Being an independent artist has often been called a labor of love. But whether your dream is filmmaking, music, visual art, or a TikTok phenomenon, it’s more than that. It’s the dream river, wider than a life, living on air that is provided by your art and without it, you simply cannot breathe, and you certainly can’t imagine doing anything else.
Whatever the calling, it comes from the heart, but it also requires business savvy, and The Business can chew you up with no regard for how much of your heart and soul was put into your work.
The entertainment industry, and movie making in particular, is one of the most cutthroat businesses. There’s a lot at stake. Filmmaking requires a lot of key elements. It’s no secret that studios spend hundreds of millions of dollars on one film. Rarely do independent movies like the 2004 American science fiction film written, directed, and produced by Shane Carruth, a former mathematician and engineer, have a streamlined budget of only $7,000. Eventually, Carruth’s film made $841,926 at the box office
Normally, even for small Indie films, the average budget is around $15,000 to $30,000. It’s all about money in the entertainment world. However, even if you have a large budget, there is no guarantee that your film will get into a festival.
So, what does it take to be a successful independent filmmaker and win the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at Sundance that has over 14,000 plus shorts and feature entries submitted each year?
It can be a long game. No filmmaker comes out of nowhere. According to several articles about Nikyatu Jusu, the 2022 winner, she has been in the business for 15 years and has a host of accolades and awards for her short films under her belt. Nanny, her film that earned her this year’s distinction, is a 98-minute horror film that included special effects and “creature features,” which made it visually powerful. Nanny was a project that Jusu had been thinking about for nine years. Blumhouse and Prime video acquired the distribution rights for the film for $7 million.
However, you don’t have to win at Sundance to be picked up by a major distributor. Directed by Fabio Frey, My Dead Dad, was honored with the Jury Award for Best Feature Film at the Jacksonville Film Festival and Best Feature Award for Drama at the Santa Clarita International Film Festival (SCIFF). Subsequently, it was picked up for distribution by HBO Max.
What Jusu and Frey have in common is they have a vision, passion, and a long history of dedication in the business, as well as building connections and a community.
They follow their drive not their fears.
At the core they know that filmmaking cannot be done alone, which helps reduce any foundering. Their successes are in part due to having a group of kindred spirits surround them and choosing to team up with people who believe in them, support them, and have the fever for, and just as much fervor for, motion picture making as they do.