The Cheerful Subversive's Guide to Independent Filmmaking
From Preproduction to Festivals and Distribution
By Dan Mirvish
In The Cheerful Subversive’s Guide to Independent Filmmaking, celebrated Slamdance Film Festival co-founder Dan Mirvish offers a rich exploration of the process and culture of making low-budget, independent films. Once labelled a "cheerful subversive" by The New York Times, Mirvish shares his unfiltered pragmatic approach to scriptwriting, casting, directing, producing, managing a crew, post-production, navigating the film festival circuit, distributing your film, dealing with piracy and building a career. Readers will learn how to game the Hollywood system to their advantage, get their films accepted by respected festivals without going broke, and utilize a broad range of media and tactics to promote and distribute their work. A companion website features behind-the-scenes interviews and footage from Dan’s films, and much more.
Learn everything you need to know to make, promote, and distribute your independent films, with time-tested lessons and practical advice on scriptwriting, casting and directing A-list actors, financing, producing, managing a crew, editing in post, creating visual effects on a budget, and successuflly navigating the film festival circuit
Find out what it takes to become a true "cheerful subversive" and adopt new and innovative approaches to producing your films, discover hidden loopholes in the Hollywood system and festival scene, take advantage of a broad range of media formats to promote and distribute your indie films, and generally make bold moves in service of your creative work, all while staying flexible enough to pivot at a moment’s notice
An extensive companion website features in-depth interviews with filmmakers, more than an hour of behind-the-scenes footage from Dan Mirvish’s films, festival resources, and much more
Table of Contents
Section A. – Getting Started
Write a Brilliant Script!
***Poem: On Strike
Umm, What to Write?
Adapt or Die
You're No Genius
You're in Good Company
Playing Around with George Clooney’s Happy Ending
Books are Just Screenplays with Adjectives.
Develop Relationship with Original Author
Use Their Experience to Your Benefit
Connect with the Material
Don't Call it "Opening Up"
Location, Location, Location.
Editing; Macro and Micro.
Putting the "Move" in "Movies"
Use Your Source Material's Pedigree
Don't Apologize for Your Source Material
Try This On For Size: Improvise!
Buying a Script on the Open Market
Choose a Castable Script
Chain of Title Isn't Just an R&B Song
Mining for Gold: Discovering the Lost Jules Feiffer Script
***NameDropper Sidebar: Robert Altman
There's No Business Like a Show Business Plan
Key Production Team
Why Support Independent Film?
Product Integration & Branded Sponsorship
Remember, It's a Visual Medium
*** Sidebar: Famous Director Kickstarter Campaigns
Takin’ Care of Business
Putting the Love in LLC!
Making Sure You’re Not a Flimmaker
Registering with the State
The New Pizza King of Omaha
EDGAR, EDGAR, Give Me Your Answer Do
Boiler Rooms and Shriners
Casting Your Banker
Hey Buddy, Can You Paradigm?
***Poem: Crowdfund This
Staff Up: Your First Round of Collaborators
Producing a Producer
Interns and a Clean Garage
The One-Armed Executioner
Section B. – Shooting the Movie
Casting Your Movie With A-List Actors
Assemble a Team
Go to New York
Be Bi-Coastally Curious
Don't Have a List!
Develop Relationships with Agents Yourself
Play the Agency Game
Bait and Switch
Set a Start Date
Make it Real
Magnetic Balls of Iron
Take Advantage of Others' Misfortune
Oh, and What if You Don’t Have Famous Actors?
***Poem: Call Backs
Directing Famous Actors in a Microbudget Film
***Namedropper sidebar: Harold Ramis
Use Rehearsal Wisely
***Sidebar: The Sound of Music ***
What’s My Motivation?
Trust Your Scripty
Encourage "Chemistry" Among Your Cast
Behave Like a Big Budget Production
Block Scenes On Set
Use Multiple Takes as Your Coverage
Have Faith in Editing
Say Something to the Actors
Methods to their Madness
Lights, Camera, Cinematographer!
