Film industry: is it possible to make it on your own?

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The Hollywood film industry is the oldest, largest and most profitable in the world leaving little room for independent filmmakers to grow and flourish. What, then, is the outlook for independent filmmakers outside these markets and what can they do to get an audience for their work? We spoke to the founder of the Lisbon Film Rendezvous festival about what it takes to get your short film noticed.

Trying to compete with, or copy, the Hollywood movies, is the biggest mistake that a filmmaker starting out in the business can make. According to Ricardo Franco, founder of the Lisbon Film Rendezvous festival, held at LACS Conde d’Óbidos on 4, 5 and 6 October, “It’s not by attempting to copy Hollywood films that you get noticed. Those films already exist, and the production values are astronomical so there is no way of competing with them”.

That is why the purpose of the festival focuses on talented filmmakers from around the world and their short films. “Lisbon Film Rendezvous has no intention of competing with the big festivals. The Lisbon Film Rendezvous is intended to give voice to those filmmakers that are left out of these big events because they are directors who are just exploring the medium”. So, besides this kind of festival what does it take for an independent producer or filmmaker to get their big break?

Make films your own

The solution is to make certain that your short film has its own unique directorial style and that it showcases your talents as a filmmaker. “The best approach is to make films with a personal voice and a very particular style”, says Ricardo Franco. The goal is not to create a crowd-pleaser, but to “stand out by offering a specific group of viewers an intimate experience that resonates with them. That’s how you get the attention of people who matter in the business and perhaps move on to making something bigger.”

Network your film

Not all filmmakers can have the uncanny luck of the Russo brothers, who, after their independent film was spotted by Steven Soderberg at the Slamdance festival, went on to direct the Avengers: Endgame blockbuster. Most, Ricardo Franco says, “find it very difficult and have to take it one difficult step at a time. They call in favours from friends and fellow filmmaking students and then repay those favours by working on films that are not even theirs. It’s a long, long road.”

Keep streaming platforms in mind

Although Franco describes the road for wannabe film directors as a long and often arduous one, he does believe that new entertainment media are bringing up more opportunities for talented individuals. “So far, independent films have been left out of the commercial film circuit, but the news of streaming platforms like Netflix coming along is good. They offer a bigger audience and an ability to categorise that audience into niche interests and that’s a great opportunity for independent filmmakers,” he says.

Keep up with the latest trends in the industry

Be aware of what is happening in independent film and foster your creativity with other examples from the industry by attending festivals or visiting websites and forums on the subject like the Lisbon Film Rendezvous. Other options in Europe include Fantasporto in Porto, for those working in the fantasy, thriller and horror genres, and Raindance in London, for filmmakers looking for their first break. Websites worth keeping an eye on include Indietalk to chat and exchange ideas with other filmmakers and Hope for Film, the website and blog of Ted Hope, independent filmmaker and now co-head of motion pictures at Amazon Movies, where he offers insights into the film industry.

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