5 Things Independent Filmmakers Can Learn from Heist Movies - Raindance

Hesit MoviesIndie film isn’t anyone’s idea of a practical career choice, but I can think of riskier pursuits: bringing to market a sugar-based beverage that will compete with Coke or becoming the world’s greatest Vladimir Putin impersonator.

Look, I realize that none of this will convince your fund-trader brother that you have a viable future, but he’s likely an idiot anyway. It does raise an important question though. Where do indie filmmakers go for moral support and mentors early on? Raindance is definitely your first stop.

But if you don’t live in a Raindance city, I’d recommend watching heist movies. Turkish. Dominic Cobb. Danny Ocean, these guys know a lot about high-risk survival on the periphery. Indie filmmakers should take heed.

1) Making the Impossible Happen   

Would you watch a heist film where the hero’s objective was to skim a fraction of a cent off bank transactions over ten years in order to retire to Nassau? Forget that. If chances of success aren’t next to nil, there’s no heist movie. In Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, four blue-collar hustlers are conned in a high-stakes card game and have to come up with half a million pounds in a week or they’ll lose their lives and Sting’s bar. Sting isn’t someone I’d want to disappoint. He knows ancient Eastern secrets. He could play his sitar and do some tantric stuff that would mess you up forever. Much like our East London conmen, indie filmmakers face incredibly tough odds and the stakes are high. But that’s what you signed up for. Go make impossible movies happen.

2) Concept is King. Now pitch it. 

Wes Anderson films are packed with oddballs, rogues and Wilson brothers. Guys with strange quirks and intricately-planned concepts. In Bottle Rocket, Anthony’s been out of the mental institution for all of fifteen minutes when Dignan starts pulling out the spiral notebooks and hand-drawn flowcharts, pitching a step-by-step transition to a life of robbery and adventure. Here’s the important point: No one would mistake Dignan for a showman. So while it certainly doesn’t hurt to be suave and dapper, all the George Clooney adjectives in the world won’t make up for conviction deficiency. If you don’t believe your script or movie project can be pulled off, no one else will. Dignan believed and he reeled them in.  You have to believe in yourself as a writer, director or producer and believe in your unique way to bring it about. Period.

3) Assembling your team and fine-tuning the plan

teamOnce you’ve sold your main co-conspirator on the concept, it’s time to collect your madcap technicians. In Ocean’s Eleven, Danny and Rusty take to the road. A dog racing track. A Chinese circus. The L in Chicago. For me this is the coolest part of film. Lessons for the indie filmmaker? A tight concept and a tighter blueprint will help you crew above your weight. Detail the plan. Finalize the roles and potential problems. Be clinical and professional. One more insight: Don’t forget to work out how you plan to sell the merchandise once you’ve pulled this crazy caper off. As Danny Ocean will tell you, there’s no sense stealing Incan matrimonial head masks if you can’t fence them.

4) And then the Gods Laugh at you

Multiple story lines weave and u-turn in Snatch, but since Turkish is holding the diamond as the credits roll, I’ll focus on how his plan goes wrong. When Brad Pitt speed-bags Gorgeous George out of an unlicensed boxing match, Turkish has to come up with an alternative strategy if he hopes to avoid being fed to Brick Top’s pigs. So he recruits Pitt, the bare-knuckles Irish gypsy boxing champion, as a replacement fighter. But instead of going down in the 4th as instructed, Pitt drops Bomber Harris. We zoom in on Turkish’s stunned face. Remember this expression. As an indie filmmaker, you’re bound to be wearing it at some point. Take heart. It wouldn’t be much of a story or accomplishment if the Gods didn’t laugh at you first.

5) Improvise and Extreme cross-cut to the finish line

finish lineInception is a brilliant twist on a heist film, but I still don’t know what happened in the climax. All I can say with certainty is that my dream world is no place I want to get lost in. Look, no one’s saying the final leg of your film production is going to be as complicated as dreams within dreams within dreams, but the action will likely cross-cut at a frenzied pace and it will demand every ounce of your improvisational guile. You’ll have to push your team and keep your eye on the end-game. That’s the price of being the mastermind. Whether you’re implanting an idea in the dreams of a billionaire with unresolved father issues, stealing a diamond the size of a 5-pin bowling ball or making your first short film with zero budget, you’ll need a big final play. No one’s ever made this movie before. If you don’t steel yourself to make history, you probably won’t.

Steal Away!