• The One Key To Indie Filmmaking Today


Filmmaking: getting the resources to make your film, actually making it, and getting it out there — are all now more accessible than ever.

We’ve learned a ton in making our first documentary, and we want to bring that process to you in one post. But these ideas are so much bigger than us. We interviewed Shane & Lydia Hurlbut, Ryan Koo of NoFilmSchool, the CEO of Tugg.com, as well as Annie Roney of ro*co films (an international distributer). With that, we bring you an in-depth look at the one key to independent filmmaking today: community.

In the world of independent filmmaking, there’s the old way of doing things, and now there’s a new way.

While the old way often requires you to sell your soul to a distributor and make a deal that waives most or all of your rights, the new way gives you (the filmmaker) total control over how the film is marketed and distributed.

We’re living in a time where the internet is drastically changing the way people watch television and movies, and the way that filmmakers both fund their films and get them seen. We think this is a blessing!

We just poured so much energy into the #standwithme story — and we’re not about to give up all of our rights because this is “the film business as usual.” That’s old school thinking, and it’s no longer the only option in a world where — if you try hard enough — you can successfully crowd fund $200,000 to buy a video of Rob Ford smoking crack.

There is a new economy of filmmaking; one that is driven by filmmakers who believe in their stories, and communities who demand stories to believe in. Personally, we think it’s the best thing that could ever happen to storytelling.

This “new economy of filmmaking” has been shaking things up at every level of the process:

  • High quality cameras and equipment are no longer reserved for massive budgets. You can even rent from awesome companies like LensProToGo, which means an even lower investment to get started.
  • Crowd-sourced fundraising through Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and several other platforms provides the opportunity for anyone pitch to investors — and the investors can also be anyone!
  • More and more crowdfunding options are becoming available for self-distribution — and they’re working.

But, let’s be honest: these are uncharted waters we’re diving into. Crowd funding is still new enough that we had to Google it to see if it’s one word, hyphenated, or whatever.

But that’s what is so exciting about the new, community-driven structure of filmmaking — it’s new — and every success story feels rather unique. What works for some films might not work for others, because in the end it’s all about how the film resonates with the communities that have the power to either support it.

What could be more exciting than this? It’s no longer about having piles of money or finding someone with piles of money — it’s about finding people who believe in what you’re doing, and passing them the collection basket.

Everything feels so… accessible.

You don’t need a $30,000 camera to make a movie anymore.

You don’t even need a $5,000 camera. When P. started in filmmaking, his first paying job was for a local TV shooter who told the story of owing $100k + on his camera. He had to take a mortgage out on his mothers home. For real.

When we hear the term “DSLR revolution” being tossed around, that’s because it really was a revolution. It changed everything, and opened up a world of cinematic possibilities that we’re all still exploring. Filmmakers everywhere are pushing their DSLRs to do things that weren’t possible 10 years ago.

Hell and Back Again is a feature length doc shot entirely on the Canon 5D Mark II. This film won the Grand Jury Prize as well as the prize for Cinematography at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival…

… all with the Mark II?!

It feels like every day there are new advancements popping up, and the cameras are getting less and less expensive. And look at something like the MoVI — offering the ability to do long tracking shots and stabilize in one — and you can get the M5 for $5,000.

A few years ago, this kind of technology at this price was not attainable. Now it is.

How does that change the way we tell stories?

With all the possibilities available with camera tools today, storytelling is no longer about having a giant setup.

Here’s what Ryan Koo from NoFilmSchool had to add:

Spend 99% of your energy and focus on the script. Get the script to the point where you think it’s as good as it’s going to get, and then get notes on it from several sources. Then make it better. Spend the remaining 1% of your energy on making sure the sound is good! The idea is not to make something “professional.” The idea is to make something unique!

We asked Koo for his thoughts because we’ve seen how much he embraces new world filmmaking — including crowd-sourced funding.

Koo successfully raised $125,000 on Kickstarter for Man-child, his documentary about the high-stakes world of youth basketball.

Crowdfunding has officially changed the game.

Not only are the tools we need to make gorgeous films more accessible than ever — the funding we need to make those films is more attainable — and so much more meaningful. Backers get special gifts for contributing, and they get to follow the momentum of the project.

In the world of independent filmmaking, this is such a blessing.

The best thing about crowdfunding is that it starts the community-building process before you’ve even made the film. These people are your supporters, and they’ll want to see where their dollars went after the film is finished.

Running a successful Kickstarter campaign is, however, a full-time job. And that’s why we didn’t do it.

