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Entries in Independent Film (1)

Sunday
Sep302012

What Independent Filmmakers Are Looking For 

George Mendeluk, a director and filmmaker, recently spoke in Portland, reminding screenwriters what independent filmmakers are looking for in scripts.

Mendeluk says:

  • Genre films are always a good way to anchor your script in a known category, especially the Western, which is where America gets its film mythology.
  • Short stories are in the public domain. Use them. They are like finding a buried fossil.
  • Screenplays should be no more than 124 pages for features; 94 for TV movie scripts. (Film people hate to read, too.) 

Paraphrasing advice from Billy Wilder: Develop a clean line of action for your characters. Hide the plot structure. If you have a problem in the third act, it's really a problem with the first act.

  • Play it, don’t say it. Film is visual, especially subtext, where what is happening is not what's said. Spelling it out in dialogue kills it.
  • Scripts are not written; they are rewritten. Being possessive or resistant to collaboration on a script is death for your career. If you can collaborate, you can write in TV.
  • Make the story memorable. The stakes must be very high. Try to write to attract a star who wants to play that role. Actors play to individual viewers and for themselves to build their own myths and fame.

Paraphrasing Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero With A Thousand Faces”A hero is someone who gives himself to something bigger than himself. 

The hero's journey is often the search for one's father. It is the archetypal battle against fear and a call-to-adventure where the hero must cross the threshold. The character who leads the hero across the threshold is the hero’s guardian. 

The hero travels from the conscious to subconsious and back to conscious again in a circular loop. He crosses the threshold, faces down his fear, emerges again at a point of resurrection, and returns to his original place in life a changed person.

The most producable independent films have:

  • a limited cast
  • few locations
  • more day than night scenes
  • and are not period pieces

Directors can only legally work 12 hours a day. Night scenes require lighting and it's expensive. So shoot during the day and use good lighting techniques.

For example, the film "Slueth" had one location, leaving more money to get really good actors.

Set your film for advantageous funding opportunities. For every $1 dollar of production expense on a film, a city makes $5 in services and local business revenue from the film. 

  • Louisiana has a good film tax-incentive program (See “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”)
  • Michigan
  • Canada
  • Oregon, yes, but the funds are often gobbled up by a few big productions

California has no program for film tax rebates.

Try to get an option fee from a major studio. There are 300,000 new scripts a year bought by Hollywood, and most are never made.

Finally, Mendeluk says don’t forget to leave room in your own work to thumb your nose at all the rules. "Follow your bliss, and the universe will open. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure."