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Joe Swanberg: How to Shoot & Sell Six Feature Films in a Year!

Joe Swanberg, Build the wall, build the wall film

If you want to be an indie filmmaker you should definitely study the work of the prolific film director Joe Swanberg.

Who is Joe Swanberg?

I just recently not only discovered his work but also started to study his unique filmmaking process.

I heard that Joe Swanberg has made over 20 feature films in the past 10 years, six of which were made in 2011 alone (Yes — that’s six feature films in one year.) So, to say the man likes to work is an understatement. He’s the definition of INDIE FILM HUSTLE!

Despite the fact that some filmmakers who have spent decades working in Hollywood are renowned for their continuous output, Joe Swanberg happens to be one of the most productive filmmakers of his age which suggests that is he is crazy or really unique or a perfect blend of both.

In order to really understand Joe Swanberg, it is critical to know that he has given total of 11 feature films at the being 31 years of age and out of which seven were finished in 2010 and have earned millions and earned many accolades.

Why would a filmmaker ever want to produce such a high volume of work in such a short amount of time? According to Joe Swanberg,

“It was mostly about getting my work noticed.”

He said that

“If everyone is going to ignore you, then you have to start producing film after film and eventually someone is going to notice what you are doing, even if the films are total crap.”

History of Joe Swanberg

On the 31st of August 1981, Joe Swanberg was born in Detroit, Michigan. He spent most of his growing up period in Alabama and Georgia. Swanberg graduated from the Naperville Central High School which was in the Chicago suburbs and earned his Bachelor’s degree from the Southern Illinois University at Carbondale as a film major.

Swanberg directed his first feature Kissing on the Mouth in 2005. The film featured real interviews with graduates fresh out of college and had a documentary-styled approach to conversations and graphic sex. It is valued as one of the original films of the Mumblecore movement.

Kissing on the Mouth was followed by LOL (2006). This was also an independent Mumblecore film that examined the impact technology had on social relations.

The plot revolved around three college graduates in Chicago named Chris, Tim and Alex. While making out with his girlfriend, Tim watches his laptop screen. Chris is carrying on relationships via cellphones and Alex’s fixation with chat rooms destroys a would-be direct relationship with a girl he interacts with at a party. This was the first time Swanberg had worked with actress Greta Gerwig. They both team up on the directing of the next two feature films Hannah Takes The Stairs (2007) and Nights and Weekends (2008).

Hannah Takes the Stairs, an ultimate anti-romantic comedy film is known as Swanberg’s best film to date and starred filmmakers Mark Duplass, Andrew Bujalski and Ry Rosso-Young it was also his first time with actor/animator Kent Osborne.

An effort of the whole Mumblecore team, the gang was asked to give additional material on the sound and feel of the dialogue and how they thought it should be.

The final product turned out to be naturally goofy with a taste of cringe and the awkwardness of Greta Gerwig’s character defined her career from there inspiring her later role of Frances Halladay.

Greta Gerwig shared directing credit with Swanberg in Night and Weekends (2008). The story follows a long-distance relationship and its aftermath between two people who live in New York City and Chicago respectively.

The first half of the film depicts their relationship and the second half centers on the closure and the prospective continuation which happens to occur after a year of events of the first half.

Directed by Swanberg and produced by Noah Baumbach, Alexander the Last came in 2009 and was about a married actress and her sister. Swanberg spent the whole of 2009 on Silver Bullets which starred Swanberg, Kate Lyn Sheil, Amy Seimets and Ti West and had its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival in 2011. According to Richard Brody of The New Yorker it was the 9th best film of the year 2011.

As an actor, he has had leading roles in several horror successes, most notably You’re Next, The Sacrament, and V/H/S. Through his production company, Forager Film Company, he has produced the work of other filmmakers, including Harrison Atkin, Alex Ross Perry, and Zach Clark.

He and his wife, Kris, also created the popular web series Young American Bodies which ran for four seasons on Nerve.com and IFC.com.

You can watch his new feature film Build the Wall, in its entirety below. Starring Kent Osborne, Jane Adams and Kevin Bewersdorf.
Thanks to Joe for uploading it for free.

His plans for a fun weekend with Sarah are upended when his friend Kev unexpectedly arrives to build him a wall.

Joe Swanberg Keynote | SXSW Film 2016

In the year 2010, Joe Swanberg finished seven features films Uncle Kent, Caitlin Plays Herself, The Zone, Art History, Silver Bullets, Privacy Setting, and Autoerotic.

Uncle Kent was written by Kent Osborne and was co-directed and co-written by Swanberg. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. It starred Kent Osborne, Josephine Decker, Jennifer Prediger, Swanberg and Kevin Bewersdof.

The film was about a 40-year old animator Kent, who meets a New York Journalist, Kate. Kent invites her to L.A for the weekend and Kate accepts but upon arriving she discloses that her heart belongs to someone else and Kent tries to make sense of this whole mess.

Art History and Silver Bullets premiered at the Berlinale. The rest of the 2010 films after being screened at film festivals premiered theatrically in 2011. Out of these feature films, four were included in the Joe Swanberg: Collected Films 2011 later which was a DVD boxed set.

Joe Swanberg directed and wrote Drinking Buddies which starred Olivia Wilde, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston, and Jake M. Johnson. By far his largest budget to date (about $500,000, most of his film range from $5,000 – $50,000). The film is about two co-workers Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) who work at a craft brewery Revolution Brewing and spend all the time having fun and drinking.

Supposedly perfect for each but both happen to be in relationships Luke with Jill (Anna Kendrick) and Kate with Chris (Ron Livingston). Jill asks Luke about marriage and he promises to talk about it sometime soon basically evading it. Drinking Buddies was premiered at the 2013 South by Southwest Film Festival and was also screened at Maryland Film Festival the same year.