Good vs. Nice
***NameDroppers Sidebar – Rian Johnson
They’re Like Actors with Cameras
It's Who They Know
Putting the "DP" in iDentity Politics
Are They Still Called Films if They’re Digital?
Film’s Zombie Resurgence
***NameDroppers Sidebar – Christopher Nolan & Emma Thomas
Deconstructing the Cult of Galileo
Frankenlens and Mir (vishscopes)
Walt Disney’s Secret Optics Bunker
Time to Shoot!
Does It Take a Video Village to Raise a Film?
Bump Up the Credits
Finding a Crew with Donut Group Therapy
Dress the Part
Group Hug, Safety and Prayer to the Film Gods
Your First-Day Disasters
Hello, My Name is Josh
Find the Goat
Ready, Aim, Fire!
Two Takes Ahead
***NameDropper Sidebar – Alexander Payne
Arrive Early, Bring Donuts, Wear Tape
Making Your 12-Hour Day
Feeding the Beast
Making an Epic EPK
***NameDropper Sidebar – John Carpenter
Devious Use of the EPKorner
Still the One
Getting Your Kill Shots
Point and Shoot
To Infinity and Behind-the-Scenes
Making Product Placement Work for You
Cash and Carry
Break Down, Go Ahead and Give it To Me
A Clear and Present Necessity
Selling Out, Even if You Don’t Get Paid for It
Killing Two Birds with One Stone
***Poem: The Locavore Filmmaker
Livin’ La Vida Locavore
Keep Your Homebase at Home
Cast Locally (sort of)
Find Locations Close to Home
Drag Your Actors out of Bed
No, Seriously, Keep it Really Close to Home
If You Travel, Hire Locally
Editing, One Pant Leg at a Time
Screw the Environment, Do It for Yourself
***Poem – Hack Attack
Section C. – Post-Production
Editing Like an ACE
Editors Are Like Bass Players
Finding Fresh Eyes
***Poem: The Artisanal Filmmaker
Start Strong; Stick Your Landing
Don’t Let Your Post Supervisor Escape To Madagascar
Teasing Out Your Assistants
***NameDropper Sidebar – Jon Bokenkamp
Getting a Little Testy
It’s Not Easy Being Green Screened
Sound and Fury
The Breakfast (Nook) Club
Song Sung Blue
Section D. – Festivals
Toronto, Toschmonto: Time for a Festival Plan "B"
It's Just as Well. Your Film Wasn't Finished!
It's All About Sundance Anyway!
To Get Distribution!
***SideBar: Producer’s Reps vs. Foreign Sales Agents
Don't Buy Into the Premiere Arms Race
Play Them Off Against Each Other
Volume, Volume, Volume
Meet Your Audience
See the World!
Meet New Money
Get DVD Extras
Meet Other Filmmakers
***Poem: Putting the Festiv Back Into Festival
How to Avoid Going Broke Applying to Film Festivals
Make a Personal Connection to the Festival Programmer
Offer Your Premiere Status
Offer Up Talent
Ask for a Waiver
Don't Ask for a Waiver
Submit Vimeo Links
Hand-Deliver Your DVD
Meet Festival Directors at Other Festivals
Bribes and Blackmail
***SideBar: Top 24 Sundance/Slamdance Rejection Rationalizations
***Poem: We Are Slamdance
How to Start Your Own Film Festival: The Birth of Slamdance
Sundance or Bust
Anarchy in Utah
Prospecting for Screening Rooms
The Birth of IndieWood
***NameDropper Sidebar: Steven Soderbergh
Our Napolean Complex
***NameDropper Sidebar: Marc Forster
Billions and Billions
***Poem: Slamdance at 15
Section E. – Distribution
Sexy Things You Get to Do When You Think Your Film is Finished
Promote Your Friggin' Movie
Escaping Your Distributor
Dissolving Your Entity
***Poem: Don’t Get Distribution
Aarghh! How to Beat Film Pirates at their Own Game
The Whack-a-Mole Takedowns!
Make Money From the Pirates
Using the Pirates to Screw Your Distributor!
Embracing the Pirates!