When it came time to approach funding for #standwithme, we came very close to starting a Kickstarter… then we decided against it. We read Ryan Koo’s blog post over at NFS on how much time he actually spent running his KS campaign… his team clocked in at about 90 hours per week running the 38-day campaign. Our film was time-sensitive in many respects. We had to capture the journey of Vivienne’s lemonade stand transitioning into something much greater — a full-scale beverage company for social good. We had to make the film right away, and we wouldn’t be able to devote the 90+ hours a week that is required to run a Kickstarter campaign correctly.

This was the right choice. Looking back now, if we had tried to do both… we probably would have failed at both! We had to focus all of our energy on telling the #standwithme story, and so we created #standwithme, LLC and funded most of the film ourselves, along with one private investor. Finding an investor wasn’t easy, but it was far less time-consuming than managing a crowd funding campaign. Funding this film ourselves also hasn’t been easy — it’s a huge risk that will continue to hang over our heads, but we tend to do our best work under pressure! :)

It’s important to not take on too much at once, and remember that if you are going to rock the pants off of a Kickstarter campaign… you better not be wearing any other pants during that crucial 30-day period.

And then of course, there’s everything that happens after you make the film…

Direct distribution is a thing, and it’s amazing (though a big, giant challenge).

So, right now at Stillmotion HQ, our minds have been focused on one thing: distribution.

Where do we begin, what do we prioritize?
How can we actually generate revenue?
What are the risks?

These are all the questions that are currently running through our heads for #standwithme, and we’re on the phone all the time! We knew that distribution was going to be a lot of work, and it’s proving to be more work than actually making the film!

But just like there was an old way for shooting a film and funding a film, there’s an old way for distributing a film…

How does the “old way” work, exactly?

And how are major distributors changing things up to accommodate the needs of filmmakers?

First let’s outline the standard way of handling distribution:

  • Filmmakers make the film.
  • Hoping to get a distribution deal, they enter into festivals and don’t show the film anywhere (distributors and festivals don’t want a movie that isn’t exclusively premiering at a festival).
  • Should the flimmakers be lucky enough to get a distribution deal, their film is then purchased by a distributor — possibly earning back the cost of production, possibly less, possibly more. Either way, the filmmakers are handing over all of their rights to the film!
  • The marketing of the film is then entirely up to the distribution company, and they can change anything they want…
  • The film (probably) goes straight to DVD (especially with docs), and the filmmakers see almost none of the profits.

We wanted to get more insight on why the world of distribution can be rather confusing and lead to problems for the filmmakers.

We spoke with Annie Roney, founder of ro*co films, the leading International distributor for documentary films.

What people often don’t realize is that International distribution and distribution inside of the U.S. are entirely different beasts. Filmmakers should be weary of deals that promise both.

She went on to tell us, however, that new types of deals are being made. Split-rights deals, rather than all-rights deals. These are deals that give more rights to the filmmakers rather than asking them to sacrifice their vision so they can get something rather than nothing.

Major distributor Oscilloscope made a split-rights deal with the creators of After Tiller, a documentary with a controversial subject matter that easily could have been marketed against the filmmakers’ wishes. Because they were able to make a deal with Oscilloscope that protected many of their rights, the film entered the market as the filmmakers had intended.

Now a film can come to market completely unencumbered.

- Annie Roney, ro*co films

The times they are a-changin’ for filmmakers at every level of production, and now really is the time for all of us to start acting on our dream projects — because it can be done.

One famous report by Peter Broderick, “Welcome To The New World of Filmmaking,” outlines all the reasons why the “New World” or the new, internet-harnessing economy of film distribution is absolutely in the best interest of independent filmmakers.

Peter puts it very simply:

“By enabling filmmakers in the New World to reach audiences directly and dramatically reducing their distribution costs, it empowers them to keep control of their “content’.”

This is exactly what we want — control over how our content is presented to the world in order to stay true to the story we’re trying to tell.

Broderick breaks down the differences between Old World and New World distribution in this very old school graphic:

At every point in the process — from production to distribution — we’re not sacrificing our story. This is what filmmakers everywhere need to be excited about! Regardless of the opportunity, we’re never losing sight of the story, and that is the most important thing when you’re trying to tell a story that makes an impact.

The story, above all else, can not be sacrificed.

With the “old school” method of distribution, this mentality and magic is lost in the process of making a deal with distributors and handing over the rights to the film.

Shane and Lydia Hurlbut expanded upon this for us:

“The story is at the heart of everything. Understanding the “why” you are creating a project that is centered around interesting characters and their emotional journey is the consistent factor that makes a feature, documentary, or short form content valuable and interesting.

