The key to becoming a successful and fulfilled independent filmmaker is shooting films on your mobile phone for $3 and never giving in to the temptation of studio schmaltz, according to Mark Duplass, the co-creator of Togetherness.
In his keynote speech at SXSW in Austin, the filmmaker outlined his step-by-step survival guide for young directors who don’t want to compromise in order to get their films made.
“The first step is the $3 short film,” he said. “We’re in a place now where technology is so cheap that there’s no excuse for you not to be making films on the weekends with your friends, shot on your iPhone – we had a feature film at Sundance this year that was shot entirely on iPhones and it did really well.”
He explained that along with his brother Jay, he had lived in Austin, working as an editor, before saving enough money to make their first feature film, Vince Del Rio, which cost $65,000 and was, in his words, “a steaming pile of dog diarrhea”.
Despite the film tanking, the brothers decided to take a lo-fi approach with their next film, The New Brad, which was shot on their parents’ dysfunctional video camera, cost $3 and ended up at SXSW and Sundance.
“It changed everything for us,” said Duplass. “Because it really doesn’t matter what your movie looks like – because if you have a voice and something interesting to say they will like you and they will program you.”
He recommended making a $3 film every weekend with “your smartest group of friends”, made up of four or five people including a charismatic lead actor. Detailing his approach further, he said the film should be one scene, five minutes, ideally comedic and/or short – “because they program well at festivals” – and he warned filmmakers to be prepared for failure. Despite that, he insisted that being myopic and inward-looking when making one’s first films was definitely a good thing.
“At the risk of saying you should make a self-indulgent film for your first movie: you should make a self-indulgent film for your first movie.”
Other advice for would-be filmmakers included having a really strong day job (he recommended being a Spanish or Mandarin translator because of the demand and high pay), and saving money in order to travel and submit short films to film festivals.
Turning down money offered by agents – “to avoid being stuck in development for five years” – shooting on mobile devices and asking friends and colleagues for favours were all recommended by Duplass, who called his approach “the available materials school of filmmaking”.