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Keep the fire burning, Indie Filmmakers

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Original Post by Laurie Lamson

Filmmaking, even independent filmmaking, long remained the domain of the few. Since the beginning over a hundred years ago, high costs and logistical complexity kept all but the most fiercely unstoppable independent filmmakers from making movies.

Now that many of the practical issues have been overcome, it’s turned into a craze – seems like everybody’s doing it!

The landscape has completely transformed since I went to NYU Film School in the 80s. For one thing, I was one of the only women in the program and was told that women do not have the opportunity to be cinematographers or directors in the film industry. My education consisted of learning the language of film and a lot of wonderful tools while being told I’d never get to use them again.

So when I graduated I sunk into a 3-month depression. Making my own little movies had been my calling and the highlight of my life. How would I be able to hone my skills? When would I ever get another opportunity to work on my craft, as I was able to in school?

Hi-resolution video such as 1″, Betacam, Beta SP and Digital Betacam were almost as cost prohibitive as film. And for me and my fellows it was all about celluloid – we considered ourselves ‘purists’ – convinced the look of video could never measure up to film. We would never lower our aesthetic standards.

In addition, video editing at the time had major drawbacks because you could only cut in a linear fashion, beginning to end, rather than creating and rearranging sequences. And if you made a copy the quality began to degrade. We needed the creative freedom of nonlinear editing and the richness of the film image. We enjoyed the tactile thrill of film in our hands, and gladly paid the price – struggling to organize hundreds of tiny strips and splicing pieces together – hopefully without damaging them.

When the AVID came out I learned the advantages of non-linear video editing. There are still diehards who bemoan the demise of flatbed editing and some even think nonlinear video is ‘cheating’. (It’s how an old-school writer accustomed to his typewriter might feel about word processing.)

In the same amount of time it would take to cut one version of a sequence on a flatbed, you can create three or four different versions and view them one right after the other, rather than re-cutting for a few more hours and trying to remember what the first version looked like. Personally, I prefer to spend my time playing with the material and making creative choices rather than pulling tape off splices and searching for a few missing frames.

But the AVID is an expensive machine. And at the time it was only used for off-line. To get a quality finished project, you needed to conform your edit in what’s called an ‘on-line edit’, and those on-line suites started at $250 – per hour. (Flatbeds for film editing rented by the week.)

Flash forward to the 21st century – now I have a digital ‘pro-sumer’ camera and finally do my own professional shooting and directing – working with affordable editors with home systems. With this camera my images still don’t look like film, but they are broadcast quality, look amazing on the internet, and it’s certainly worth the sacrifice to be able to pursue my dream.

Everyone knows what created the current perfect storm for indie filmmakers – video that can operate in low light and maintain its quality when it’s copied (because it’s digital), non-linear editing software on a desktop computer, film festivals, the internet and other alternative outlets. I think it’s also the public’s recent embrace of the rough around the edges/documentary aesthetic.

Today almost anyone can pick up a camera without a clue what they’re doing and get rave reviews on You Tube. I’m sure this irks some of my peers who’ve toiled under the old ’system’ for years. But I think it’s a good thing.

For centuries, the majority of published books were written by white men and their point of view was incredibly powerful in shaping society. Today, books are readily available from all walks of life, and this has allowed us to see, and even embrace a variety of points of view.

The movie industry is slowly shifting, but major motion pictures are still largely under the control of the few – with corporate interests outweighing all other concerns. It is the newly empowered indie filmmaker who provides access to the real stories behind the news stories, and windows on to the whole range of life experiences.

We still need resources, and God knows they’re not free, but with the tenacity our breed is known for, a little help from our friends, and the creative vision to see our projects through, we can make and distribute unique digital movies that explore terrain the big pictures never could, and more importantly, never would. So keep the fire burning, indie filmmakers. The world needs us!

Laurie Lamson is a writer / filmmaker with a BFA in film production from NYU Tisch School of the Arts. Laurie writes, produces and/or directs videos that make the most of the documentary and independent aesthetic. She makes mini-docs for creative businesses and has been hired for a range of writing projects from editing books to creating website/PR material to promo scripts and feature screenplays.

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