States of Independence
Dazed's ultimate guide to US creativity

What’s the easiest way to get a film made?

Bubbling up from the underground is a ripe crop of Oscilloscope directors who dish their best advice on making an indie film

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Pug pops a wheelie in "12 O'Clock Boys" Courtesy of Oscilloscope

As part of our new summer US project States of Independence we've invited our favourite 30 American curators, magazines, creatives and institutions to takeover Dazed for a day. 

Oscilloscope – the independent film distributor, started by Beastie Boy Adam Yauch, behind some of the past decade's coolest indie releases like Teenage & 12 O'Clock Boys – is taking over! They share their wealth of knowledge in a creative manifesto, take a look at a batch of new talent, and pen some love letters to the hottest directors…

Hello budding filmmaker! So you want to make a movie? Well I'm here to tell you not all education happens at film school. Oscilloscope – the independent film distributor founded by Beastie Boys member Adam Yauch and former THINKFilm executive David Fenkel – has been teetering on the bleeding edge of cool for over six years. Their impressive roster of releases, which include alternative entrées like Exit Through the Gift Shop and Wendy and Lucyendeavors to keep the independent cinematic heart pumping with a spate of fledgling filmmakers like Matt Wolf (the mastermind behind Teenage) and Lotfy Nathan (who revved us up with 12 O'Clock Boys). Here, in their own words, these eight filmmakers handpicked by Oscilloscope give the skinny on their latest projects and proffer some executive advice on what it takes to make a film.

MATT WOLF – TEENAGE (2013)

What was the reason you created Teenage?

Matt Wolf: I made Teenage because I was inspired by the history of youth culture and Jon Savage's book of the same name. I felt like Savage's punk background informed his depiction of early 20th century history. That inspired me to make a different kind of historical film from the point of view of youth. 

What is the future of independent filmmaking (in your opinion)?

Matt Wolf: I think finding an audience is the biggest challenge and the coolest opportunity with independent film. When I was growing up in the 90s, I went to the one alternative record store and indie movie theatre in my town. That's how I found out about everything that was interesting. The internet changed that, and now I discover things through different outlets and on different timelines. A film that came out five years ago might still be new for somebody browsing Netflix today. So I try to think about reaching an audience in the long term.

“Finish what you start. Even if your movie is flawed, a flawed finished movie is a lot better than a bunch of raw footage” – Matt Wolf

What’s the easiest way to get a film made?

Matt Wolf: To do it completely by yourself. But then again, that's impossible, isn't it? There really is no easy way to make a film, I'm afraid.

If you could give advice to a young filmmaker, what would it be?

Matt Wolf: Finish what you start. Even if your movie is flawed, a flawed finished movie is a lot better than a bunch of raw footage. Seeing the process all the way through is such an enormous learning experience.

BASSAM TARIQ – THESE BIRDS WALK (2013)

What was the reason behind making your film These Birds Walk?

Bassam Tariq: We landed in Pakistan in hopes of following an ageing humanitarian that has been holding the country together with his independent social services. We also wanted to find an inventive way to illustrate his story and the country that Omar and I have a deep affection for.

What is it about in your own words?

Bassam Tariq: It is about runaway kids in Karachi searching for home while facing impossible odds. 

What is the future of independent filmmaking (in your opinion)?

Bassam Tariq: Due to the high volume of independent films released every year, I think the future of independent cinema lies in the hands of a select few curators. Their stamp of approval will mean the life and death of many films and careers. And the judgments that these curators make will dictate the future of a lot of what we will watch and the direction that cinema will head in. For us, it was Oscilloscope coming on board that made the difference and helped us stand out. Without them, we'd be stuck in purgatory with many other incredible films that were released the same time but, unfortunately, didn't get the release they deserved.

“It is crucial to have people that can be a 'gutcheck' on your ideas. No film is an island” – Bassam Tariq

What’s the easiest way to get a film made?

Bassam Tariq: Be around a network of supportive friends and filmmakers that will inspire and challenge you. It is crucial to have people that can be a 'gutcheck' on your ideas. No film is an island. It is collaborative effort and it demands for all of us to work together.

If you could give advice to a young filmmaker, what would it be?

Bassam Tariq: Be patient. You will see your friends on Facebook getting further than you. They will get into better film festivals. They will win more awards and cast well-known actors. Don't be jealous, be happy for them and be inspired. Every filmmaker is on his or her own path. Don't compare yourself to someone else's success. Find your course, take a deep breath and slowly walk it. 

FLORIAN HABICHT – PULP (2014)

What was the reason for making Pulp?

Florian Habicht: I love Pulp's music, and had just made a film in NYC. I liked the idea of creating something in the UK and collaborating with Jarvis Cocker. Pulp's lyrics are like stories, and I could see lots of little films in my head just from hearing the songs. My father Frank Habicht photographed London in the Swinging 60s, and i grew up with his black and white images. I always dreamed of making my own portrait of London one day. Well, it turned out to be Sheffield!

