Joe Swanberg’s 3 Tips About Indie Filmmaking and Money
Joe Swanberg’s 3 Tips About Indie Filmmaking and Money
Just like last year with Mark Duplass, SXSW booked a Mumblecore filmmaker who has had an unconventional career to give a keynote speech.
And just like last year with Mark Duplass, Joe Swanberg took the road of honesty and gave advice from the trenches. Swanberg is a very prolific filmmaker who has already shot 15 features but is mainly known for Drinking Buddies, a fact that became a recurring joke during his keynote. (And it is indeed the first time I heard of him, and the only film I’ve seen of him so far.)
Swanberg is one of those filmmakers who have been making film no matter what, finding ways to make it work and grow from one film to the next. As he said it himself:
“The myth of the birlliant first feature that takes off and starts your career is one way ot go about it but then the other way to go about it is just to be so tenacious and make so much shit that eventually people lose their resistance to fight against you and start accepting that you’re going to be around and that they should watch your movies.”
A good chunk of the talk is dedicated to Swanberg’s journey from one project to another and how one element lead to the next. It’s very much worth watching and listening to, as even though it would be impossible to replicate, it contains a lot of great advice.
One of the highlight for me was the three main tips Swanberg concluded his talk with, that I think should be heard, read, and shared by every person who wants to live as a storyteller and is struggling between creating and making money.
Here we go:
#1 – NO MONEY IS BETTER THAN SOME MONEY
“It’s actually better to have no money than some money when you’re making a film. Some money I have found to be incredibly dangerous and difficult to navigate.
Because if you have some money, everybody wants some of that some money. If you have no money, everybody just knows it, and then they are here to work, and then in the best case scenario, you sell a movie and then you are able to pay people afterwards better than you could have paid them if you had some money.
If you’re putting projects together I would really encourage you, if you’re finding yourself in the zone of having some money, to think about doing it for no money, just telling everybody to work for no money, and then you’ll pay them later. If your friends are good enough friends, or big enough suckers, you can talk them into this, but then honestly you might be able to pay them better later.”
#2 – ACT AS IF DON’T NEED MONEY
“The less you need money, the more people want to give it to you. Then, in a really sick, pervert kind of way, the more you need it, the less people are willing to give it to you.
It’s so fucked up about humanity and the way we think about money. Once things are going well for you, everybody wants to give you money, it becomes the easiest thing in the world to raise money for your movie.
And then when you’re struggling, everybody is like ‘heuuu’ like the stink of desperation is wafting of you and nobody wants to get anywhere near you. How fucked up is that? But it’s true.
So if you have no money, and you do need money, and nobody is giving you money, I would say to you that the best defense mechanism that you’d have against that, would just be to bluff. pretend you don’t need money. Just walk into meetings like you don’t need any money.
People response to you will be better. And then what I did a lot of time, is just don’t ask any money, keep paying for your own stuff. Because there is this other kind of momentum that builds, if you do it long enough without asking people for money, they’ll just assume you have money, and often treat you well and feel more inclined to give you money.”
#3 – TIME IS MONEY, BUT HAPPINESS IS MONEY TOO
” Time is Money, and you do have to value your time being worth money, but also, I would say Happiness is Money too.
And so the thing I would say to you guys in terms of taking jobs, or efforts to make money is that you have to factor in your Time, but you also have to factor in your Happiness. And I think a lot of people forget that.
It’s often just not worth the money to take a shitty job on something that you hate. And what I’ve seen people do occasionally is poison the well for themselves, because they’ll take some money, on some job that they don’t like, and don’t want to do, and they’ll hate it.
Anytime I find myself in a position of making money on a job that I don’t like, I fight with my wife a lot more, I’m snippy with my kid, I’m just in general agitated and upset. And at the end of the day I look back and I’m like ‘It wasn’t worth the money. I should have just done nothing rather than do that thing. I hate it.’
I think that if you can figure out a way to navigate that, where you’re only working on stuff you love, it’s actually a better way towards the goals of making stuff that people see and the goals of making money.
Because what happens is, nobody likes a bad movie and honestly I don’t know any scenario in which I’ve seen a filmmaker hate the thing that they were doing and see that film turn out any good. And so you may think that you’re taking a pay-check, or making some money, but in fact, I think you’re making the next person who wants to invest in yourself or work with you less likely to do it.
Making a bad movie that you don’t like scares potential investors on the next project, it scares actors on the next project, and it just makes it that much harde rfor you on the long run. See if you can navigate a career in which you’re just always doing the things you love, and I think if you can do that you will have a really succesful career.”