So many people are looking for indie filmmaking tips, as creating an indie film or short film is easier than ever in 2023! Many new filmmakers are looking for tips on creating indie films that could be shown at film festivals around the world.
Such film festivals include Hollywood Horrorfest and Boobs and Blood International Film Festival, both founded by festival director Miles Flanagan. During a conversation with Miles Flannagan on the All Outta Bubblegum Radio Show, we discussed some tips regarding independent filmmaking from a festival director’s perspective.
As a filmmaker myself, I’m constantly learning, and I jumped at the chance to hear about what film festivals look for, and how I can improve my chances in the future.
The following are Miles’ best tips for indie filmmaking success!
Miles Flanagan’s Top Indie Filmmaking Tips for Aspiring Filmmakers
1. Horror, fantasy, and action are great genres for beginner filmmakers
These genres are fantastic for beginner filmmakers as they can be made on a smaller budget than other types of films.
They also don’t require famous actors, as horror, fantasy, and action fans typically love the genre more than any particular actors. So, you can make a film on a small budget, with actors available in your city!
These genre films are fantastic for escapism. They take you out of yourself and give you a chance to be creative and unique in terms of story and style. Also, it can be pretty fun to get the opportunity to create new worlds in your imagination!
People can watch a genre film and forget all about the world’s troubles today. Genre films are also fantastic to binge-watch at home!
2. Try making a short film for your first indie filmmaking project
Short films are popular with festival-goers and festival organizers both. Miles’ advice to indie filmmakers who are planning on submitting their film to a festival was,
“The shorter, the better”!
Why create a short film?
It’s over quickly – your film will not drag if it’s just 30 seconds or a few minutes! It’s your chance to hit one or two crucial emotional beats, show character development, and wow your audience with great visuals.
You can do a lot in even 30 seconds – for example, there are TV commercials that will make you cry or make you laugh and, at the same time, tell a compelling short story. Some tremendous short films elicit laughter and tears in their audience, so try to bring in as much emotional impact as possible.
They force you to have a fantastic idea for the film – there’s nothing worse than making a film with no idea what you will do.
You might love the idea of going into the backyard with your friends, being zombies, and spraying blood around, but that doesn’t mean it will make for a great short film. It might be fun to film, but it will not work for the audience without a solid script, good actors, or great direction.
You will always find actors easily – indie actors love being in short films, as they are a chance to work with new and emerging filmmakers, flex their creative muscles in new roles, and create new footage for them to use in their acting reels.
Shorts can be made into feature films later – quite a few popular genre features began as shorts (District 9, Machete, Lights Out, Sin City, Saw, 12 Monkeys, Evil Dead). When you enter your short film to a festival, you never know who might see it and be inspired to talk to you about re-creating the movie concept into a full-length feature!
In fact, with my own short, Boneyard Racers, the feedback I heard over and over was that it deserves to be a feature. As a result, I wrote a feature screenplay that’s been winning awards on the festival circuit and bringing the feature version that much closer to reality!
Festival directors love short films – there is minimal risk for a festival to give you a minutes-long time slot for your short. Festivals always look for great short films to put alongside other shorts at the beginning or end of feature films during the festival or as part of a block of shorts that runs for an hour or two.
3. Check out YouTube and blogs for filmmaking advice, tutorials, and tips
YouTube has been one big part of why indie films keep improving. People learn best in different ways, and both film and YouTube are visual mediums. Watching a YouTube video to learn about filmmaking is much easier than reading a book on filmmaking, attending film school, or even taking a film class.
It has never been easier to learn how to write a screenplay and learn about the options for screenwriting software. It’s also never been cheaper to go out and make that screenplay into an indie film, especially considering the wide range of filmmaking equipment and associated costs available these days.
Many new filmmakers will film (and sometimes even edit) their short films on just their phones! All it takes is some time to watch and then practice the techniques!
4. Go to film festivals that focus on the genre categories (i.e., horror, fantasy, sci-fi, action)
People who love these kinds of “genre” films are typically super-fans. They love nothing more than binge-watching these movies and hanging out with people who share their passion. You can learn a lot from people who love watching the movies you want to make.
Being in a theater with other people when watching a film is fantastic because it gives you the collective human experience of the film, and this is something that you can’t replicate at home.
Comedies are funnier when you hear other people laughing, horror and thriller movies are scarier when you hear others gasp or scream, and action films are more fun when you hear and see others get pumped up about the stunts and action sequences!
Also, film festivals are a great place to make personal connections with like-minded people. Miles noted that we often work with people regardless of industry because of a personal connection. But nowhere is that more true than in the film industry.
Relationships are everything in this business! So don’t just go to watch movies (though you absolutely should) – go out of your way to seek out connections with other people at film festivals as well – this is one of the main benefits of going to a film festival!
5. Shoot your film with a DSLR or other low-cost camera
When it comes to indie filmmaking, one of the most important decisions you’ll make is what kind of camera to use.
In the past, filmmakers would have to spend tens of thousands of dollars on high-end cameras to get the quality they wanted. However, with the advent of digital cameras, that’s no longer the case.
These days, you can shoot an indie film with a DSLR or other low-cost camera and get excellent results. The key is to choose the right camera for your project.