What is it about in your own words?

Florian Habicht: It's a portrait of Sheffield and Pulp, and it's not a conventional rock god documentary that separates the fans from the band. It's a day and night in the life of Sheffield and includes a rocking concert in the last third of the film.

What is the future of independent filmmaking (in your opinion)?

Florian Habicht: Oh boy, first you need to define the word 'independent', but assuming you mean truly independent filmmaking, it's going to keep getting easier and easier to make films, and not necessarily easier to make money from them. It's amazing how we can share our films with the technology (I can give an airline hostess a vimeo link to one of my films, and she can watch it with her friends in Dubai the next week), but the sheer amount of films getting out there makes it just as hard as before to make revenues.

“There is no excuse to not start making a film” – Florian Habicht

What’s the easiest way to get a film made?

Florian Habicht: I always own a video camera, so there is no excuse to not start making a film. Not with the Pulp film, but usually I will shoot something, a teaser of sorts, and then apply for funding. With Love Story I self-funded the shoot, and then received funding once the rough cut had been accepted into some festivals. I managed to pay back my loan for the shoot. I'm not so fond of having a project in development for years.

If you could give advice to a young filmmaker, what would it be?

Florian Habicht: Trust you instincts, the experts aren't always right! Work with people you are close to, love and people that trust you. For example, I'd recommend asking your best friend who wants to become a DOP to shoot your first film, rather than hiring a DOP with amazing credits who is going to end up directing you. Even better: for your first film, shoot it yourself, as that's another way to easily make decisions based on your instincts. When you're starting out filmmaking, trusting your gut is the hardest and most important thing to do.

Filmmaking will take up most of your life if you want to get somewhere, so create with people you enjoy working with.

BILL & TURNER ROSS – TCHOUPITOULAS (2012)

What was the reason you created Tchoupitoulas

Turner Ross: Tchoupitoulas, generally, is part of a larger and ongoing body of work that documents a conversation/journey that Bill and I are on to illuminate facets of our experience and explore shared aesthetics. Specifically, it was an attempt to capture the fantasy and wonderment of childish spontaneity and enlightenment when left untethered in an adult world. We wanted to capture the ghosts of the New Orleans night. A real life version of Pinocchio in Pleasure Island.

What is the future of independent filmmaking (in your opinion)?

Bill & Turner Ross: I don't know that we are entitled to be an authority on that subject. I can say that for us, each film and each step forward needs to reflect progress. If we're being too derivative of ourselves or others then we're just producing fodder, which is what motivated us to make films in the first place – a chance to create the things we'd never seen before. I wouldn't say we're too concerned with genre or indie identity. We're just trying to make our movies.

“Don't talk about it – be about it” – Bill & Turner Ross

What’s the easiest way to get a film made?

Bill & Turner Ross: Pick up a camera and get to work.

If you could give advice to a young filmmaker, what would it be?

Bill & Turner Ross: Don't talk about it – be about it.

DAN KRAUSS – THE KILL TEAM (2013)

What was the reason you created The Kill Team?

Dan Krauss: My initial impulse to make the film came after reading a description of Adam Winfield as a whistleblower-turned-murder suspect. I was startled that Adam was being credited with acting in the moral right while being accused of acting in the moral wrong. I immediately sensed there was a deeper story to be explored. The psychological consequences of this story are far more troubling to me than the gruesome nature of the atrocities. I find it haunting that a group of mostly well-intentioned young men were together drawn into a moral abyss. 

What is the future of independent filmmaking (in your opinion)?

Dan Krauss: I think documentary film in particular is enjoying a tremendous renaissance at the moment. The form is expanding far beyond the boundaries of social issue activism and embracing the complexity and nuance of reality in ever more electrifying ways.

“I think it's critical to have a mentor. Find that one person whose work you admire, whose judgment you trust unfailingly, and latch onto them” – Dan Krauss

What’s the easiest way to get a film made?

Dan Krauss: Two words: Film. School.

If you could give advice to a young filmmaker, what would it be?

Dan Krauss: I think it's critical to have a mentor. Find that one person whose work you admire, whose judgment you trust unfailingly, and latch onto them. 

LOTFY NATHAN – 12 O'CLOCK BOYS (2013)

What is the future of independent filmmaking (in your opinion)?

Lotfy Nathan: I think the sky's the limit for independent filmmaking. You can do anything. I think there's going to be some amazing stuff happening using new virtual reality, first person and 360 degree video that will be able to be used by independent filmmakers. Something like what you see in Strange Days is going to happen soon enough.

“Team up with some friends. Try to stick with one project for a little longer than you might be comfortable with” – Lotfy Nathan

What’s the easiest way to get a film made?