There are many incredible tools available to storytellers and different ways to get independent projects funded either independently or through crowd sourcing. Once completed, it is the distribution process or “getting the word out” that is critical. Filmmakers now have the opportunity to customize that experience to get a movie in a local theater through sites like Gathr or Tugg.

Movies are made to entertain and make you think. It is exciting to know that they now may customize options to personalize your project. To be authentic, to have people have a sense of the way that you tell stories sets you apart.”

This is the world we’re currently diving into — the other, customizable options that the Hurlbut team mentions.

When it comes to public screenings and premieres, new crowdfunded platforms are making demand-driven screenings come to life.

Tugg, Gathr, and OpenIndie allow for crowdsourced screenings.

If you can crowdsource production costs… why not crowdsource an audience?

There are three major platforms for crowdsourcing a premiere:


Each of them work generally the same way: a community member in any city nominates a film to be screened in that city, the community rallies behind it, and if enough people buy a ticket — the platform books a theater and brings the film to the city.

Platforms like Tugg, Gathr, and OpenIndie are perfect examples of how the new world of film distribution is centered around community demand, and reduce the risk involved with a small studio like ours booking their own premiere.

We talked with Nick Gonda, the CEO at Tugg about how their company bridged that gap:

Tugg needed to build something that would be able to surgicaly remove the risk involved with a demand-driven distribution process.

This model is ideal because it reduces the risk of paying for a theater that doesn’t sell, and it allows for the community to really have the power. If the threshold is not met, no one is charged and the premiere doesn’t happen in that city. If the threshold is exceeded, Tugg works with the city’s theaters to find the space that will fit the capacity of the audience.

This is also widely beneficial to the theaters, who are looking to fill their space as much as possible.

Here’s how this kind of thing works:

Screen Shot 2013-12-13 at 12.05.36 PM
Tugg was formed due to the rising anxiety surrounding the uprise of digital and online watching.

Remember that — when people were freaking out about how no one would go to the theater anymore?

But it’s not that people don’t want to go see things at the theater — it’s that with the wide availability of things to watch on the internet, people’s interest in WHAT they actually want to see is becoming more and more specific.

The reason that crowd funded premiere options like this one are so exciting is because they allow for magic to happen that hasn’t happened before.

How crowdfunded distribution made history with Honor Flight


Tugg worked closely with Freethink Media, the filmmakers behind this film, and told us about their amazing story.

At first this doc was considered to be esoteric and not too impactful in the marketplace.

This film was a tiny, unheard of documentary that distributors and marketers turned away from because they felt there was no audience. So, the team turned to direct distribution and started spreading the word.

What happened next?…

Honor Flight
broke the Guinness world record for the largest attendance at a film screening in history, at a whopping 28, 442 attendees. They held the screening at a baseball stadium.

Nick told us this story and we were blown away. How? How did they go from being considered “esoteric” to breaking the record for attendees at a screening?

They had a team of about 5 people that acted as the community outreach muscle. Every day they woke up and thought about different communities they could reach out to.

Veterans and their families, people who have lost loved ones in the war, people currently serving in the military… they knew this was the starting point for their fan base, and they reached out to these communities. From these groups they were then able to reach more communities that they were connected to — and they snowballed into to over 28,000 people in a baseball stadium watching Honor Flight.

They believed in their story, they didn’t let go of that magic, and they followed it straight into the communities that would demand the film.


Filmmakers who believe in their stories, and communities who demand stories to believe in.

Community is THE MOST important aspect of modern independent filmmaking that one can gather from this blog post (well, aside from having a great story… that’s still #1).

The entire model is built upon communal support of your film’s topic. But you can’t have just one community that you reach out to — it’s got to be everyone who would have some connection to the film.

This means that if you want to get communal support for your film’s production or distribution costs — you really have to analyze the types of people who are going to connect with what you’re doing, and do everything you can to reach out to those communities.


For an idea of where our head’s at with #standwithme, here are some of the communities that we have reached out to and that have been most supportive.

Slavery Advocacy Groups/Non-Profits. We feature the director at Free The Slaves in our film, as well as several organizations that help with rehabilitating people after they are freed from slavery. And, well, our film is about slavery — so this one is kind of a no brainer.

Fair Trade Certified Companies/Farmers.
With Vivienne’s lemonade being an organic, Fair Trade product, made with the purpose of doing social good — much of our film focuses on the role that Fair Trade USA plays in the eradication of slavery across the globe. One segment of our film focuses specifically on how farming communities are able to stay out of poverty and support themselves through Fair Trade — putting them at a much lesser risk of falling into slavery.