Produced by Alicia Van Couvering and Andrea Roa and was shot by Ben Richardson, cinematographer of Beasts of the Southern Wild. Shortly after the SXSW Premiere, it was acquired by Magnolia Pictures.

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The Love of Super 16mm Film

The following year brought Swanberg’s Happy Christmas which starred himself, Lena Dunham, Melanie Lynskey, and Anna Kendrick. The plot centers on Jenny (Kendrick) who is in her 20s and an irresponsible girl who has come to Chicago to live with her older brother Jeff (Swanberg) who is a young filmmaker living a happy married life with his novelist wife, Kelly (Lynskey) and a two-year-old son.

Jenny’s arrival upsets their quiet life as she and her friend Carson (Dunham) initiate development in Kelly’s life and career.

Happy Christmas is Swanberg’s first film to be shot on 16mm film. It premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Some of his other films include: 24 Exposures and All the Light in the Sky

Digging for Fire was his next film as a director and was premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival starring Jake Johnson. He is noted advocate of internet-based distribution for the independent films and he also made his 2011 feature Marriage Material available on his Vimeo page and that too for free. Check it out:

Swanberg uses improvisation extensively and his films usually focus on relationships, sex, technology and the process of filmmaking. He takes influence by Elaine May, Lars Von Trier, Marco Ferreri, Paul Mazursky and Eric Rohmer

Joe Swanberg’s keynote at this year’s SXSW Film Festival is a must-watch for any and all indie filmmakers. What I really loved about his speech is his frankness about the financial realities of being an indie filmmaker. I love this quote and it’s so true:

“The only way you’re ever going to make any money is if you invest in your own movies.”

Sometimes no money is better than some money

The above is one of the most interesting points from the keynote because almost every indie filmmaker I know would agree that it’s better to have some small budget than no cash at all. However, Joe Swanberg has a different take on it, as he puts it:

If you have “some money”, everybody is going to want some of that “some money.” If you have “no money”, everybody knows it — and then they’re just there to work. In a best case scenario — you sell a movie and then you’re able to pay people afterwards better than you could’ve paid them if you had “some money.”

This quote really sums up a lot of what I preach on Indie Film Hustle:

Well, I think that there is a notion that for artists to think about business is to corrupt the art process. As soon as you start considering market factors and numbers and all of that stuff, you’re not being a true artist, you’re not following your true vision. To some extent, maybe that’s true, but I think that by knowing the marketplace before I go into a movie, once I’m there, I’m completely free to do whatever I want because [there’s not that] giant question mark of whether there’s an audience for that thing.

Definitely put an hour and a half aside, sit down and soak it all in. He is truly spitting out gold in this keynote.

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Mumblecore: Film Movements in Cinema

The core of what filmmaking is that it has always been there to entertain people with different audio and visual sources along with some cinematic techniques and professionals. This entertainment has been evolved from different phases and now it is revolutionized to a completely new picture of streaming, television, and film industry.

There was a time when people watch silent and unvoiced, dialogue fewer movies; then comes an era where there were black and white movies. And now we all watch colorful movies with songs and visual effects, even 3D, animated movies and the future VR (virtual reality) projects are also been made nowadays.

The Independents

Apart from films, which are made nowadays on highly based techniques and modern resources, there are some other kinds of films do exist too. These are independent or indie films which do not need any specific studio to produce the movie, they really don’t care or are concerned with tentpoles, or mega budget studio films. They want the control to tell their own story.

Indie films have more of a clear voice from the filmmaker. There’s no interference for studio executives or higher ups, the filmmaker’s vision is what’s up on the screen. These films tend to be more naturalistic, from dialogues to gestures and even seem a bit rawer than your regular and polished studio films.

Indie films are not trying to reach the widest audience they can, they live in the niche.  Because these films are realistic and tell more intimate and personal stories, they don’t hire actors rather they work with real common people to deliver undecided dialogues (improv), so as to give natural performances. These films are mostly shot on locations and not on a studio back lot.

What is Mumblecore?

Enter Mumblecore

So what if you as a filmmaker had no money, didn’t know any professional actors, and only wanted to tell the story you wanted to tell, the film movement would be looking for is  Mumblecore.

The term Mumblecore is used for a special type of film that is different from usual big-budget studio feature films. These films are basically a niche genre of independent films.

The Mumblecore films are shot with fairly raw, natural acting and usually non-scripted dialogues or improv. They’re stories about real life, about personal relationships and non-mainstream topics, most commonly of adult beings in their 20s, 30s, and 40s.

Mumblecore films are extremely low budget as well (usually thousand to if you’re lucky a few million dollars) and are quite different from normal studio movies in many aspects.

Mumblecore films are often shot on a very low budget, with an extremely low budget, but they don’t have the same requirements as a big budget movie.

  • Some of the key points of the Mumblecore genre are:
  • Very low budget (sometimes even free or near-free)
  • Very short shooting time (usually 1–2 days for each shoot)
  • Non-scripted dialogues or improv
  • No professional actors
  • Filmmakers who are not professional filmmakers or those who have no experience
  • Usually non-mainstream topics, such as sex, drugs, alcohol, etc.

Mumblecore is a subgenre of indie film. The definition of Mumblecore varies from person to person. Some people say it’s only about non-scripted dialogues and improvisation, while others include more than just that.

In some ways, Mumblecore is like the new wave of the old indie films, which are usually shot in the US and Europe. It has become the new indie film movement.

