Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Life and Times of an Indie Film Composer - Part 1

As I research Moral Rights, I've decided to write a little on the scope of independent film and the film composer and the difficulties we inherit.

Not too long about I was at a function were film composers presented work to producers. After all of us composers presented our work there was a mixer. While chatting with filmmakers I also talked with a couple of fellow composers. One very talented composer in a kind of joking manner said, "So, you are the guy scoring the independent films." and we talked a little about getting gigs. Another younger and definitely has a future, asked me about a film that I left and why. These discussions reminded me of times that I have added my two cents to the Film Music Pro (FMPro) message board, a rather cynical group, about what is indie film and are our expectations out of line with the reality of that world.

First, one has to understand the difference between indie film and Indie film (big I, little i). The indie film world I know is not. Look at some of the Sundance 2009 dramatic competition films, the ultimate accomplishment for indie films, announced today:

- "Big Fan," directed and written by Robert Siegel (writer of "The Wrestler") with Patton Oswalt, Michael Rapaport
- "Brief Interviews With Hideous Men," director-writer John Krasinski ("The Office")
- "Cold Souls," Stars Paul Giamatti,
- "The Greatest," Stars Pierce Brosnan, Susan Sarandon
- "Paper Heart," Stars Michael Cera
- "Push," directed and written by Lee Daniels ("Shadowboxer," producer of "The Woodsman" and "Monster’s Ball")
- "Taking Chance," directed by Ross Katz (co-producer of "In the Bedroom," "Lost in Translation") Stars Kevin Bacon

These are 7 of the 16 films have something already going for them, a star or a track record, I would not be surprised if some have major private backers. These films are big I, Indie films. Keep in mind these are not the 16 premiers that will be announced later this week, I'm sure there will be many more big Indie films in that menu, not just with stars and private backers but films with studios indie arms behind them.

Another stat to wrap every one's head around is there was just over 2,000 dramatic-domestic submissions and only 16 competitive slots (there are some other programs, Midnight and Frontier categories will expand the slots to 10-16 additional films)

OK, what does this all mean? These Indies are NOT the films that the 1,000s of indie film composers are scoring, these are not the films that we compete over that are found on craigslist.


So, if we know what a big I Indie film is what is the little ones...the 9 other films in the Sundance dramatic selection or even more important the 2,000 plus films that didn't get tapped for Sundance. Those are the films that are crewed on craigslist and other sites; these are films that have such a small chance of making a dent in the public arena.

A little about my hobby, orchid growing
When I go out to purchase a new orchid, I do so with the idea, is it worth paying the price for a plant that I will kill. I don't let the plant wow me with its flowers too much. I look to see if the plant is hearty and that it grows in an environment I might understand and can provide for.

So, when I look at scoring a film I look at the film that way too. I look to see if I can do a good job with it and even though I'm excited about it, realistically does it have a chance to survive....

Believe it or not I do not think about money!

I think, is the film shot well? Shot on film? Does the film have style? Is the film written well, have good structure or is it a mess? Are there moments in the film where the production breaks down, the sets look bad and flaws are showing? And believe it or not, do the filmmakers even know what they are up against? If I know the answers to those questions, I know basically what the budget is.

I should mention that I am purposely ignoring low budget horror and comedies. Low budget horror has a market and low budget comedies have their own criteria.

So, who are these people making low budget films, how do I pick the films I work on and survive will be addressed tomorrow.

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