Lotfy Nathan: I don't know of any easy ways to get a film made, but I'd say the most direct way is to make something that you can do with the resources available to you (with that said, you need to be imaginative with what those resources are). The hardest way is probably waiting for someone to make it happen for you. I think that commonly happens with people waiting for finance or for someone to validate their film before its made. For most everyone who doesn't have a reputation for turning a lot of profit on their films, so anyone starting out really, it's going to be a matter of proving your concept somehow. 

If you could give advice to a young filmmaker, what would it be?

Lotfy Nathan: I would say: team up with some friends. Try to stick with one project for a little longer than you might be comfortable with, see if you can put yourself in your work, don't get hung up on equipment and production value early on, make a young film if you're young. Use your environment to your advantage. 

JENNIFER GRAUSMAN & SAM CULLMAN – ART AND CRAFT (2014)

What was the reason you created Art and Craft?

Sam Cullman: What makes documentary work so exciting is the sense of discovery at the centre of the process and that was absolutely the case in the making of Art and Craft. The film examines the curious story of Mark Landis, a prolific art forger who isn't in it for the money, but chooses instead to donate his work to museums.

What is the future of independent filmmaking (in your opinion)?

Sam Cullman: It’s no secret that independent filmmaking faces serious challenges as the market continues to adjust to the digital era. And while the industry struggles to remain viable, the tools to produce films have become more accessible than ever. It's a paradigm shift that results in more films and more platforms to watch them, but fewer theatrical options and smaller acquisition fees. As artists we are often forced to be both creators and business people with equal dexterity in order to secure the exhibition of our work. Unsurprisingly, the quality of our work is often the greatest casualty – we become spread thin. Flexible and innovative, Oscilloscope has navigated the changing landscape and bucked the trends. They're still at it, and as strong as ever, they offer hope for a future where independent filmmakers can stick to what they know best.

“Passion (to the point of obsession) is likely the single most important trait in making a film and getting it out into the world” – Sam Cullman

What’s the easiest way to get a film made?

Sam Cullman: There is no easy way to get a film made. Passion (to the point of obsession) is likely the single most important trait in making a film and getting it out into the world.

If you could give advice to a young filmmaker, what would it be?

Sam Cullman: In an era when filmmakers are asked to wear so many hats throughout the filmmaking process, it may seem paradoxical that our best advice to folks coming up is to hone the one aspect of the process that you enjoy the most. You will need to take on a number of roles to complete any film, but to maintain a career and be hired to work on projects in between your own films, you are best served by developing your preferred craft as deeply as you can.

JASON TIPPET – ONLY THE YOUNG (2012)

What was the reason you created Only the Young?

Jason Tippet: I started working on Only the Young to tell a story I was familiar with before I got too old and forgot about what it was like to be a kid with a Rodney Mullen skateboard, no car payment, no plan for college and whose only requirement was to be home before my parents put out spaghetti with meat sauce for the third night in a row.

What is the future of independent filmmaking (in your opinion)?

Jason Tippet: I don't know if I could say what the future of independent filmmaking is, but Oscilloscope must have a pretty decent idea. They are picking up some of my favourite documentaries at the moment and I feel very privileged to be a part of their catalogue. Oscilloscope has always felt like a stepfather that introduces me as their natural born son.

I'd love for someone to look at a film I've made and within a few shots, know it's my work. I get excited about filmmakers that have a very distinct visual style or voice; the Ross Brothers, Omar Mullick, Bassam Tariq, Sean Dunne (guy is so damn talented), Robert Greene and Joe Callander definitely stick out to me. I'm consistently impressed by this group of filmmakers.

“The less you can count on things outside your control the better. Take advantage of what you have access to and make work that's close to you as you're starting out” – Jason Tippet

What’s the easiest way to get a film made?

Jason Tippet: You need a talented, loyal group that believes in your work. I feel very fortunate I've found a group of friends at Calarts that are hard workers, incredible at their jobs and enjoy karaoke. I had so much support along the way, my whole group came through and helped me finish Only the Young. It's important to find people you enjoy working with and are there to help you see your vision through. It's rare to find people that are loyal and truly want the best for you besides your parents. Grow with your collaborators, don't just work with people once. 

If you could give advice to a young filmmaker, what would it be?

Jason Tippet: Don't let equipment or grants be an obstacle, if you're waiting around for the perfect camera package you'll be waiting all day. The less you can count on things outside your control the better. Take advantage of what you have access to and make work that's close to you as you're starting out. My buddy Carl and I recently started shooting a short called Stanley's Cup on an iPhone 4s, and so far our biggest obstacle is getting the footage off his phone. Last thing: if you can, try your hardest to be born into money. Barring that, get ready for an unpleasant experience.

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