History of the Mumblecore Movement

Andrew Bujalski was considered to be the creator of Mumblecore, as he directed the first-ever Mumblecore film titled as Funny Ha Ha in 2002. Later on, a lot of similarly themed movies began to be made which were then presented in film festivals to gain popularity and appreciation, because it was harder to get a wide release in theaters based on the personal types of stories and lack of movie star power.

The 2005 South by Southwest Film Festival screened many Mumblecore movies for the first time and at the very same festival, the term Mumblecore was given to these featured films.

The term Mumblecore was coined by Eric Masunaga and it stuck. SXSW release put a spotlight on these kinds of films and made stars out of the filmmakers who made them. The Mumblecore movement owes a lot to South by Southwest Film Festival.

Although these kinds of movies were raw, had a low budget and no movie stars they still had an immense impact on the indie film scene. Here is a list of a few major standouts.


Mumblecore Filmmakers

Andrew Bujalski:

Andrew Bujalski, founder of Mumblecore was famous for his influential signature series and unique filmmaking style. His movies had a magical element of passive-aggressive conversations in which the dialogue deliverer will not hurt the companion in any case and at the same time make his point in the scene.

The popular Funny Ha Ha and Mutual Appreciation of 2005 were funny though but they lack a clear communication process and maybe they fail to link with reality. On the contrary to it, Beeswax was a kind of reality-based illuminating movie of his in 2009. His recent Computer Chess is a revolutionized movie and has improvised dialogues along with an intriguing storyline.

Bujalski’s films roamed around money and wealth, as shown in his film Results; which is about managing small business gracefully. However, the character of Trevor is mostly about physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual fitness.

Bujalski is a clever director and observer of human nature, when he noticed the love triangle between Danny, Kat, and Trevor he created moments which brought you into the drama. With his twisted flavors and fine directing skills, there created a classic comic movie with a graceful touch of romance that eventually became his unique style.

 Joe Swanberg:

Joe Swanberg‘s comfort level was different and his movies revolved around sexual confusion, relationship conflicts, and dissatisfaction along with technological matters. His first movie Kissing On The Mouth was on the same topic, however, later on, his creation Alexander The Last of 2009 shocked everyone and proved to be a different kind of Mumblecore film. Other films include Uncle Kent, Digging for Fire, and Drinking Buddies. He also just created a show on Netflix called Easy.

Mark and Jay Duplass:

Mark Duplass is considered to be the wizard of Mumblecore films. His ideas, creations, and executing capabilities have always taken him to the highest. He and his brother Jay Duplass can come up with many elementary movies that are considered to be true Mumblecore writings.

His first feature film, The Puffy Chair in 2005 was a professional glory on the most popular Funny Ha Ha, and he took the core conversational awkwardness to his movie in a new way. After that his success era has started, he with his sibling directed Baghead which was a blooming piece of art of that time, flourishing the indie industry with low budget but extreme entertaining storytelling.

Later on many outclass creations were made by these duo siblings that surprised everyone with amazement. Other films include; CyrusJeff, Who Lives At Home, The Do-Deca-Pentathlon, Zero Dark Thirty and The League.

They even had the Mumblecore style series on HBO Togetherness and just signed a four-picture deal with Netflix.

Lynn Shelton

Lynn Shelton had always wanted to become a film director but was worried that being a woman in her mid-30s would be a huge hurdle to get over. When she saw the award-winning French director Claire Denis give a talk at Seattle’s Northwest Film Forum in 2003, Denis said she was 40 years old when she went down the path and directed her first feature film. That one statement changed Lynn Shelton’s world and started her down the path of an indie filmmaker.

In 2004, Lynn Shelton began working on her first feature film, We Go Way Back, which she wrote and directed. Described as “impressionistic” and “polished”, the film tells the story of a 23-year-old actress, Kate, confronted by a 13-year-old version of herself. We Go Way Back premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival in 2006 and is getting a release very soon.

Shelton’s film Humpday, (starring Mumblecore filmmaker Mark Duplass) was premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, was purchased by Magnolia Pictures, and has been shown at SIFFSXSW and the Cannes Film Festival as well at other film festivals.

Kentucker Audley:

Kentucker Audley produced many impactful movies like Team Picture, Holy Land and David Holzman’s Diary with pure Mumblecore elements in them. He also runs a unique website to feature low budget movies named NoBudge.com. Also, he is planning to launch a new platform to further enhance and NURTURE the indie film industry.

Frank V. Ross:

This director has many Mumblecore focused movies like Audrey The Trainwreck which had improvised dialogue and based on true low budget and Mumblecore principles. His recent Tiger Tail In Blue had opening title come up 55 minutes into the movie, which signature elements of Ross’s production and sometimes a mess with the expectations of the audience.

Aaron Katz:

Katz has delivered a remarkable collection of films which have comedy element along with couple conflicts and annoyances. His overly scripted and detective stories have always been joyous to the audience. His films include; Quiet City, Cold Weather, and Dance Party, USA.

Greta Gerwig:

Greta Gerwig has, in some ways, become the face Mumblecore movement. She had an opportunity to work with great directors of the time and created some marvelous movies like Nights and Weekends and To Rome With Love. But later she jumped behind the camera to create her own entry into the Mumblecore movement,  which showed great variation and discipline, as in the fantastic Frances Ha.It can be said that indie filmmaking is changed, and it will continue to evolve according to the times, technology, and stories filmmakers want to tell. Many amazing filmmakers wrote the history of Mumblecore, though they had to face some downfalls and rejections they never stopped hustling and putting their untiring and pure-hearted efforts to glorify this industry even more.