Parents. Vivienne is an amazing kid, and in the film we talk with several children who have been enslaved for much of their lives. Parents have a deep understanding of just how vulnerable children are at this age — and often they’re some of the most passionate about this topic.

Fellow Filmmakers. That’s you! We’ve spent years sharing our experiences here on this blog and through our educational workshops and products. This is a small little community here that we’ve built, and our hope is that you all will come out to support this film and talk with us at the premiere! And, of course, attend our workshop tour as well :)

These are the core communities that our content will resonate with the most — but from here, we can still reach so many other groups! That’s how the connecting process works, that’s how word of mouth and telling stories works, and that’s how taking a stand works.

One person takes a stand, and others join them — that’s the foundation that the new filmmaking economy is built on, and that’s the principle that the #standwithme story is built on.

Driven by story, guided by heart… and inspired by community.

We’ve created Story & Heart as a place where filmmakers can gather to connect with, encourage, and challenge each other. Story & Heart is for creators, artists who seek inspiration through inspiring others.

We’re excited to discover what happens when you are given the right tools and support to mine the energy that drew you — that drew all of us — to filmmaking in the first place. We believe that when you have the freedom to tell the stories you love, what you can create will transform the world.
For more, visit storyandheart.com and help build this community with us.

Now, more than ever, you can bring a project to life.

The absolute biggest thing we want you to take away from this blog post is how much more accessible EVERYTHING is in the the new world of filmmaking — all due to the power of community. If you have passion, inspiration, and a great story to share — you could film it on an iPhone if you wanted to, and make a feature-length iPhone film that blows people out of the water. You could crowd fund your production costs, get people to rally behind what you’re doing, and use a screening platform to show it to the world.

That’s just one example of course, but the point is that technology and the incredible spirit of crowd sourced funding allow for the power of community-backed films to come to life.

We think this is so f%*king inspiring, and there’s nothing we want to see more than all of you taking advantage of community-based filmmaking in 2014.

Wanna get started now? Enter to win $15,000 to green light your dream film with our Let’s Dream Together contest! You’ve got until January 23rd, 2014 to enter!


Visit StorytellingWithHeart.com to pitch us your dream project!

Want to tell the stories you love?

“The New Economy of Filmmaking” is one of many approaches we’ll be teaching at our upcoming filmmaking workshop, Storytelling With Heart. This workshop is all about how to tell remarkable stories. We want to see you there, we want to collaborate, we want to be a part of your story.

Register for the workshop!

As always, we want to hear your thoughts in the comments.

What excites you the most about filmmaking today?

Let’s hear it!

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13 Thoughts on “The One Key To
Indie Filmmaking Today

  1. True story – I am a dentist whose patients cancelled for the afternoon. When not restoring smiles, I spend a lot of time exploring film making (especially documentary film making) and making some of my own short films – often about dentistry (imagine that!). Today I found myself on your Vimeo page, and after a few clicks and a few Google searches down the rabbit hole of the web, I quickly discovered your #standwithme masterpiece (or at least the trailers and behind the scenes videos). I am truly looking forward to see your film. Your blog, your videos, and especially this post strike chords with me, as, despite being a very amatuer filmmaker, I deeply believe in the idea of a powerful story and the art of story telling and agree with and am educated by much of what you write. Thank you for breaking down how the industry is changing in this post. Your insights are incredibly enlightening, and I really do appreciate you sharing your experience. I am a child of the DSLR film revolution and have found it hard to express my excitement to others about this “revolution” since my circle of friends tend to discuss how technology is transforming dentistry and not film. As of recent I have made it a goal to network with more film folks (especially documentary film folks) and have been scouring the web for groups, meetups, film festivals…any place where I can find the community in a face to face setting. The web is a marvelous place to learn and explore this craft, though I think your point of finding and interacting with the actual community is absolutely on point. Any recommendations on getting involved with the “community” in a face-to-face way would be greatly appreciated. Again, thank you for sharing your passion; it has meant a great deal to me.

  2. I’m currently editing my first project for my national television and with a future in mind, this was very inspiring and informative article. Thanks!

  3. Oh, Patrick you just did it, for the umpteenth time: left my head spinning and my heart pounding! Every time I think of the doc I’m just beginning, and see the hurdle-of-the-day I’m trying to wrap my head around, you post another piece that says — and shows — ways to keep myself moving ahead. I’m working on my Let’s Dream entry…
    Thank you, and the entire Stillmotion team, for all you do to support and encourage us to transform our dreams into reality!!

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