Thursday, June 19, 2008

STAY AT HOME FILMMAKING - creating films outside the twin filmmaking capitals

Every year, hundreds, actually thousands, of directors, producers, writers, actors and film craftspeople/technicians flock to L.A. and N.Y. to seek their fame and fortune. Most are hungry to break into the studio big-time. A few are indie filmmakers looking for a scene or community that will support their work and challenge them to take that work to the next level.

There are definite benefits to landing in the center of these two American filmmaking capitals. I'm in Los Angeles and feel I've made the most of what the city has to offer me as an independent filmmaker. But clearly, where indie filmmakers are concerned, L.A. and N.Y.are NOT the center of the universe.

Some of the most interesting indie films I've seen recently take place in geographic, cultural and social landscapes so specific and unfamiliar that they create a character of their own and another level of energy/complexity. Also, the filmmakers aren't doing work that is driven by the financial bottom line that drives studio filmmaking, nor is it informed by their need for the "status" attached to operating in the studio paradigm. Meaning, they aren't just doing derivative work that is an audition piece for a studio gig. I've mentioned two films previously - BALLAST and BLOOD ON THE HIGHWAY - that are vastly divergent in genre, style and aesthetic, but equally unique as well as geographically fresh and specific.

A major reason for filming outside of Los Angeles/New York is cost. Filmmaking is VERY expensive, of course, because it is a compilation of dozens of small costs -for crew, equipment, locations, props, food, gas, trucks, parking etc. and etc. Many of these things are FAR, FAR cheaper in smaller cities, towns and communities. And if you are born and bred in the community in which you are filming, you are bound to get so many perks and so much support that you will even further bring down the cost of the film.

And, to further support my incredibly persuasive argument, more and more states are offering generous rebates/tax incentives to lure production to their neck o' the woods. Michigan has completely lost its mind - offering a whopping 40% rebate on production dollars spent in the state. Massachusetts also has an amazing plan. Basically, a lot of cold places. But warm ones, too, like New Mexico and Louisiana. For a list of states that offer generous support plans for filmmakers (and the rules/regulations around these plans) go to:


Yes, you will find more world-class talent and crew concentrated in N.Y. and L.A. than you will probably find anywhere else in America. But as production spreads out across the country, more and more of this kind of talent and skill is cropping up in the most unexpected places. Yes, you will find more filmmaking resources in N.Y. and L.A., but again, those resources are finding their way into communities all over the country. If you've already relocated to NY or LA, you can argue that all of your connections are there/here, but sometimes the enthusiasm that smaller communities still have for filmmaking (as opposed to the rampant cynicism in the filmmaking capitals), will create connections and support of their own.

There are many good practical reasons for making films in smaller cities/towns/communities. But my main reason for making this argument is an aesthetic one. What makes a truly distinctive film? It is the compilation of striking details. It is the introduction of something new to an audience and/or otherwise extraordinary. It is the revealing of a specific history and truth. Location is a major contributor to these things. It contributes profoundly to both the film's visual energy and its thematic perspective. And add to that local talent that carries in them a sense of place and your film will have an authenticity and/or originality that can often be impossible to find in the cradles of commercial cinema.


  1. This is a great piece, Jacques! I completely agree with you...except, that I have found grip packages to be MUCH more expensive outside of LA. No one rents as low as Wooden Nickel in Van Nuys! ;-) That said, places like Porto, Portugal, Wheaton/Joliet, IL, and Amsterdam, NY (the three places I've shot outside of LA) make a film stand out as "distinctive" indeed!

  2. Completely and utterly true and this sentence struck:

    "sometimes the enthusiasm that smaller communities still have for filmmaking (as opposed to the rampant cynicism in the filmmaking capitals), will create connections and support of their own."

    I'm a native NYer and I've lived that cynicism. It almost feels like people biting and punching each other in the industry as opposed to living out what is inherently necessary for any film to thrive-which is a sense of community. I think the only issue is that finding a job in film outside of these two cities is harrowing at best.

  3. True on both counts (both comments). Equipment is not necessarily cheaper and clearly more expensive in some places. And finding film work as a living is indeed harrowing.

    But there are other, sometimes better jobs, you can do to support your filmmaking outside of the film industry. And, you can also live/work in the major cities (if you are doing industry work) and make your film in your hometown or other smaller community.

    Regarding equipment, you can use one of the networking communities (craigslist, facebook, etc.) to see who has donate-able resources in that community squirrelled away somewhere. Or you may simply have to suck up the extra cost, but make it up in other perks like free locations, extras, props, etc.

  4. What is your idea of a better job outside of the industry?

  5. There is not an objective standard. Really depends on your individual perspective. For me, I did crew work in various capacities that, although it helped forge connections, left me thoroughly drained and unable to do my own creative work. Plus I was uninspired by the cynical mercenaries I constantly had to deal with.

    Conversely, I walked dogs for many years and felt completely energized to get my own stuff done and was constantly inspired creatively by my life experiences.

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