From the first-ever Mumblecore film Funny Ha Ha in 2002 to the more recent and modest one, Midnight Delight in 2016, there has always been a joyous and remarkable effort to fascinate the audience along with a magical message.

The independent film industry is not receiving much love or financing from the big studios but in an ever-changing media landscape, new players on the scene seem to be changing that. Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu have embraced Mumblecore filmmakers and contracted them to create fresh, original content with full creative freedom. The times they are a-changing and I think for the better.


Hyperrealism, Mumblecore, & “Togetherness” – VICE Meets the Duplass Brothers

Filmmakers Jay and Mark Duplass have made a big name for themselves with the endearing hyper-realism of their mumblecore films. The brothers have now delved into the world of TV with their series Togetherness, which follows the tribulations of thirtysomethings trying to make sense of their adult lives.

Togetherness stars Amanda Peet, Melanie Lynskey, and Steve Zissis. The series premiered on HBO this January and has already been renewed for a second season. We sat down with the Duplass brothers to talk about the series and its parallels with their lives.

For another great resource on Mumblecore check out mumblecore.info

How to Make a $1,000 Feature Film with Mark Duplass

Make a feature film for $1000? Sounds crazy right? Well if you don’t know Mark Duplass you should get to know him. Mark and his brother Jay Duplass are most widely known for making the indie film hits The Puffy Chair and Safety Not Guaranteed. Mark Duplass has gone on to be a very successful writer, producer, and director.

Mark Duplass is an extremely talented film director, producer, musician, actor, and screenwriter. He along with his brother, Lawrence Jay Duplass, have created film industry waves in a very short time period. Be it filmmaking or successful TV series, everyone loves the work of Duplass Brothers.

Being Filmtrepreneurs they have initiated their own production company Duplass Brothers Productions and have been into the directing business since then. Widely known for their films The Puffy Chair (2005), Jeff, Who Lives at Home (2011), and also The Do-Deca-Pentathlon (2012).

Jay and Mark Duplass have also co-created the renowned HBO TV series Togetherness.

Both of these talented brothers grew up in a suburb of New Orleans. They fell in love with film at a young age and they started making videos on their father’s Panasonic when the brothers were 6 and 9 respectively.

They would shoot versions of The Lone Ranger as well as The Sermon on the Mount. According to the Duplass brothers, when they look back over this period and the activities which extended to their teenage, they seem to recall an inner self of experimentation.

Things got focused and serious once Jay made this self-realization that he did not want to go on with his filed after spending four years as psychology majors which he was studying at the University of Texas, Austin. Mark Duplass was a singer-songwriter which he had to eventually give up because of increased condition of tendinitis.

Jay remained an extra year in the school so that he could study film and also got his brother Mark Duplass enrolled there so that he could act in his projects. Which was usually extremely cute bits of valuable silliness pretty much inspired by their obsession with the Coen Brothers. Mark has himself admitted that we were trying to be them but it was not going well.

After some time, Jay got his hands on a profitable and worthwhile commission to film a documentary about gardening which was some sponsored material on the behalf of an Austin startup, gardening.com.

The company crumpled before the film was finished even but luckily for the Duplass brothers, not before paying for their efforts. With that money, they bought a Canon GL1, got themselves a camera operator, and a photography editor so that they could begin on their second scripted feature film which was a rip-off of Rocky but in running shoes called Vince Del Rio.

And before they had even finished its edited, the duo decided that I was simply unreleasable which Mark Duplass has often referred to a steaming pile of dog diarrhea.

The Duplasses had no money, no ideas, and a terrible period of lack of faith in their filmmaking skills. So in desperation, Mark thought of making a movie which was part of their childhood. Fast and affordable and off-the-cuff. Mark Duplass went out to buy a $3 MiniDV tape which is the entire production cost of the movie and also improvised the total of what was to become the This is John of 2003.

It was a seven-minute short that started as an exercise, which results in triggering a psychological collapse because John rejects his numerous attempts as being too conscious or too formal. This was the course that so well summarized the creative journey of Duplasses’.

Though This is John might have sounded and looked like a home movie, it had a hint of life to it and that is why it was accepted into the shorts program when the Duplasses’ submitted to the Sundance and guess what? It was addressed as one of the five short films to see.

Right after two years, these brothers returned to the Sundance with The Puffy Chair which was an endeavor which they drew from their own lives. Starring Mark Duplass and his girlfriend (now wife) Katie Aselton this film concerns the relationships between men, women, fathers, mothers, and friends. Mark finds a replica of a lounge chair on eBay which his father used ages ago. The road trip that was taken to deliver that chair to him in Atlanta took very interesting twists and turns.

To some of the viewers, the movie touched something deep and affected them with its spooky familiarity. Making something so amazing with so little money sent a huge shockwave through the film industry which made it possible to think that anyone could step up to make a movie.

Although the traditional distributors kept their distance from the not-too-fine cheating after the film had spent a year’s time on the festival circuit, Netflix’s budding film distribution arm, Red Envelope Entertainment made its first acquisition. It is said by Sarandos of Netflix who was running Red Envelope, that he was drawn to the film for the wonderful home-viewing potential it possessed.

The follow-up feature of Duplass brothers in 2008 Baghead, was a mellow horror whose story revolved around a quartet of struggling filmmakers who head back to the woods for the weekend as a last try to pen down a feature film which would give them a head start to their careers. And they found the plot of pretty clichéd stories which gave the actors a set of guidelines to explore human interaction.

The Mumblecore Movement

A new movement called Mumblecore had the Duplass brothers working with directors like Joe Swanberg and Andrew Bujaski. But still, the boys had potential and momentum which soon gave them the chance to take up the traditional first step thing that all directors do to boost up their career i.e. making their first-ever studio film.

