Secrets of Successful Indie Filmmakers: Don’t Give Up

One thing that’s true for all indie filmmakers is this: Sometimes life sucks.

Movie deals fall apart. Investors bail out. People don’t come through and they let you down. And sometimes what you thought was a sure-thing becomes a no-thing…

While nobody wants to experience pain and heartache, it is equally important to know that these challenges are part of the journey. And what I just described are the same realities and the same circumstances that all successful indie filmmakers face.

The difference? Successful indie filmmakers don’t give up.

But that probably doesn’t make you feel much better. And if you’re in the midst of a shaky project or an uncertain life circumstance, I can sympathize. When I was in NYC, we were going into production on a 1.5 million dollar movie.

I can remember feeling pretty excited about the whole process. I was finally working in the movie business. I felt awesome. . .

(Note: If you’re reading my emails, look for the one titled “The First Time I Got Fired.”)

Then all-a-sudden the entire project fell apart. Something about the investors getting scared… Something about the actor’s mom… Dunno. The reason the project fell apart does not matter. But what I know is this – I suddenly found myself in New York with no job and no money.

Imagine going from a feeling of awesomeness to a feeling of heartache in a single day.

That experience truly sucked.

indie filmmakers

Secrets of Indie Filmmakers: Don’t Give Up

I remember calling my friend and mentor Joe on the phone. I thought he would be encouraging. Maybe even say something nice to me. Instead he said something I never forgot… He said, “Get UP!”

ME: What?

JOE: Get UP! You just experienced your first bloody nose. Welcome to the world. At this point, you have two choices. You can quit – or you can get up, wipe your bloody nose and push forward.

I chose to push forward. I had no other choice. It wasn’t easy. For a time, I had to leave New York and move back to my parent’s house. And while this was humiliating, I forced myself to think of each challenge as a rite of passage for any serious indie filmmakers. How bad did I want it? Okay. Prove it!

This belief got me through my darkest times…

“I think I can. I think I can. I think I can…”

Eventually I found a job, saved money for a few months, packed my car and moved to California. Once there, I got some stuff in motion and was finally able to produce my first feature.

While I’m proud of that accomplishment, I can tell you that my challenges have only gotten more complicated. Since that time, I have been fired from several jobs, dumped, heart broken, broke and fired again. In the years since, I have had more than a dozen projects, job offers and awesome opportunities come and go. Poof!

And while failed opportunity still sucks, all of it has somehow become less sucky, I now understand a solid, fundamental truth. And it is the reason I can sleep soundly most nights. Are you ready?

Uncertainty is the price of success.

There will be good times and bad times. There will be red and black. You will win and you will lose.

And while I’m not here to tell you every day is going to be fun. (It won’t. Every setback sucks.) But if you let your challenges steel your resolve instead of stealing your soul, I guarantee one day you will wake up happy. The sun will shine. The stress will dissolve. And you will be excited for whatever life has to offer.

I look forward to watching your movies.

If you would like more tips like this, click here to grab your filmmaker checklist.


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 – 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.

Thoughts on Film School

Somewhere between 11th and 12th grade, when most of my (then) classmates were taking weekend trips with their families to check out prospective colleges, I was goofing off.

I know, I know. Maybe I shouldn’t admit that.

But at age 17, a college education wasn’t high on my list of priorities. And besides, I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to make movies.

I can’t remember exactly what drew me to movie making. But I was always intrigued by the camera and how you could look through the lens at something and bring it to life in a new and unique way. I know there are a lot of fancy technical terms to describe the cinematographic stuff I played around with, like forced perspective, snap zoom and the excitingly overused P.O.V. shots!

But I didn’t think about any of that stuff. Back then, I had a VHS camcorder with a built in microphone and I had one movie making mission:

I just wanted to have fun.

One summer, my buddies and I build a skateboard half-pipe in my parent’s back yard. We would spend hours and hours under the hot summer sun, almost always capturing our sessions on videotape. And then as the sun was setting, we would go inside and use 2 VCRs to edit the footage. (Push play on one and record on the other, etc.)

Being able to play around with the footage and also add some much appreciated heavy medal music to the final cut was not just a great way to end an exhilarating day of skateboarding – but the work and effort we put into making the skate videos look good was enough to make me realize a career making movies would be the only type of career that mattered.

As such, when asked about my college plans, I had only two criteria:

  1. The school would have to have women.
  2. And the school would have to offer a film program.

Back then, I thought a traditional film school with hot women was heaven. Not to mention, I was also convinced that a traditional film school degree would help my chances at becoming a successful Hollywood filmmaker.

