subscribe to a similar filmmaking philosophy — That is, anything that we include in our final cut must fit the story and push the story forward.

We all know that staging locations in a recognizable city or adding overhead shots or adding some other nifty, super cool camera tricks can work to make your movie look more expensive than it is – But sometimes if you’re really honest, these fancy tricks aren’t necessarily complementary to your story.

And as filmmakers, this is where we run into trouble. Sometimes it’s just downright difficult to cut all those super cool shots from our movie. (Some of my filmmaker friends would argue that the folks responsible for the most recient Indian Jones movie and the Star Wars prequels may have fallen into a similar FX-for-the-sake-of-FX trap.)

So as a rule of thumb, if you add an element or location or some other nifty, neat-o trick to increase the production value of your independent movie and the element is not inline with your overall story, you run the risk of distracting your audience and taking them out of the movie.