Willing to work for less, they cast all of the Puffy Chair fans in the production of Fox Searchlight Cyrus. With a $7 million budget and storyline of a creepy mother-son relationship, it was certainly an out of the box thing. The Duplass spent three years working on Cyrus. The movie revolved around a depressed man in his 40s, which was problem for Fox Searchlight who were suspicious of estranging the viewership. They wanted to portray him as down but not too much of it.

The film grossed $7.4 million which happens to be the most successful Duplass venture to date.

It soon became quite apparent that the movies these brothers were interested in making were aimed at a smaller audience with limited box-office appeal. But yet, if they underperformed in theaters a large audience was enjoying the work of Duplass brothers on the small screen and their movies surely were having a profitable afterlife.

Since The Puffy Chair came out, the Duplass brothers had been toying with the idea of HBO and now seemed the perfect time to actually take the chance. Jay came up with the idea of series which would star Steve Zissis who has Mark’s senior in high school and had had a stall in his acting career after Baghead and Do-Deca-Pentathlon.

So that is how the idea of Alexander the Great took birth which happened to be a pilot about an actor who was struggling with his career with mental health issues. HBO loved it and asked to add more characters making it a relationship show and that is what they did.

Before the premiere of A Teacher at Sundance, Fidell had sent the Duplass brothers her feature making them her fan. That is why she was their first choice when Mark Duplass got an idea for a movie of a young reboot of Days of Wine and Roses which has physical abuse instead of alcohol. Graciously accepted by Fidell, by the end of the day, she was officially signed up both for the writing and direction of what was to formulate into Six Years. And in March at SXSW it was bought by Netflix.

The most astonishing development in an already amazing career apart from the movies and TV shows that this dynamic duo made, the Duplasses have grown into a royalty which helps like-minded filmmakers gain benefit from the business model which they seem to have created.

The Duplass brothers helped a friend in giving life to his film and this revelation that they could actually save the struggling career of a filmmaker with some time and money blew their minds away and always grateful for the emotional as well as financial support by their parents they saw this way to put it back in the world.

Producing multiple films per year, which

  1. Strictly follow the line of low costs.
  2. Protecting the vision of the filmmaker.
  3. Eventually giving the final product to the audiences as fast as possible.

The Duplass Brothers have signed a four-picture deal with Netflix. And they are taking a similar approach to TV. The first film from that deal is Blue Jay starring Mark Duplass and Sarah Paulson and directed by Alexandre Lehmann (check out his interview here). Meeting by chance when they return to their tiny California hometown, two former high-school sweethearts reflect on their shared past. Check out the trailer below:

They helped few filmmakers in making 10 episodes of the show of an animated series Animals and much to their surprise, not only HBO bought them but signed them for the second season right away. And four months later, the Duplass brothers got a two-year deal.

These brothers have the magic beans to turn any idea, no matter how trivial it may be, into a profitable TV show or movie.

Can you really make a feature film for $1000 bucks?

Mark Duplass had a packed house for his amazing SXSW Keynote Speech. He was spitting out Indie Film GOLD though out his talk.

If you didn’t get a chance to hear his talk, here are some topics he covered:

  • Learn your craft  by making short films every weekend for $3
  • Write a Feature Film for less than $1,000
  • Have a strong day job (whatever you can get) while working towards your goal
  • Put money away to travel to Film Festivals and future films

Coming from the “Mumblecore” indie film movement, a style of low-budget film typically characterized by the use of nonprofessional actors and naturalistic or improvised performances, he had some great advice for independent filmmakers:

“You should design the aesthetic of the movie so that it doesn’t feel like less than a $200,000 movie but it feels squarely like a $1,000 movie.”

I’ve seen so many filmmakers attempt to make The Avengers on the budget for craft services for one day on a Marvel set. You are setting yourself up to fail. When starting out work within your limitations. It worked for Robert Rodriguez on his indie film classic El Mariachi.

Mark Duplass stated that $1000 is in NO WAY a budget a feature film should be made for. Here is what Duplass says:

“It’s not an empirical number, it depends of the city you live in and the scope of your story. But when I think about that movie, it’s doing a couple of things.

Borrowing recycled hard drive from people. Getting the Ultrakam uncompressed app on your iPhone. Most of it is food and you really want someone who can cook.

I recommend having your editor be the ‘DIT’ person who takes the Media in – and they have a lot of downtime, so you have them help you light, and you have them cook.

And you should be having a crew that’s really, really small. So that money should be mostly spent on food and then you are going to spend that on festival applications.”

Mark Duplass dishes out some amazing advice to independent filmmakers in this keynote speech and awesome Q&A. To see the entire SXSW Keynote check out the video below, DO IT!

“Instinct is very, very important, and we believe in it through every part of the process… When it’s time to create and get that stuff down, we believe in the gut.” – Mark Duplass

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IFH 085: Why You Don’t Need a Screenplay to Make a Great Film

As indie filmmakers, we throw a lot of obstacles on our own path to creating a feature or short film. No obstacle is larger than the almighty screenplay. How many screenwriters and filmmakers do you know that have been working on the movie script for 3, 5, or 7 years? They keep chipping at it in hopes of cracking that nut or it gives them an excuse for not actually making a feature film.

I was no different. One of the biggest things that slowed, if not stopped my filmmaking journey was “the screenplay.” I decided to see if there was a different way to approach making a movie with my first feature film This is Megby creating a very structured story but have a heavy improv element to it.

