Going up against the major film studios can be a daunting task for an independent film producer, especially when budget constraints and access to shooting locations are considered. However, many indie studios have found a way to flourish in an increasingly competitive environment. One of those is the team at Arazo Media in Chantilly, VA.
We spoke with Artem Koker from Arazo Media and learned about the studio’s success in producing a documentary called, Affected: The Story of US, about the effects of COVID-19 on a variety of individuals throughout the country and their personal stories.
Artem gave some great advice for independent film producers looking to take the indie world by storm. Here’s seven tips that helped them:
1. Set Filmmaking Objectives
To start things off, it can be fun to experiment with meandering, artsy projects that don’t have a defined objective – and there’s nothing wrong with that. But to succeed in the industry, studios must have clear goals for major projects, and do their best to stick to certain timelines.
For us, the ultimate goal was to sell the project to streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, AppleTV, HBO and a few others. So we started working backwards from that vision. Our backup plan (if all else failed) was to distribute the documentary ourselves through various outlets.
2. Find Perfect People
Producing films is diverse and complex, and no two studios are alike. It is important to assemble a team of passionate creatives who have similar goals and visions. Talent and experience are obviously important, but your team must be immersed in the project, and exhibit the ability to work together to create exceptional outcomes.
What we personally did was look internally and externally to find the team needed to execute our film. We asked people within our company if they would be interested in working on a passion project. We also looked into our network, and recruited a few people through friends and family.
3. Prepare for Challenges
During production, we experienced lots of technical difficulties, both in the on set and in post-production. We started capturing everything in RAW 4K which turned out to be a disaster. Our interview files became so large, we filled up 15TB in about a week. Our computers were not prepared for this kind of data processing, so we had to shoot the rest of the documentary in regular 4K. Lesson learned!
To this day, about a fifth of the footage is in raw and those colors sometimes pop more than others. These are the things that smaller studios must be prepared to deal with, and it is vital to take a proactive approach. Make sure all team members are aware of technical limitations, and that they are prepared to back each other up when difficulties arise.
4. Work Within Your Budget
It would be nice to have the seemingly limitless funds of the corporate studios, but that simply isn’t the case for independent film producers, including ourselves. We bootstrapped the entire production, found great people to work pro-bono, saved money on music licenses with bulk purchases and did most of the work ourselves while working regular jobs.
Do your research ahead of time so you know what licenses you can, or cannot afford. It is better to settle for a different song, audio track or image than to be hit with a lawsuit for a copyright infringement.
5. Apply to Many Film Festivals
As an independent film producer, you learn quickly that garnering success for your film is a numbers game. The more festivals you apply to, the more likely that one will pick it up the film. We submitted to more than 30 festivals both large and small. It’s just like investing.
You need to put money in different stocks to see which ones will pop off. Sometimes it’s the ones you least expect. Spend as much time as possible researching film festivals in your local area, and across the country. You don’t necessarily have to have a physical presence at each festival, and these days many have gone totally online.
6. Promote Your Film
Your film’s success comes down to your team’s ability to get the word out. We used all of our social media accounts to heavily promote the film. On top of that, we did a ton of direct messaging, asked the cast to do the same. Remember, as an independent film producer you don’t have to stop there.
Your budget should also include room for paid promotions, and you should reach out to representatives at every streaming service if you are hoping to get exposure for your project. Paid promotions really helped us out and it became about 50% of the total impact that we generated. Reaching out early to representatives also decreased the amount of time we had to wait to go through all the red tape to connect with the decision maker.
7. Continue Innovating
As an independent film producer, you must continue to innovate at every step of the way. It’s really critical to do this so you don’t get complacent. It’s important to have a strong vision and foundation for your project, while also being open to new ideas and ways of doing things.
That’s one of the biggest ways that we honestly got through this whole process. We were agile, lean and able to pivot to change course when something wasn’t working.
If you are interested in learning more about our project, you can check it out by clicking here. And I genuinely hope that you found all this helpful and maybe a little bit inspirational. Keep grinding and pursuing your dreams full speed ahead.
Artem Koker is the Co-Founder and Director of Operations of Arazo Media. He is the Director of Affected: The Story of US. Along with Nathan Cushing (Producer), Sohrab Jafarzadeh (DP) and Victor Danos (B-Cam / BTS), the team is currently in the process of distributing their film. To learn more about Affected: The Story of US, click here.