For example, if you’re shooting a documentary, you’ll want a camera that is good at capturing candid moments.
If you’re shooting a narrative film, on the other hand, you’ll want a camera that gives you more control over framing and composition.
However you choose to shoot your indie film, remember that the most important thing is telling a good story. With a great story, you can make an amazing indie film regardless of what kind of camera you use.
6. Use natural lighting whenever possible
indie films are known for their creativity and originality. One way to set your film apart is to use natural lighting whenever possible.
Natural lighting can help create a unique look and feel for your film and save you money on production costs.
To get the most out of natural lighting, try to film during the golden hours of the day when the light is soft and warm. You can also experiment with different types of lighting, such as backlighting or silhouette.
For indoor shots, open up the curtains and let in as much natural light as possible!
Using natural lighting, you can give your indie film a one-of-a-kind look that will impress audiences and critics alike.
7. Edit your film on a computer with video editing software (or even on your phone!)
Making an indie film is a lot of work, but it is worth seeing your final project up on the big screen (or at least on your laptop!).
Once you’ve shot all your footage, it’s time to start editing. This is where you’ll get to shape your film and tell the story you want to tell.
If you’re working on a low budget, you might not have access to professional video editing software or equipment. But that’s okay! You can edit your film on a computer with inexpensive AI video editing software (or even on your phone) and still create a great final product.
If your footage looks grainy or shaky, you can use AI video upscaling software to make your film crisp, clear, and steady!
Make sure to put in the time and effort to perfect your edit, and you’ll be proud of the results.
8. Upload your finished film to YouTube or Vimeo
Finally, your indie film is complete! Now it’s time to upload it to YouTube or Vimeo so the world can see your work. While this may seem tricky if you don’t already have a YouTube channel, it’s pretty easy.
Create an account on YouTube or Vimeo, and then upload your video. Include a title and description so people can find your film. You may also want to create a trailer for your film to help generate interest.
Once your film is uploaded, sit back and enjoy knowing you’ve completed a major creative project!
9. If you have been thinking of making a film, just do it!
It has never been cheaper or easier to create a good-looking film than it is right now. Don’t overthink it! Making a feature film is one of the most rewarding things you can do.
Spend some time learning the basics, and then go out there and enjoy the process.
Creating an independent film is a great way to express your creativity, meet new people, and learn new skills. And it’s also a lot of fun!
So if you’ve been thinking of making an indie film, do it! You’ll be glad you did!
Final Thoughts: Independent Filmmaking Tips from a Genre Film Festival Director
Making movies can be a lot of fun.
Brainstorm movie ideas, write a short script, check YouTube for some quick tutorials on filming and editing techniques and pointers, grab your phone, contact some indie actors in your city, and create your movie or short film!
Next, submit it to film festivals, using filmfreeway.com as an easy way to find relevant festivals. Festivals are fun places where you can make personal connections with other indie filmmakers, watch some amazing content, show off your new film, and maybe even find film distribution possibilities and connections!
Go get filmmaking!
Common Questions About Indie Films
What makes a film an indie film?
Indie films are a genre unto themselves, standing out from the major studio films in several ways. For one, they are usually made with a smaller budget and shorter timeline. This allows indie filmmakers to take more risks and experiment with their storytelling. As a result, independent films often have fresher, more innovative concepts than their big-budget counterparts. They also tend to focus more on character development and relationships than special effects or action sequences.
In addition, independent films often feature up-and-coming talent, both in front of and behind the camera. All of these factors combine to create a unique viewing experience unlike anything else in the film world.
How long do indie films take to shoot?
The shooting schedule for an indie film can vary widely, depending on the size and scope of the project. Shooting for a small, intimate film may only take a few weeks. However, shooting can take several months for a larger project with more locations and cast members. In general, though, indie films tend to have shorter shooting schedules than studio films.
This is partly due to the smaller budgets of these kinds of films, which necessitate a more efficient production process. It also reflects the independent spirit of many filmmakers, who are more interested in making their film than spending months or even years shooting it. As a result, most indie films are shot quickly and efficiently, often in just a few weeks or months.
All Outta Bubblegum Radio Show with guest Miles Flanagan
Listen to the show every Friday at 10am MST: All Outta Bubblegum on Sound Sugar Radio
Hailing from the UK but now making his home in Los Angeles, Miles Flanagan also has to his title, musician, journalist, fashion and graphic designer, music video director, and content creator for MTV, BBC, Nike, and Microsoft, and has worked alongside such notable figures as The Pogues, Paul McCartney, Donald Pleasance, and Buffy St. Marie.
Over the past fifteen years, he’s helped create the Los Angeles Animation Festival, Boobs & Blood Film Festival, and Boobs & Blood Magazine, both of which raise awareness and funds for the breast cancer charity, Keep a Breast Foundation and boasts Quentin Tarantino and Roger Corman as past honorees, and my personal favorite, Hollywood Horrorfest, a fantastic genre film festival in the heart of LA, that works alongside The Vincent Price Art Museum and Vincent’s daughter, Victoria Price, and has honored such notable horror icons as Cassandra Peterson, Joe Dante and the late, great Sid Haig.
Selected Links from the Episode
Check out these articles for more tips on creating a great story that you will want to film!