In doing my research I came to realize that in the last few years, some of my favorite films happen to be (almost) entirely improvised. No structured screenplay. Some were huge tent pole studio movies, Oscar winners (Ironically for best screenplay) and small indie films. It certainly seemed to be a more prolific style among independent filmmakers and I find that it can mean success when they cast the right actors. Especially in the “Mumblecore” and “Dogma 95 indie film movements.

Iron Man had no screenplay?

My favorite “lack of screenplay” story was the Marvel Studios tent-pole, Iron Man. You heard me correctly. The film that launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe and that show the world what a great leading  Robert Downey Jr could be. It remains one of the most enjoyable adaptations of a Marvel comic book to date.

iron man, no screenplay, indie film hustle

via Marvel Studios

Take a listen to what Jeff Bridges revealed in a recent interview.

“They had no script, man! They had an outline. We would show up for big scenes every day and we wouldn’t know what we were going to say. We would have to go into our trailer and work on this scene and call up writers on the phone, ‘You got any ideas?’ Meanwhile the crew is tapping their foot on the stage waiting for us to come on.”

Although a story and structure were firmly in place, the dialogue wasn’t – leading to much improvisation on set, which accounts for the film’s energetic, sparky atmosphere.

“I said, ‘Oh, what we’re doing here, we’re making a $200 million student film. We’re all just fuckin’ around! We’re playin’. Oh, great!. That took all the pressure off. Oh, just jam, man, just play. And it turned out great!” Bridges recalled.


Here is a list of film I mention and discuss in detail in the podcast:

Take a listen to why you don’t need a screenplay to make an awesome movie.

