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Daniel Chan
Director , Producer , Screenwriter
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The meaning of being "Independent"...

In 1998, a film called "Pi" won the best director award at the Sundance film festival and launched the career of an important director, Darren Aronofsky who later directed "Requiem for a dream"and recently made the "Wrestler". Here is a director who didn't forget his Independent roots...

"Pi" was made with a minimal crew for $65,000 USD, the film was about a math genius who built a machine in his apartment that can predict the stock market... then 10 years later, came the "Wrestler"... and Micky Rouke wasn't Aronofsky's first choice, in fact, it was Nicholas Cage who chased down Aronofsky wanting to play the lead role of "Randy the Ram"... with a big name like Nicholas Cage, Aronofsky could have made the movie with $25 million USD, but after meeting with Rouke, he realized, the character not only was a better fit for Rouke, it also mirrored what Rouke was going through with his own career and he decided to cast Rouke, by dropping Cage, his budget went from $25 mil to $2 mil USD. A lesser director would have gone for the money, but Aronofsky stuck to his guns and the end result was a Oscar worthy perfromance from Rouke the film also rejuvinated Aronofsky's career after the disappointing "The Fountain"...

In 2004, Shane Carruth directed "Primer", a film made for $7000 USD, with himself and his friend playing the lead roles, shooting on 16 mm film, he shot the film over a series of weekends on a ratio of almost 1 to 1, meaning he shot only one take of every shot and edited with everythiing he shot. He edited on his Mac using "imovie", the film later won Best Picture at Sundance... Although Carruth haven't made a film since, "Primer" has been named by critics as a great Science Fiction in the likes of Kubrick's "2001"... The film, about an inventer duo who created a time travel machine in their garage and began exploring going back and forth in time.

To me, "Primer" was the last film that can truely be called Independent... these days, you hear directors say how difficult it is to be Independent and stay in the indie film scene... they are not talking about raising money from family and friends, spending 3 years on rehearsing with the actors and shooting the film over 10 days, then edit it on weekends for another 3 years to end up with a VHS copy of the film that somehow ended up in the hands of a critic from the Village Voice who recommended the film to Sundance...

These days, being independent means that you wrote a script, and travel to film festivals pitch meetings, pitching to potential producers over 3 day conferences, if you are good at socializing and making connections, then you may end up meeting a producer or an agent who decide to take on your script and may be even you as a director. What follows is months of script development and trying to secure presales...

This is the part that conflicts with the Independent spirit... Preseeling your film worldwide to gather enough money to make your film... Preselling means you send your script to distribution companies all over the world and they from looking at your script, will decide whether they will distribute the end product for you when the film is made. Since we are talking about new directors here, most distributors will try to minimise risk by choosing only commercially viable projects since you as the new director have nothing to show for it.

This is a common practice when it comes to film financing these days, it makes perfect sense for funding bodies, because it sets them up for a guranteed breakeven point. Thats why most film festivals now becomes a meat market, if you can write a cool and attractive synopsis, you are half way through the door... if your film takes more than 3 sentences to get to the hook, then better luck next year...

What we forget is that SCRIPT is still king and should always be KING... it is the quality of the script that gets your film made, not how good you are at marketing yourself... Rod Lurie was a lowly film critic who wanted desperately to make a movie with actress Joan Allen... He got his chance to meet Allen at a film festival and mustered up the courage to talk to her, telling her in their conversation that he has written a script that he thought would be perfect for her, she gave Lurie her contact details, it was when he went home that night, looking at Allen's contact info that he sat down and started writing what eventually became "The Contender" a story about a female vice presidential candidate's journey into the white house...

A few months later, Allen received "The Contender" script and after reading it, loved it and agreed to do it. Allen helped Lurie put together a producing team that helped Lurie get in touch with actors like Jeff Bridges and Gary Oldman... both agreed to play roles in the film for no money saying that if Joan Allen wants to make this film, we want to be in it. They were able to raise $2million USD and began production WITHOUT a distributor or any presale... it was after their debut at Sundance that Lurie went home and realized, the easy part of making the film is done, now it's time to go out there to make the investers their money back... but it didn't take long, because waiting for him in his answering machine is a message from Dreamworks, the lady on the phone said that Steven Spielberg wants to talk to him. When Lurie called back, Spielberg was on the other line, saying he wants to buy and distribute "The Contender"...

This is a story about people who believed in their work so strongly that they are willing to risk their time, money and effort on a story that would have fallen through the cracks as a one page synopsis inside a 200 page film festival program buried deep in the "Pitch" section... It was Lurie's script that moved Joan Allen, it was Allen's passion for the project that moved Jeff Bridges and Gary Oldman, it was the gamble these artists took that moved Robert Redford and later on, Steven Spielberg. But Rod Lurie remains one of the many hardworking and talented directors that no one knows about. Then we see films like "Juno" get to the main stage because of Diablo Cody's colorful background as a stripper... "Juno" was a fine film, don't get me wrong, but "The Contender" is a cut above the rest...

Being Independent means you risk everything you have on a chance, an off chance that you may get to make a great film. Being idependent means you may lose everything you are risking but you still go forward because you believe in your work so much that you are willing to die with your script. The Director of "In the Soup" Alexandre Rockwell once said that the independent spirit died when "Glitter" premiered at Sundance and Mariah Carey represented her film by showing up in Park City Utah wearing pink hot pants and knee high leather boots in snow...

For me, the independent spirit dies when you make mock up versions of your film's poster before the script is even written... it dies when your project gets an article in Variety before the deal memo has even been signed... It's truely dead when you show up to a pitch meeting with backup ideas or more than one script in your backpack... I have been guilty of all three and will probably continue to carry a few scripts with me to festivals... so next time you tell people you are an independent filmmaker... stop for a moment and think, am I deserving enough to call myself an independent filmmaker... or am I anything and everything but...

about 9 years ago 0 likes  1 comments  0 shares
45862083 0af2fd4d5d
hmm, i gotta see if i can find this 'primer'...
about 9 years ago

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Languages Spoken
english, cantonese, mandarin
Location (City, Country)
Hong Kong
Gender
male
Member Since
September 21, 2007

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