I remember doing my research and trying to determine which school of cinema offered my best chance at success for a career making movies.

Whether fortunately or unfortunately, after calculating the cost of a four year film school coupled with the realities of my family’s let’s-further-your-education budget, both my parents and I were persuaded to vote unanimously for one of the many Pennsylvania state schools.

Instead of NYU or UCLA, I ended up at Bloomsburg University of PA…

And while the school did not have a formal film program, it was a great experience. I mean, at least there were woman (Huge education and nursing school!!!). And as a result, I forgot about my film passion – for a bit…

It wasn’t until my senior year of college, when I once again caught the film bug.

I had learned of a movie making class where everyone in the course bucked up and paid to produce a 16mm short movie. The class wasn’t offered every year… And it was only offered in the summer. Suffice it to say, I did everything I could to get into that class. And while it was clear from the fist day that some folks were taking it for (what they thought would be) an “easy credit,” I took the class, well, because I HAD to!

With shall we say, a very strong level of passion – I convinced the class to let me write and direct the movie. I got a lot of push back. But after some heated negotiation, the instructor permitted me to have half of the directing credit. The other half was shared with my buddy Ryan (I’d like to add that Ryan also caught the movie making bug and he is now working as a well respected grip on some of the biggest movies in Hollywood).

But anyway, we went out to various locations and made our movie. We even animated a title sequence (the old-fashioned way, I might add). Then we got the film processed, edited on a flat bed and physically cut the film.

When we finally projected our movie on the screen, we thought we had something spectacular!

After graduating, I moved back with my parents in Pennsylvania and took a job selling household appliances. Since promoting dishwashers and garbage disposals was not inline with my movie making aspirations, I got a little depressed. I kept wondering how I would make a career making movies. The only piece of work I had was that 16mm film.

It was literally film. So, in order to show it to someone, I needed to get it transferred to video.

As such, I contacted various Pennsylvania production houses in the hopes one of em’ had the equipment to transfer the film. And after several calls, I eventually found someone.

Build a filmmaking team

As luck (and life) would have it, the people I met at that production company put me in touch with the local film community (Harrisburg, PA). And through those guys, I found work fetching coffee, which eventually led to other jobs (boom operator, dolly pusher, production coordinator), which introduced me to new people who eventually opened a door to New York City, where I basically took every production job I could find…

I participated in Student shoots, corporate video, TV commercials and the occasional hockey game upstate.

All of this happened while I lived in the corner of some dude’s kitchen and slept on an inflatable air mattress. It was also during this time that I put the finishing touches on my first screenplay.

Eventually this work and networking led to a position as an assistant to an indie producer. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Now, after having produced numerous short movies and three features, I’m beginning to think my on-the-job training was a pretty good film education.

I share this story for any parents or aspiring filmmakers weighing the options between traditional film school or other alternatives. If you just want to learn the nut-and-bolts of filmmaking, then the basics can be learned in a much shorter time-frame than four years!

After you learn the basics, it’s having a sense of clear goals, combined with a great work ethic and a subsequent hard working reputation that will ultimately open the doors to your dreams. And when these doors open, you’ll quickly realize your Hollywood success has more to do with your experience and attitude than your degree.

Experience and attitude are major prerequisites for success in any endeavor, especially making movies.

So to wrap this up, my thinking is: Film school is good for aspiring filmmakers who want to meet and spend four years with friends who share similar interests, determination and drive. These people will form the foundation of your professional network. And if you attend one of the BIG schools, it’s going to look great on your resume…

Problem is, unless you plan to teach, most people will never ask to see your degree. The other problem is, depending on your film school, you may never get permission to direct or produce your own projects. This could be a bit disheartening when you’re paying FIFTY-THOUSAND-DOLLARS (or more) for an education that allows you carry cables and fetch coffee.

(Come to think of it, if you’re going to fetch coffee and carry cables, you may as well get paid for it!)

I’m not saying you should forgo college – I certainly didn’t. And being completely frank, my four year degree has accelerated my success in some very non-direct ways. But I am saying this: Before you set yourself up for a traditional film school degree (and the debt that goes with it), you might consider testing the water by attending one of the many short term, hands-on filmmaker workshops offered by reputable filmmaking organizations.

Most of these workshops are taught by working filmmakers and industry professionals, and are conducted at various times and locations throughout the year. For the most part, these workshops will provide you with a basic education, a peer group and importantly, enough nuts-and-bolts filmmaking experience so you can make an informed decision on whether or not a traditional 4-year film school is right for you.

As always, take time to do the research.

And if you want to start your film education, check out these filmmaking tools.