Right-click here to download the MP3

Alex Ferrari 2:44
One of the biggest obstacles is the screenplay. The ultimate, most powerful thing is that screenplay as everyone says, but as I've done research, and I discovered that it's not all what it's cracked up to be. Now don't get me wrong. screenplays are extremely important to filmmaking. And understanding story is very, very integral part of making a movie. But there are different methods. And you don't always need a screenplay. And I'm going to list off. Many, many examples of them have projects that you have seen. And you have heard of that you'd be surprised had no screenplay. So this inspired me to do this is Meg in that same way, we're using a outline a very structured outline, and what I found out while doing research, and watching all of these movies in reading every article I can get my hands on and listening to commentary tracks and things like that in interviews with the filmmakers, is that they all have a very specific story they want to tell. So there's a very structured story with scenes, very structured scenes throughout the piece, but the dialogue and a lot of the stuff that happens in the scene is completely improvised. So very Perfect example is that for what we're doing, and this is mag we have a very structured story. So we have a beginning, middle and end, we follow the hero's journey, like any other screenplay would, then within each scene, we have beats, these beats have to be hit in order for the movie to move forward in a proper manner. So we tell the actors, these guys, look, guys, these are the beats that have to happen, how you get to those beats, is up to you, and let's kind of all work together to come up with something, and we start to play and it was so freeing, it's been so freeing so far shooting with these amazing actors. And you have to have amazing actors who are versed in improv. And I've been blessed with amazing cast that has years, sometimes even decades of improvisational skills and experience. So definitely a key part of doing this kind of movie. And if you when you're hiring an actor, you got to make sure if you're going to do this kind of movie, that they are on board with this because a lot of actors love a script, they want to learn their lines, and they want to come in and do their job and not have to think like that just kind of be the actor and not think about the word. So you have to you really have to let them know what's going on and how to do it in, in the in the films in the in the syndicate in the indie film syndicate, I'm going to go into great detail about how we're doing this process, how we're shooting it, what the process is, with the actors, we're going to go in real detail because I think it's something that is a key to freeing a lot of independent filmmakers from the chains of having to write a very detailed multiple script, multiple revisions, seven years doing a screenplay, where you can focus on a wonderful structure, a wonderful story, wonderful stories within the scenes, but let actors and yourself just kind of play with it on the day. And there's a lot of things that kind of like the opening quote said when Mark duplass said is sometimes the dynamic between the actors isn't right, or the scenes not working the way it was written. And if you're not free to kind of go off and play within the moment, it's very difficult to get a good scene. So I'm gonna list off a few things. A few people and a few films that you might have not known were completely if not heavily improvised. Now one person that you think of when when I say the word Stanley Kubrick, most people don't think of the word improvise. Most of the people don't think of, you know, Stanley being a kind of Let's be in the moment kind of director which he wasn't. But with that said, some of his most famous scenes in his movies were improvised. The jack nicholson line. Here's Johnny in the shining, completely improvised the entire dance rape scene from Clockwork Orange, completely improvised. He basically told Rhonda McDowell Do you know a song He's like, yeah, the only song I know is singing in the rain. I'm like, Great, let's do it. And they kind of did it. And that was it. It was completely improvised. I think he did one take of that one or two takes, if I'm not mistaken. The indent in Dr. Strange love and or how I learned how to stop worrying about Worrying and Love the bomb, the entire call to the President. The President calling the Soviet Premier completely improvised, because he had Peter Sellers and Peter Sellers was an amazing, amazing talent. He also had the line I can walk in Dr. Strangelove. But the one that was most impressive to me and Stan Lee's movies is the opening sequence of Full Metal Jacket. That entire like eight minute or 10 minute sequence of the drill instructor introduction was completely improvised. He Stanley had written stuff but when when the actor came in on board, he just came up with stuff so much better that he just let him go. And sometimes you have to be that way with with with not only an actor, but with it as a director. So I just wanted to put that out there and then also in Blade Runner, the entire roof top soliloquy, from Rutger Hauer is completely improvised. One of the most famous scenes in that movie completely improvised. So there are moments like that throughout films, I mean, and I can go I can list off just scenes upon scenes upon scenes. Now, those scenes where those movies were not heavily improvised, but those scenes were completely improvised. I just wanted to use those as a point. One of the movies I found in my research that I could not believe was improvised was a $200 million movie that you've all seen more and like most more than likely is Iron Man. Yes, the Robert Downey Jr. Iron Man, the movie that launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe was heavily improvised. And this is straight from Jeff Bridges. In an interview he said, Man, we had no script. I'm going to quote him here. They had an outline, we would show up to the we would show up Big scenes every day, and we wouldn't know what we're going to say. We would have to go into our trailer, work on the scene and call up the writers on the phone. Hey, you got any ideas? Meanwhile, the crew was tapping their foot on the stage waiting for us to come out. And then he said, oh, oh, what we're doing here is we're making a $200 million student film. Oh, we're just fucking around. We're playing around. Okay, great. That takes all the pressure off. Let's just jam man. Let's just play. And man did it turn out great. And quote so can you believe that? A $200 million studio movie was essentially almost entirely improvised by Jeff Bridges by Robert Downey Jr. And that's why that movie works so beautifully. Well, because john Favre just kind of let that go and man that takes some balls and I'm not sure if I have the balls to do that on a you know, $200 million Marvel movie, but at the time, they just kind of did it and that's what happened. They had a very structured story. Obviously, they can't make a movie of that size without it but you see what I'm talking about. They kind of just played around within the scene. So I'm going to list off some movies that you might have might have heard of might not have heard of that are completely improvised, so you guys can take a look at it and I will leave them in the show notes at indie film hustle.com Ford slash 085. You'll have a list of all these movies so you can guys can take a look at them. And a movie that just came out recently called drinking buddies with Olivia Wilde and Jake London, was completely 100% improvised he had a problem. Joe Swanberg had a problem even getting money for the movie, which I think was about I think they got around the half a million dollars to make the movie with Anna Kendrick was also in it and Ron Livingston was as well. And because they couldn't show a script to anybody, they're like, Look, this guy's made 30 movies like this, you know, and he took them a little while to get the money even with Olivia Wilde and Anna Kendrick and starring, but they got it and the movie came out great. A lot of people really, really liked it. And definitely check out Joe swans Berg's work because just once was one of those directors who has been doing this since 2004 2005. And he's got almost 30 movies under his belt, and all of them have been improvised. So some of them are great. Some of them are not. But at least he got the work done. And he's been growing and growing and growing. And now he's doing much bigger things and now he's doing I think a Netflix series or something along those lines. So definitely check out Joe's weinsberg. Work. The the poster child for this currently in today's world is Mark do Plus, if you guys have not heard the, the Calvary is not coming speech from South by Southwest on how to make a movie for $1,000. I will put that link in the description as well, amazing 45 minutes that every filmmaker should listen to. And his movie puffy chair came out I think in 2004 2005 and completely improvised huge festival hit. And now he still does that kind of work all his movies, he does improvise, he has a structure, he has an outline, and then they just kind of go with it. And it's I can't tell you again, I want to say this probably a few more times in this podcast, I can't explain to you how freeing it is as a director as a creative as an artist to just not have the pressure of the script. And just kind of go with what happens in the day. Now again, it just works for me and it might not work for you. But that's and it's obviously works for a lot of people and I'm gonna continue to list off a few more movies that you might have not heard of. A big studio movie from Sony was this is the end, the Seth Rogen movie, and that whole crew and that was about 85% improvised. So that was a big studio movie that they basically just had fun and improvise now they had an amazing cast that was verse to do that. But I just still can't believe that big, big studio movies. This happens. Another one of my favorite movies in the indie world is your sister Sister, with Mark duplass