Slut-Shaming the Advertisers
Make Piracy an Essential Element of your Release Strategy
Use the Pirates to Pimp Your Merch
Use Piracy to Charge for Product Placement
What Operas and Sharknado Can Teach Indie Films
***Poem: Analytic Black Hole
When In Doubt, Create Your Own Oscar
Go Team America!
Big in Germany
A Tree in the Forest
Race to the Academy!
We Wuz Robbed
***Poem: Transmedia Verse
How to Make Money From an Oscar Nomination
How to Become a TV Director and Make it in Hollywood
Recut Your Reel.
Update Your IMDb and Wikipedia Pages
Make a List
Whom to Meet With?
How to Get the Meetings
***NameDroppers Sidebar: Joe and Anthony Russo
Research Their Shows
Research The People
The Pre-Meeting Meeting
Check for Breaking News
Do You Take The Water?
Choose Wisely Where to Sit
Wear or Do Something Memorable
Tell Funny Stories About Yourself
***NameDroppers Sidebar – Lynn Shelton
Ask Them Personal Questions
Get Something Out of Each Meeting
The Parking Garage Meeting After the Meeting
***SideBar: The Eight Stages of Success for an Indie Filmmaker
Dan Mirvish is a director, screenwriter, producer, inventor and author. Mentored by Robert Altman on his first film, Omaha (the movie), Dan co-founded the Slamdance Film Festival. Dan's film Open House forced the Academy Awards® to rewrite their rules, and he also co-wrote the critically-acclaimed novel I Am Martin Eisenstadt. His award-winning film Between Us played in 23 festivals and sold to 144 countries. Dan’s latest film isBernard and Huey, written by the legendary Jules Feiffer. He’s also written for Filmmaker Magazine, Indiewire and The Huffington Post. Dan has a master’s degree in film from USC and has guest lectured at UCLA, NYU, USC, CalArts and many other film schools. Once labelled a "cheerful subversive" by The New York Times, Mirvish was named one ofVariety's Top 50 Creatives to Watch.
"Learning how to produce ultra-low-budget feature films is a demanding and complicated task. Even earning a Bachelor’s degree in Film, from any of the nation’s best film schools, often fails to provide the intricate methodology of professional producing. Dan Mirvish remedies this inadequacy by providing all the information you need to know in this erudite, anecdotal and humorous book. Brevity is the essence of wit, and Mirvish imparts his philosophy with a poignancy that becomes part of your filmmaking DNA."
—Rob Goald, Senior Editor, Film Festival Today
"What Mirvish has accomplished in this book, is to regale the reader with one man's journey in how to become a 'wildly successful' independant filmmaker. But, he doesn't hold his journey out as a map for everyone to follow; As he concludes in the book's epilogue, 'Find your own way...'"
—Michael Ogden, Journal of Media Education
"Hands down the most fun book on filmmaking I’ve read. I wish this book existed when I first started making films."
—Caveh Zahedi, award-winning filmmaker, Assistant Professor in Screen Studies, The New School
"My students would not only buy the book, but they’d hang onto it after the class was over."
—Lise Raven, Associate Professor, School of Communication & Media, Montclair State University
"An extremely realistic (not to mention funny) look at how to make a truly memorable independent film...or at least have fun trying! Dan's insight into the independent film world is invaluable, mostly because he's made all the mistakes he wants you to avoid!"
—Stephen Dest, award-winning filmmaker; Professor of Film Studies, University of Connecticut
"Dan Mirvish is Hollywood's Merry Prankster: a guerrilla filmmaking guru whose wisdom and insights are as valuable as they are entertaining."
—Kevin DiNovis, award-winning filmmaker; Writing faculty, New York Film Academy
"Dan's book explains the current independent film industry from a producer-director's perspective in a thorough yet highly-accessible manner that is sorely lacking in most film industry books. The fact that the book is presented in a conversational and even irreverent manner which never sacrifices the book's strengths is a pleasant bonus for any reader."
—Robert L. Seigel, entertainment attorney
"Dan cast Julia Stiles for a bag of peanuts! I also did not realize that the author is the co-founder of the Slamdance Film Festival. Those two facts, each individually and by themselves, made whatever he had to say gospel. More importantly, he wrote about something that he actually did and not just heard about."
