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what is indie filmmaking?

Indie Film

An independent film (indie film) is a feature film or short film that is produced outside the big studio system in Hollywood. They are produced independently and distributed by independent entertainment companies.  Independent films are sometimes distinguishable by the filmmakers' personal artistic vision.  Most independent films are made with considerably lower budgets than major studio films.  In fact, it is not unusual for well-known actors who are cast in independent films to take substantial pay cuts if they truly believe in the message of the film.


Unlike big Hollywood films, low-budget films can afford to take risks and explore new artistic territory outside the classical Hollywood narrative.  Working with a low budget can be difficult at times causing producers to be very tight with their budgets and have to make many sacrifices along the way. 

A typical low budget film cost $250,000 to $2,500,000 to produce.  Although that sounds like a lot of money, making a film is a very expensive hobby.  A very large part of the budget will be spent on locations, actors, crew, vendors, food, housing...making low-budget films are great for small towns and their economies.


Indie producers are always on the lookout for local talent for their films.  From speaking roles to stand-ins to background actors, when a producer is shooting in a small town almost everyone has a chance to be in a film.  Producers need people with charisma and special talents. Experience is not always super important. 

Auditions will be posted in local newspapers and social media and on the production companies web sites.  You want to show up at the audition 10-15 minutes early—producers want to know you really want to do this.  Bring a resume or photos if you have some.  When you come to an audition be yourself.  Relax.  Breathe.  The producers will have you read something for them just to get an idea of which characters in the script you may be good for.  That will be a scene or part of a scene from the film called "sides".  Do not ask to read the script—that will not happen.  Producers want people who trust them and their direction.  Making a film is a team sport.  

If you get a role, you can expect one or several rehearsals.  Treat a rehearsal seriously.  They are super important.  Be on time and ready to go.  One of the producers will send you sides for your role and give your direction as to insight into the character.  For the most part, the producer will want you to just be yourself and not try to act like someone you are not.  Just relax and take direction and most importantly KNOW YOUR LINES.  Study the lines from the sides until you know them by heart.  This is the most important part of acting.  If you do not know your lines, the Director cannot help you with the character's actions.  KNOW YOUR LINES!

Great Expectations

You have to keep in mind that a low-budget film is just that—LOW-BUDGET.  Don't expect niceties or fancy meals.  Don't expect returned phone calls or emails.  Don't expect fancy trailers or people catering to your every desire.  In fact, some indie films require you to bring your own lunch and drinking water.  

While on set you have to be aware that the producers are doing everything they can to make a good film with little money and time.  This could mean that on many occasions there just isn't time for on-set niceties.  Things like saying please or thank you may not happen.  In fact, many times directions seem more like thoughtless commands.  You have to be patient and understand that the producer is only concerned with what actually gets on the film—you should too.  There will be plenty of times to have fun and laugh at the wrap party.  Your job as an actor on set is to be quiet and take direction.  That means do whatever is asked as long as it's not dangerous to you or others.

It takes a very long time to make a film.  Most films take from 3 to 5 years to complete.  After shooting has ended, the film has to be edited, sound and effects completed, legal and all takes a long time.   You have to be patient.  Just sign up for the films social media or subscriber newsletter and move on with your life.  Do not ask for footage to use on your social media or for your actor's reel—that will not happen.  The producers want their film to be fresh upon release.  

Before you get invited to set for a role, you will be emailed a CALL SHEET.  The Call Sheet will tell you what to bring, what time to be there, and where to be.  It will also give you any special considerations and your sides will be attached.  

While on set you should:

1. Always be quiet.  No conversations on or near set. 

2. Always have your phone powered OFF on or near set.  Cell phone signals disrupt all wireless mics and cameras.

3. Always show up on set clean, dry, and serviceable.  No makeup or hair products unless asked to do so.  Bring all your makeup with you just in case.

4. No drugs or booze on set.  No smoking or vaping on set.  

5. Brings your call sheet and sides.


Who does what on set?

The Producer is the manager of the film.  From budget to distribution.  It's their show. 

The Director is responsible for the script, the action and the look of the story.  They help actors by giving direction to them on set.

Assistant Directors are responsible for breaking down the script into an organized shooting schedule, communicating with all departments on a daily basis to keep production moving forward (including creating call sheets), monitoring and facilitating on-set safety for all personnel. Getting props, actors and crew to set and ready to shoot.

Grips take care of equipment for camera including dollies, dolly track, and jibs; setting stands for lights and placing light shaping elements such as flags.

Gaffers are responsible for setting all the lights and running all electrical cable, including “work lights” and equipment power for other departments.

Director of Photography, 1st Assistant Camera, 2nd Assistant Camera, Stills Photographer take care of repairing and operating the camera, setting up the monitors (if there are no VTR / video playback personnel), tracking footage and managing film or digital media.

Props people take care of everything that actors touch besides costumes, set dressing, and HMU, including food, weapons, cigarettes, fake drugs. Responsible for certain “video village” items including moving directors chairs and, in certain union jurisdictions, heaters and tents.

Production Designer is responsible for all the elements of scenery including set decoration (furniture, window treatments, floor coverings etc), scenic work (set painting and aging), and construction (set building).

The Wardrobe Supervisor is responsible for all costumes for principal talent and background including aging, dying, and alterations. 

Location Manager finds locations, liaises with the outside world, opens and closes sets and holding areas.

The Sound Crew captures and organizes the recorded sound of the film including dialogue, background noise, room tone.

Craft Services responsibilities include providing a buffet-style selection of food and beverages onset ranging in size and complexity according to budget level.


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