and Emily Blunt. And it was directed by another amazing director. Her name is Lynn Shelton. Definitely look up Lynn Shelton's work. She's done a bunch of movies like this hump day, among other movies, and she's a TV director as well. So she comes in and out from indies to TV. And she does a lot of improv, improvisational stuff in her movies as well at a high quality so definitely check that check her out as well. Now, a very famous one from 1999 Blair Witch, The Blair Witch Project 100% improvise, they basically just threw a bunch of actors into the forest and threw stuff at them and they recorded themselves. So that's the extreme to this. It's really pretty crazy. But again, 100% improvised, like crazy with the late unfortunately the late Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones, wonderful movie by Drake dramas, who he also admitted not having a script basically just an outline and all of the dialogue being improvised by This amazing, do amazing young actors. And Jennifer Lawrence is in that movie as well. So check that one out. The one I love is also another one by Mark duplass, who's an actor with a Elisabeth moss. And it's directed by Charlie McDowell. Another great movie to check out to see what it's like when you don't have dialogue and you kind of just go with it. Another really surprising one was a movie called Blue Valentine, which is from a few years back with Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, they both had been attached to the project between seven and one was seven years when was five years. So they had a really good idea about the story. They shot it chronologically, and they both kind of, you know, Williams and Goslin both spent about a month living together. Before the film kind of got off the ground, the director and the writer Derek, cyan, cyan friends, if Please forgive me, but he wrote over 60 drafts of the movie and then completely threw all of the drafts away and let them go off and the result was an extremely powerful movie, about two people falling in and out of love. So that one definitely check out as well. The Academy Award nominated American Hustle by David O. Russell, had a very clear idea he had a plot he had a script, but he just let the actors go sometimes because as he said he was much more interested in character than he was in plot. And he just kind of went off so that movie heavily improvised as well again with the structure. Veera Drake the 2006 movie by the legendary Mike Lee, Mike Lee is known for his method of working improv improv basically is he will spend four months rehearsing the movie with his actors and writing down the rehearsals which are all improvised. So the dialogue is very, very natural, very good. And he just kind of does it that way. And he actually won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Veera Drake, which was funny he actually just sent the script in but it wasn't really the script of the movie. It was kind of like the script was really the script was the movie The movie was the screenplay. And then the the father of all of this before Curb Your Enthusiasm before all these other movies and TV shows that kind of went through this style. There was the legendary john Cassavetes. JOHN Cassavetes is the godfather of independent film. If you guys have not heard of who john Cassavetes is, please go to the show notes and click on the links that I leave you. You need to know who john Cassavetes is. his very first movie was called shadows. And at the end of the movie, you can read the film that you've just seen was improvised. He wrote dozens of movies and partly self financed many of them when people were not self financing feature films. It was not as easy as it is today. And it's still hard to shoot film still have to edit on flatbed. It was a whole other world. And he was doing that. And his his methods were adopted by many of the people that we just talked about. So john Cassavetes is kind of the godfather of all this kind of stuff. So I hope you guys got a little bit of an idea about what it really takes to make a good movie. And sometimes it doesn't need a screenplay. And I know that sacrilege, I know that's Oh my god, how can he say that? All we're ever taught is how important the screenplay is. What's important is the story guys is the story. And the words that the actors say the characters say, don't have to come from the writer many times. And I know I look, I'm a writer, I understand. And I like having the actors read my, my, my words, but at the end of the day, guys, there's so many obstacles in front of us to be filmmakers, so many obstacles to get our stories out there. If we can remove one big one, which is the screenplay and again, I'm not saying you don't need a structure, you need a story, you need an outline, you have to understand all the elements of storytelling, but the screenplay itself, the dialogue can be improvised by good actors, lean on them, let them work with you. And I guarantee you, they're gonna have so much fun, and that fun is going to come right into the screen. It's not gonna sound stilted. It's not gonna sound like oh my god, I have to do it this way. This is just one of million methods on making a movie, but I'm just wanting to kind of put a spotlight on it because it's something that I've recently discovered in the last year, and now have been employing it myself. And the freedom that I feel is amazing. And I want you guys, you know, if you have a great screenplay, and that's not a problem, then go off and make your movie, but I'm tired of all of these, these roadblocks that get thrown in front of us as filmmakers to get the movie made. If you don't have the right camera. If you don't have the right Do you have you know, the right actors, if you don't have the right distribution, if you don't have the right genre, you know, all this kind of crap that's thrown in front of you. And a lot of it's thrown by ourselves, we're actually throwing the obstacles in front of us ourselves. That's exactly what happened to me. But what I found that by doing it this way, oh my god, it's so freeing. I can't explain. I can't say that enough. It is like a breath of fresh air. And the actors that I've worked with so far shooting, this is mag is they are so happy. They are so energetic on set, they go the extra mile, they're having so much fun. And they actually told me after we're done, we're like, oh, my God, this has been like, been so much fun. I'm so happy, please let me know when we could do this again. So it's, it's really, really, really powerful guy. So definitely, think about it, study it, and take a look at the movies that are out there in the show notes. Alright, because I think that's what I did. I watched probably around 50 to 100 of these kinds of movies, and was shocked at how many there are, because it's not something you hear about very often all the movies all improvised. It's not something that people talk about as much like Iron Man, for God's sakes. But, but anyway, it's something that I wanted to bring a spotlight to you guys. So I hope this helps you guys move a little closer to getting your dream of making a feature film, and making it into a reality. One thing I really want to do guys is strip down all of these preconceived notions of what you absolutely need to make a good movie. There are a million ways to crack that egg. And I hope my humble hope is that my journey with this as Meg will help inspire other filmmakers, other artists, to not allow what everybody else says that has to be you have to do this, you have to do that. And all the crap that they sell you in film school, that you can go off and do it on your own. You don't need a million things you don't need a 50 man crew again for the kind of stories that I'm trying to tell. But you cater the story you're trying to tell to what you're capable of having. And the screenplay is always been one of the biggest obstacles in my way and taking that off of my plate in a sense, and just allowing me to work on story structure plot character has been nothing but a revelation. So I hope I can pass that on to you guys. Oh, and before I forget, there is another kind of sponsor that we have for this show. Another course that I think any writer listening to this will be very, very interested in the masterclass with Aaron Sorkin Academy Award winning Aaron Sorkin of the social network and Steve Jobs in west wing and newsroom and so on. Head over to indie film hustle, calm forward slash Sorkin, s o r k i n to get early access to this amazing course. And if you are interested in checking out the indie film syndicate, which is over 40 hours of online courses, adding new content all the time have a full the entire library of the indie film, hustle podcast at your fingertips as well. All of that for a really reasonable price that is going to be limited time so right now it's at $17 a month or $185 a year and I will be coming out with a limited very limited time lifetime price. Anybody who wants that do a lifetime membership for it. But indie film syndicate.com check it out and it's a 30 day money back guarantee guys and it really helps indie film hustle out a lot helps us finance This is Meg and keeping this all this great content going for you guys because that's why I'm here here to provide value to you guys and help you guys make your movie and hopefully by me making my movie I can help and share that information with you guys. So thank you again for all the support and well wishes and the emails I keep getting all these wonderful emails from everywhere around the world about this is mag and also about the syndicate and also about indie film hustle so thanks again so so much guys. Again if you want to go to the show notes at indie film, hustle, calm forward slash zero 85 Now we are on 15 days left so we're halfway through. This is Meg so please head over to this as mag comm check out how we've built out our crowdfunding campaign, our video and our incentives and I really do need your help guys. So thisismeg.com. Keep that hustle going keep that dream alive. And I'll talk to you guys soon.

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