Why Indie Filmmaking is Like Being in a Horrible Relationship

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Indie Filmmaking is Unrequited Love (And Why We Do It)

One of my favorite unproduced screenplays is a story called LOVE STUPID about a misguided bachelor named Mark Morone who – traumatized from a painful childhood romance – sabotages every adult relationship before it gets too serious. He literally believes that his love endangers women, and fears for their physical well-being when they get too close to him.

Then he finally meets his match – a woman named Hope who misinterprets his self-sabotaging ways (she thinks he’s suicidal) and tries to save him from himself. Also, Hope has a rare condition where she can feel no pain. Of course, Mark leads her into several perilous situations – even as he is running away. In the end, they fall in love and live happily ever after, despite themselves.

Sometimes I wonder if indie filmmakers are self-saboteurs. We fall madly in love with a story and go through great pains to make it work. We bang our heads trying to get the script right. Even when we complete the “perfect script”, we know going in that the odds are against us.

Most movies never get finished – the funding dries up or something inevitably goes awry. We know that even if our movie does get completed, we are up against strong odds to get it into festivals, in front of an audience and into distribution. Yet we try, for the love of film.

Inevitably we get hurt. We max out our credit cards. We alienate friends, family and colleagues. We agonize over why critics fail to see our genius and a mass audience continues to elude us.

We feel like failures until … the next can’t miss high-concept idea strikes us down.

Why, oh why do we love film when it fails to love us back? Here are 5 good reasons for the heartache:

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  1. If you don’t follow your dreams, you’ll regret it on your death bed.

My mother’s deteriorating mind and physical health (she had Alzheimer’s disease) is what drove me to make my first movie. I remember sitting in a nursing home – where she no longer remembered me – and thinking: “This could be me in 20 years. If my mind goes, what am I going to leave behind?” This wasn’t long after the 2008 financial crisis which saw several decades of my 401(k) savings cut in half.

I decided to jump in with both feet and make a film. At times I thought I jumped into quick sand – but I kept flailing away. I wouldn’t say it’s totally worked out – I made a strong film, got into festivals and got distribution. It will be several years before I break even (if I break even). But it’s the most daring thing I’ve ever done. And call me crazy, but I think things might just work out – I’m working on a second film now!

The moral of the story: If someone’s declining health or death is your motivator, chances are the universe has been pushing you in that direction … and you needed a shove.

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  1. It’s in our DNA, and it’s the essence of who we are and our history.

Ever since prehistoric times, Neanderthals painted stories on cave walls in animal blood or crushed minerals using sharpened bones as brushes. Some cavemen were great hunters, warriors, gatherers and one even invented the wheel. But it was “Og” (fictitious name) who painted that story on the cave wall whose history doesn’t fade with time.

Eventually cave drawings became outdoor theater, then celluloid film and eventually HDTV. The final output may have evolved but the driver of story remains the creativity of the brain that conceives it.

The moral of the story: Throughout time it is the storytellers who weave our past to our present. As a writer, you may not be the most notable person in your clan … but you are important!



  1. Many great writers weren’t appreciated until after they died.

Franz Kafka (1883-1924) was such an influential writer that the term “Kafkaesque” was created to capture his dry humor and existential take on the word. When he lived, Kafka’s writing was mired in anonymity – his main income came from working in insurance and at an asbestos factory. He literally died a starving artist (brought on by tuberculosis at age 40) before much of his work had been published.

Kafka asked a close friend to burn all his work upon his death – but fortunately the friend didn’t do it and Kafka’s legacy lives larger than ever today. John Keats, Edgar Allen Poe and Henry David Thoreau are examples of other legendary writers who were appreciated past their time.

The moral of the story: Writing is hard work and you may not become rich. But if you continue to write, and are passionate, you will eventually find your audience (even if it is posthumous).

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  1. Writers are passionate, not passive (and we’re not mean enough to become critics).

Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.
– Aristotle

You can’t let praise or criticism get to you. It’s a weakness to get caught up in either one.
– John Wooden

The trouble with most of us is that we’d rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.
– Norman Vincent Peale

The artist doesn’t have time to listen to the critics. The ones who want to be writers read the reviews, the ones who want to write don’t have the time to read reviews.
– William Faulkner

The moral of the story: Don’t fear criticism. It will come no matter what you do. Throw caution and self-consciousness to the wind, and make your dreams a lifetime of achievement.

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  1. Your stories are more than words – they make people feel.

An executive who was retiring from my company quoted Maya Angelou during a tribute for him.

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel…and tonight you made me feel great.”

And in the end, isn’t that the essence of storytelling and why we all make films? We want people to feel something – we want to scare them, enlighten them, make them laugh or make them cry, we want to anger them and move them to action, or simply leave them thinking, long after the credits roll.

More than a few times over the past five years I’ve seen people post images on Facebook of family trips to exotic, expensive places. And I’ve thought, “Instead of giving my family this, I spent money on a movie. Why?

And then, more than a few times, people have written to me, emailed me, messaged me or come up to me after a festival screening and thanked me for making my film – it made them feel. And that made me feel great.

The moral of the story: Do what you’re meant to do; love it, but work hard at it – always value your audience’s time!


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About the Author:

Bob Heske is a multi-award-winning filmmaker, screenwriter, graphic novelist and indie comic creator. By day he churns out compliance marketing content for financial services; by night he is maniacal at his keyboard – creating characters and dramatic conflicts far more interesting than he is. Bob is currently working on an experimental documentary called Afraid of Nothing (you can help support it by clicking here). You can watch his first film BLESSID on Amazon Prime and Vimeo on Demand. Blessid is directed by Rob Fitz and stars Rachel Kerb and Rick Montgomery Jr.

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