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You Don’t Get What You Don’t Ask For: John Rangel on Free Stuff for Indie Films

April 15, 2011 | By | Add a Comment

Editor’s note: This article is the first in what will become a regularly published column by local filmmaker, John Rangel. These articles are re-posted with permission from Rangel’s blog.

We shot scenes for 'south loop' at my apartment - free of charge.

John Rangel

I’ve recently been hired to direct “Measure,” an ultra-low budget crime drama.  We’re shooting primarily in Cincinnati with some exteriors being shot in Chicago.  This has a lot to do with the producers having a wealth of resources in Cincinnati, which leads me to today’s post.

Joe and Julie, the producers of “Measure,” put out an email to people in that area with whom they’d worked on previous projects.  They basically gave a list of things we’ll need for production – locations, props, costumes, crew positions, roles, catering, and so on – and graciously asked their colleagues and friends for whatever they might be able to provide us.

And that’s how all ultra-low budget movies should start – by looking for free (or really cheap) shit.  It takes a wealth of services and goods to make a movie and, for the most part, they all cost money.  However, truly independent movies don’t have money to pay for everything needed.  So, you take all the free (or really cheap) shit you can get.

And that can be tough for most people.  It isn’t easy approaching family, friends, or colleagues and basically begging for stuff.  Luckily, that isn’t a problem for my producers or me.  And it shouldn’t be a problem for any filmmaker dying to make her movie.

Good friends of mine let me use their homes for 'south loop,' including this condo.

And this should make it easier – you, the independent filmmaker, are likely surrounded by well-grounded, pragmatic people who wouldn’t dare try and make a movie.  But they probably would love to be a part in seeing that your movie is made.  The truth is that there is an overwhelming abundance of good will out there for independent filmmakers.  We dreamers can only fly among the clouds because we are surrounded by loving and supportive people who enjoy helping us get off the ground.  So they give us free (or really cheap) shit, and we thank them however we can.

And don’t forget that part.  Whenever you receive free (or really cheap) shit, you reciprocate in some fashion.  More times than not that means a “Special Thank You” in the credits, a DVD copy of the movie or maybe even a credit of some kind should the size of the contribution warrant such.  Sometimes, you can or perhaps should give small, walk-on roles to people who are helping you get your movie made.

Still, don’t forget that you’re making a movie.  You don’t want to simply hand out roles to just anyone.  The integrity of your movie isn’t worth the free (or really cheap) shit you’re receiving.  Make a great movie above all else.  So, hand out walk-ons to people who can be great in the part, and they just happen to be contributing something else to the movie along the way.

Another common contribution to the truly independent movie is favors given by fellow filmmakers.  You could have some very talented collaborators take a huge cut in pay or loan you equipment or put you in touch with a vendor that gave them an unbelievable deal.  The best way to thank your fellow filmmakers is to do the same for other filmmakers.  In other words, if you’re on the receiving end of an email like Joe and Julie’s, be one of the first to offer whatever resources you can.

Every location, including this condo, was free for my first feature 'south loop.'

Finally, don’t forget to be creative in who you approach.  Of course, start with those who love and support you, but it doesn’t have to end there.  I once had a student production of mine completely catered by Olive Garden because the manager of the local franchise went to the same school as I.  All I did was walk in the door and ask if he could give me a good deal.

Joe and Julie just sent their email a week or so ago and already we have had a wonderful response.  We’re being offered locations, props, places to house cast and crew, and more.  Of course, some of this is due to Joe and Julie’s abilities to forge great relationships.  Julie spent years creating a network that paid off with her and Joe’s first production “Joy.”  And giving their collaborators a wonderful experience on that first production garnered the loyalty that Joe and Julie can count on for future productions.  If they hadn’t, we wouldn’t be receiving all the free (or really cheap) shit that we are.

Rangel is writer, producer and director of the recent film south loop. Rangel has won numerous awards for his films including “Best of Chicago” at the 2003 Chicago International Film Festival and “Best Short Film” at both the 2004 New York Latino International Film Festival, and the 2004 Imagen Awards.

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