For years I’ve seen a disturbing trend in the true indie film community that hasn’t much abated—true of course meaning that you made it with no movie stars and you funded the majority of it yourself.
You don’t go out and see movies like London Has Fallen for the depth, right? I hope not. You see an indie film, the kind of film they could only shoot on the weekends because the cast and crew had day jobs during the week.
Yet, if I had a quarter for every “true” indie trailer I’ve watched that forced into it a stirring song and some wild-haired millennial meandering under a dusty bridge or through a sprawling wheat field, subsequently inspiring me to plunk down ten bucks and schlep to an art house to see it, only to within a half hour realize that the trailer was the only part of the project that made me feel anything even remotely tingly… I’d be able to buy my Hell’s Kitchen apartment.
When Trailers Lie: A Friendly Reminder to (True) Indie Filmmakers
Even in the indie world, cutting a dishonest trailer is like putting someone else’s picture on your Ok Cupid profile—what’s the point, if you’re gonna have to eventually meet in person?
Yes, art is subjective, and the indie film that didn’t move me could have moved the next person. But let’s be honest here—a moving film is a moving film is a moving film.
There are certainly some good things happening for the underdog these days. The first movie shot entirely on an iPhone got into Sundance. And Indie Maverick Mark Duplass is hitting the trail mentoring young filmmakers about making meaningful films for the price of a pair of designer jeans. But the powers of pretension still control the business from top to bottom, and that will never change.
Aside from the fact that there’s really no such thing as a true independent film festival anymore, at least one considered prominent, these big-festival judges and the general industry powers that be are still blindly wooed more by an indie film that looks just how it’s supposed to look.
They say they want indies to be fresh and different, yet they end up awarding the ones that are exactly the same as every other one before it—ones that had little more going for them than a big name actor and a cinematographer who knew what they were doing.
Most earnest, blue-collar filmmakers who are out there putting their heart and soul into their work, who don’t have the cash, equipment or big industry contacts to put them in the national conversation, aren’t invited to this pretension party thrown by snoots who decide what audiences are moved by. And the snoots, by the way, have no idea they’re even snoots, because they’re so busy being snooty.
As the late great philosopher Alan Watts once said, “the godhead is never an object of its own knowledge.” His point? A knife can’t cut itself. Fire can’t burn itself. So a #snoot can’t ever know they’re a #snoot.
At least once a year a true indie deserving of its praise gets widespread attention, and that’s always a huge win for #TeamDuplass and #TeamTrueIndie. Despite cable and new media dominating the water cooler talk these days, there are still true indie filmmakers out there fighting the good fight and doing it because they love it. This is why I’m even in this insane business, not to make money, because Lord knows I’m not living in a house in the Hamptons—but to tell stories that introduce to the world new and provocative ways of thinking and being.
Film Courage’s David Branin and I shot the feature Goodbye Promise for $10,000 ($500 to shoot it and $9500 for everything else) and by our own admission the production quality was sub par. We had no money. Yet the LA Times and a few other prominent indie publications got a hold of it and lauded it for its heart. And that’s what won out in the end. Not the fact that it looked like it was shot for $75 and a bowl of chili, but that it had a heart.
If you have no money and no access to quality equipment, and you don’t have Scott Rudin on speed dial and that deters you from making a film, then get out of the business and make room for someone else. Mark Duplass would give you the same advice.
Taking it further than Mr. Duplass has taken it… Your job is to not only go out and tell a story with what little money you have, but to do it because you have a script with genuine heart and vision. Because you have a director and a DP and actors who see that and agree to work for little or no money… Because you know to spend every last penny you have on good production audio and a good editor… And because you’re willing to hit social media hard and effectively after it’s shot.
If all this takes place you will make a film that has lasting impact, you will find your audience, and I’ll be the first one in line to see it.
But I can’t end this piece on boring indie film talk. True success is bigger than that, bigger than all of us. The older I get, the more I view success not as how many scripts one has optioned or how many films one has sold to studios, but as nothing more than the ability to wake up every morning, or at least the majority of mornings, with a genuine smile and a genuine desire to help and inspire others through your work. If that is your primary goal, before anything else, then you will tell stories that people will listen to.
Gregor Collins is an actor, writer and producer working in theatre, film, and non-fiction TV. He produced and starred in the indie films Night Before the Wedding and Goodbye Promise, his writing has been featured in The Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, Huffington Post, Publishers Weekly, Cinema Editor Magazine, and his stageplays have been performed in and around New York. His memoir The Accidental Caregiver: How I Met, Loved, and Lost Legendary Holocaust Refugee Maria Altmann was adapted into a stageplay in New York in 2015.