—Christopher C. Odom, Professor, Full Sail University
"The biggest thing that Mirvish’s approach offers is the fact that he has already done all this. Unlike most authors of filmmaking books, Mirvish has made several feature films, he has been to dozens of festivals with his movies, he has negotiated countless deals with representatives and he has founded and run his own major film festival. I can’t think of any other writer of filmmaking books that has that pedigree. So he offers what the audience most craves: inside information. And he drops truth bombs constantly - filmmaking is really hard; doing things the ordinary way will probably result in failure. He’s not afraid to be negative, but he also offers ingenious ways around the typical land mines in the path of every filmmaker."
—Marc Pilvinsky, veteran film and video editor
"I’ve found myself referring to it, remembering it, listening to it as I finish post-production and enter the festival realm with my film. It is completely applicable, very accessible and totally useful. I think it will come in handy to a great many filmmakers who are looking for guidance. The book makes it feel like something which can, and will, be conquered. The book makes filmmaking understandable, like a how-to guide, while still allowing freedom for the filmmaker to explore and create."
—Daniel Moya, USC School of Cinematic Arts; Director of indie feature, Rental
"Dan is a true pioneer of the independent spirit. With one foot in a hot tub and the other on a mountain top he plants his independent flag somewhere between heaven and hell. In the great independent tradition of father John Cassavetes, Dan does what he has to do to exist in the inhospitable world of the true independent film artist. He is a fellow combatant against mediocrity in motion pictures and any upstart dreamer can benefit from what he has learned in the trenches of the 'just fucking do it' school of Cinema."
—Alexandre Rockwell, Sundance Award-winning director of In the Soup; Associate Arts Professor/Academic Director, NYU Tisch School of the Arts
"The last 25 years has been the most turbulent period in the film industry's history, and Dan has continued to navigate through it and survive. He is a legitimate insider with a wealth of information and knowledge."
—Sean Baker, Spirit and Gotham Award-winning director of Tangerine, Starlet and Take Out
"Dan Mirvish's experience along with his intelligence and humor makes The Cheerful Subversive's Guide to Independent Filmmaking indispensable in the library of every filmmaker. If you have a budget for only one book, this is the one. This investment will pay off and help you not only make money, but to build a career and keep your focus where it should be. The Cheerful Subversive's Guide to Independent Filmmaking is insightful, filled with knowledge, wisdom, and real filmmaking experience. It's perfect for the independent filmmaker."
—Patricia Cardoso, Sundance Award-winning director of Real Women Have Curves; Adjunct faculty at USC School of Cinematic Arts
"Spend your hard-earned cash on Dan's book, read it, and then go make your movie."
—Matthew Harrison, Sundance Award-winning film and TV director of Rhythm Thief and Sex and the City; UCLA Extension instructor
"Both a brutally realistic view of the state of indie film and a remarkably comprehensive and aspirational step-by-step guide to the filmmaking process, Mirvish's book is essential reading for all working filmmakers. Equally applicable to traditional indie filmmaking and the brave new world of digital content creators working at any level, from YouTube to network TV. With Mirvish's quirky sense of humor and shoestring-budget approach to filmmaking, it's an essential addition to any film school curriculum that wants to quickly engage their students with an accessible and relevant text."
—Jon Reiss, award-winning director of Better Living Through Circuitry; author of Think Outside the Box Office; Film directing faculty at CalArts
"If making a feature film is your dream, but nobody is banging on your door to offer you a deal, this book is an invaluable guide on how to never take 'no' for an answer and make it happen yourself. Dan Mirvish demystifies the nitty gritty aspects of making your own film with enthusiastic DIY flair. Seriously, I wish I had this book when we were trying to figure out what K-1s were for the first time!"
—Claire Carre, Gotham Award-nominated writer/director of Embers
"This is the guidebook that belongs in the proverbial rucksack of anyone embarking on the perilous adventure of making an independent feature film. Read for advice, inspiration, and to remind yourself that with enough willpower and a little ingenuity - it can be done."
—Charles Spano, writer and producer of the award-winning feature Embers
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