Mistakes to avoid when producing an indie film

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Finally producing your very first indie film is exciting. You’ve finally nailed down a script (which can often take years), you’ve secured your financing, and you’re finally ready to shoot and sell your film. You’ve successfully crossed many difficult hurdles throughout your journey, yet so many filmmakers stumble or even fail.

Bardya Ziaian is an indie filmmaker who has successfully produced one indie film, Super Dicks, during the height of the pandemic and is now looking forward to his second feature piece, Golden Boy, with veteran director Damian Lee. Like many indie filmmakers, Ziaian experienced the difficulties that came with being a new filmmaker and creating his first feature film – during the pandemic no less.

Today, he provides some of his insights into the common mistakes new indie filmmakers often experience and how to avoid them altogether.

Your film is the wrong length to sell internationally

“You may be asking yourself why you want to sell your film internationally,” says Ziaian. “With the evolution of film-making technology at your fingertips, indie films are more numerous than they were before. The playing field is starting to get crowded, so selling your film in other territories is often necessary in order to recoup the capital it took to make it pay your investors back. This is why you should consider how the length of your film will be perceived internationally.”

Films typically have to be between 89 and 105 minutes long to sell in the majority in most territories. Some territories consider a film of 83 minutes or less to be too short, while others won’t release a movie if it isn’t longer than two hours. Don’t close yourself off to the lucrative potential of international sales by missing the mark on your film’s total run time when it’s easy to avoid if you know your target.

Your film looks like it was on a much smaller budget

“The one thing you can’t skip is how your movie looks on screen,” says Ziaian. “Even if you’re operating on a shoestring budget, gorgeous locations, and architecturally sophisticated interiors can make a world of difference.”

No matter how much your film costs, it has to look visually pleasing. Whether you like it or not, your film is going to be competing with other projects. The good news, however? It’s possible to increase the production value of your film with ingenuity, calling in favours, and overall just thinking outside the box. Monty Python and The Holy Grail, the original Mad Max film, and The Blair Witch Project were all huge successes that were made on smaller budgets.

You enter every festival on the planet

“Entering too many festivals can really cheapen the prestige of your debut,” explains Ziaian. “Rather than desperately applying to every single festival, go after those that are most sought-after, like Cannes, Sundance, or even the Toronto Film Festival.”

Winning these festivals can really put you and your film in an international spotlight and are notorious for launching people’s careers as up-and-coming writers/directors. After applying to the major festivals, work your way down to those smaller ones only if necessary.

Your subject matter isn’t entertaining enough or is too heavy

“A tragic storyline with a depressing ending isn’t going to make a film distributor too eager to show it in their territory. You have to find a way to strike a careful balance of nuance and keeping an audience engaged,” says Ziaian. “A movie where every scene is a tragedy or leaves the viewer feeling hopeless after a disturbing ending will have a hard time selling.”

There are very few exceptions to this rule, so even if you’re passionate about the subject matter you’ve chosen, keep the marketability of your final product in mind as you develop the script.

A tragic storyline with a depressing ending will not make a film distributor eager to show it in their territory.