10 commandments of independent film and how to obey them

I’m writing this on Easter 2020 during the lockdown. This state imposed exile reminds me of The Book of Job. In this story, Job, a rich man, is tested about his faith. He loses everything, but still believes in his faith. And that’s because he realises that he has been taking too much for granted. Strong lessons for us as a civilisation. We we learn form this health crises? wil kindness return as the new currency?

My name is Elliot Grove. I’m not big on preaching a commandment, but I’ve been running Raindance since 1992. Back in those days everyone shot on film- 35mm if you could afford it. We made expensive film prints that showed in cinemas. To promote those screenings we printed and mailed expensive leaflets and posters and bought ads in newspapers.

Movie making has changed direction big time. We don’t do any of those things anymore. The only thing that has stayed the same is that making a movie is hard work; but it’s not difficult if you follow these 10 basic steps:

Commandment 1. Thou shalt have a fantastic screenplay

It’s basic stuff here, and it’s the step most unsuccessful filmmakers skip over- and it’s why they fail. Get a great script and you are on the road to success.
Read: Kira-Anne Pelican’s Creating Character Web

Commandment 2. Thou shalt understand keywords and SEO tools

Your keywords are how people will find out about you and your film project. Get the free keyword tools and learn how to incorporate them into your screenplay, film title and press releases. Get more people to follow your Twitter and Facebook account. Do a search for ‘keyword tools’ or use Google’s keyword tool.

Commandment 3. Thou shalt secure some development finance

Maybe this enforced break has given you the time you need to work on your project. Assuming of course that health and financial worrieds haven’t turned you into an anxious wreck!

Back to normality – remember – it doesn’t need to be a lot. But a few weeks worth of money to keep the wolf and the landlord off your back will allow you to get properly organised, hunt down superior locations, get sponsorship and find a terrific production office.

Commandment 4. Thou shalt spend proper time in pre-production

When budgets are slim you can’t ‘buy’ your way out of a cock-up. You need to plan, plan, and plan some more.

The week or two before you shoot is pretty crucial. If you have a well-oiled and organised approach, this time will help you make sure that whatever freebies and cheap deals you have managed to gather will serve you to the fullest and not be wasted. Make sure you have the legal angles covered as well.

Commandment 5. Thou shalt understand the shoot and exploit it to maximum advantage

Shooting on film, or Red, or another HD format can be intimidating and expensive if approached incorrectly. Choose the camera that fits your story and your budget. Understand the workflows through the entire production process and make sure everyone on your team agrees- from camera person to editor.

Commandment 6. Thou shalt not fix it in Post-Production

You can fix it in post, but it’s expensive. Make sure your editor has a voice before and during the shoot, thus avoiding costly pick-up shots.
Read: How film directors screw editors

Commandment 7. Thou shalt clear all music in your film

No music clearance means that you can’t show your film in most film festivals. It also means you can’t sell your film.
Read: Clearing music for independent films

Raindance is also presenting a Legal Lockdown on Clearing Music Rights

Commandment 8. Thou shalt prepare professional publicity and marketing materials

‘Nuff Said: Read the 7 Essentials Of A Press Kit

Commandment 9. Thou shalt use film festivals to launch your film

Film festivals are the new theatrical releases. Pick and choose the film festivals that get behind your film. We are pretty certain Raindance has launched more film careers than any other British film festival – but we aren’t the only good festival in the UK.
Read: World’s Top 100 Film Festivals
Read: The 4 Reasons To Attend Film Festivals

Commandment 10. Thou shalt create a distribution strategy

Until you can picture the acquisition executive of a distribution company and imagine the poster and marketing campaign the marketing manager needs to put together, it is unlikely you will sell your film.

Fade Out

The health epidemic sweeping the world has actually been a huge advantage for indepednent filmmakers. With cinemas closed and film festivals moving online, now is the time for independent filmmakers to seize the day and show how creative innovation can sweep everything away.

Job’s lesson is this: Learn what mistakes and misjugements you hae made in the past. Look back to see what you have taken for granted. and then embrace the new.

For new, post COVID-19 is what you, I and the world are getting. Come hell or high water.



Photo Credit David Martinez / BIFA 2018

Few people know more filmmakers and screenwriters than Elliot Grove. Elliot is the founder of Raindance Film Festival (1993) and the British Independent Film Awards (1998). He has produced over 700 hundred short films and five feature films: the multi-award-winning The Living and the Dead (2006), Deadly Virtues (2013), AMBER (2017), Love is Thicker Than Water (2018) and the SWSX Grand Jury Prize winner Alice (2019). He teaches screenwriting and producing in the UK, Europe, Asia and America.

Raindance BREXiT trailer 2019

Elliot has written three books which have become industry standards: Raindance Writers’ Lab: Write + Sell the Hot Screenplay, now in its second edition, Raindance Producers’ Lab: Lo-To-No Budget Filmmaking and Beginning Filmmaking: 100 Easy Steps from Script to Screen (Professional Media Practice).

In 2009 he was awarded a PhD for services to film education.

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