A true independent film

buzz_mclaughlin_producerPart 1: Independent vs. Studio films

Often I find that people are confused by what is meant by an “independent feature film” as opposed to any other film you might see at a theatre.

A true independent film is one that has been entirely produced outside of the Hollywood studio system.  It has no studio financing, no studio control over artistic elements or personnel, including the final cut of the film, and, in most cases, no guarantee of distribution.  It is conceived of, financed, and made by a group of people who have a collective passion for the story they want to tell and an almost obsessive determination to get their movie completed and into the marketplace so it can be experienced by the public they’re convinced is going to embrace it with open arms.

An independent feature film company is a David facing the Goliath of the Hollywood “System.” These are films made on faith and trust and with a belief that what they have to communicate is important, if not critical, to the future of our culture and society, and because of that belief there’s a willingness, almost an eagerness, to attempt to beat the odds.

Recent years have seen an increase in the number of successful independent films that are made outside of the studio system and eventually gain wide distribution. Most have taken the film festival route, gaining recognition through garnering awards and positive response at showcase festivals such as Sundance or Toronto and then landing a distribution deal with an established distributor.  Budgets have ranged from a few hundred thousand dollars up to twenty million dollars.

Because of these successes there’s an ample and seemingly unending supply of independent films being produced every year by filmmakers who believe their movie will beat the odds and somehow find a wide audience.

Well, for better or worse, I’m one of these people.  So is my business partner Aaron Wiederspahn.  Five years ago we formed an independent film company called Either/Or Films and–call us crazy–we set out to produce our first feature film.

What I’m about to tell you is our story of what it was like to make “The Sensation of Sight.” Hopefully it will shed some light on an exciting aspect of the film business–how it works and the many phases involved in actually producing an independent feature film.

(Next: How it all began…)

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  1. John Wayne Bosley said,
    September 6, 2009 @ 9:33 pm

    Great intro and I am sure for people out there that don’t trully understand the word “independent” that it helped them to get a better understanding.

    I believe that what happens with “independent film” is a sign of not just the film industry but also industry/biz as a whole. Can the “mom and pop” type “smaller is better” survive this next century, or are we all going to end up working for some mega-corporation that dictates our entire lives. I hope that film companies like Either or Films are another great example of what was great about America past and future.

  2. Buzz McLaughlin said,
    September 7, 2009 @ 10:58 am

    Hey, John. The way it looks at the moment (and more so all the time) is that the Internet is going to be the key–actually already is starting to be–to truly level the playing field. Which hopefully means that truly indie filmmakers will be able to carve a foothold in the business that will allow them some sustainability. It’s an exciting time right now–sort of like the invention of the automobile a century ago, or, for that matter, the invention of the movies. I try to imagine what it must have been like for the very early filmmakers and producers and can’t help but sense a similar thing happening now–at least in terms of distribution and the rapid developments that are hitting us. And even though everyone is still trying to figure out how and when everything will settle out, it’s clear to me and to many others on the true indie side of this, that the future looks positive and holds a lot of promise.

  3. Kiowa Winans said,
    September 7, 2009 @ 1:36 pm

    Very inspiring and keep going. This is what people always tell us and I truly believe that there is a huge regime change due in this industry. What has been lacking in this industry, particularly on the distribution side, is transparency. Indie filmmakers had a hard time finding one another to swap distribution horror stories. Now you get a live link to people’s experiences via Twitter, Facebook and other social networking tools. If we can help each other in the same way that the headlining band helps get newer bands up on stage to open their shows, then we can keep creating unique content, fight the battle against obscurity… and win.

    -Kiowa K. Winans
    Producer of “INK”

  4. September 7, 2009 @ 2:26 pm

    Thanks for your comment, Kiowa (new friend on Twitter: @DoubleEdgeFilms)–hope people will check out the blog you’re writing about getting INK out there:


    We agree–it’s great the way indie filmmakers can find each other on social networking sites. By forming a community and supporting each other we can, as you say, to “keep creating unique content, fight the battle against obscurity…and win”!

    Thanks, too, John, for your comments. Here’s another hard working indie filmmaker (on Twitter: @JBMovies) whose blog about his film AMNESIA can be found at:


    Makes me think we have to put up links to other indie filmmaker blog sites…

  5. Kid In The Front Row said,
    September 7, 2009 @ 4:41 pm

    This is a really nice post, really well explained — great work!


  6. September 7, 2009 @ 7:54 pm

    Hi, Kid (another filmgeek on Twitter–@kidinthefrontrow)~I’m a big fan of your blog, too–#78 to be exact. Thanks for the good words about Buzz’s first post. Film lovers should definitely checkout your blog…

  7. Kid In The Front Row said,
    September 8, 2009 @ 6:22 pm

    Thanks for your kind words! And just to plug it a little bit more than is probably welcomed… I just put up a fascinating interview with film director Joe Leonard!


  8. Gary King said,
    September 10, 2009 @ 12:43 am

    We are in exciting times now with all the uncertainty regarding distribution. Now more than ever it’s important to do just what you’re doing — getting yourself out there with strong work. Building awareness. Gaining a following. My hats off to your web presence — as this is another component independent filmmakers must factor in nowadays.

    It’s great to see success stories such as INK (go Jamin and Kiowa!!) — and I really love her analogy of headlining bands helping get newer bands up on stage to open for them. If we join forces to help each other get exposure to each other’s networks, I believe we can only be stronger. The market is big enough and diverse enough for everyone’s film to have an audience — they just need to know what’s out there and how they can view it.

    Be seeing you on Twitter/Facebook and hopefully IN PERSON at future screenings for our films!

    Gary King

  9. Buzz McLaughlin said,
    September 10, 2009 @ 10:36 am

    Hey Gary– No doubt these are exciting and promising times for us indies, thanks to the Internet and social networking. Finally there’s a way for us to network for real, get the word out about our films, and just maybe level the playing field a bit. I remember well that this possibility wasn’t even on the horizon when we made SENSATION four years ago. It’s going to be an interesting ride for the indie world if we all stay active, helpful, and alert to what’s happening regarding distribution/marketing on the back end and keep working as hard as we can to build this new paradigm.