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The Howling
Still from "The Howling" (1981)

How to make it as an independent filmmaker in America

The director behind Pineapple Express, All the Real Girls, and Joe dishes out a creative manifesto

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. 

David Gordon Green is best known for his work on HBO's Eastbound & Down and Pineapple Express. However, he has amassed an impressive back catalogue of indie film credits with films like All the Real Girls, George Washington and upcoming thriller Joe. Today on Dazed, he imparts some key career know-how, selects a roster of fresh talent and gives us a sneak peek at his upcoming film.

You probably best know him for his red-eyed drug bust caper Pineapple Express, but David Gordon Green has undeniably carved out a niche as a director with a signature aesthetic and singular voice. His superpower CV boasts films like George WashingtonAll the Real Girls, and a 12-episode arc for HBO's Eastbound & Down. This summer, prepare to gird your loins as he directs Nicolas Cage to what many are saying is his finest performance in southern thriller Joe.

He didn't land here by accident. Green grew up queuing for films like Barton Fink opening weekend at the Arthouse cinema in Dallas, Texas. "I had to get my dad to take me to see it because it was rated 'R', which he thought was real weird," he says. "I remember going to The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover. I snuck into that movie when I was obsessed with Peter Greenaway and it was packed, and now a movie like that probably wouldn't even find a place in the American marketplace." He knows. Green – unlike any other filmmaker I've spoken to – is obsessed with films. He's not only got his ears to the ground when it comes to new talent, he has a finger in every pie. His come-up, with a bit of self-analysis, provides some major insight on which steps (or leaps, perhaps) he took to enjoy his current position with every studio clamouring to work with him. So David, how did you become this?


"The beauty of independence is that you can make your own model, carve your own path and find your own distribution. Independence just becomes whatever you want it to be. In my head the corporations have basically taken over and, in many ways, the internet dissolved a lot of these distribution companies so the theatrical experience for distribution is certainly not as profitable. Those models weren’t making enough to justify their existence within the umbrella of the corporation, which made them very un-independent anyway."


"The smartest thing was putting my own money down. I worked really hard and had a lot of jobs and then spent it all on my first movie. For me, that’s the thing. There are a lot of people who are just waiting for grandma to die to give them an inheritance, or for some rich friend to give them money to bankroll their first film. But for me the big risk that I first took was that I worked for like a year and a half to make as much money as possible then I’m going to spend it all to make a movie. So I wasn’t asking anybody for anything. I could just be in charge of every dime and be real smart about where I’m spending money, and very aware of it, so that’s something that I’ve always recommended to people whenever they ask, 'How do you find money to make a movie?' I say you go and you get a job and you make a movie."


"When Easy Rider came out, it showed you that lens flares were not such a bad thing, and zoom lenses are okay in narrative film. You don’t have to project for the microphone, you don’t have to have everything perfectly composed and staged, and something about it struck a chord with culture: everything’s stripped down. You went from very composed Hollywood design of cinema, and there were a few independents working before that – like On The Bowery did exist – but Easy Rider is what kicked it.

There’s a real movement and a great audience that appreciates something to experience together that doesn’t have to be so polished and pronounced excites me. I don’t know what form that's going to be, and I don’t know that it’s going to be a traditional theatrical experience, but something culturally is going to happen that does show everybody that old waves of polish aren’t necessarily all that we need."


"You can also pull something off for $30,000. There’s a great new wave of great people making micro budget movies, films that I admire, and it’s super great that movies that can be made for that price have that freedom and find an audience. It’s hard to make a movie between three and 30 million dollars.

“There are a lot of people who are just waiting for grandma to die to give them an inheritance, or for some rich friend to give them money to bankroll their first film” – David Gordon Green


"The world of television has really revolutionised, and in many ways sucked out the theatre audience because you can go watch a spectacular hour of True Detective and not have to pay $13 to go to a movie, waste 45 minutes watching commercials, and pay $20 for popcorn. It’s just economic sense that if something is really rewarding and it doesn’t cost any money and it’s better than what's out there then there’s a great alternative.

There are a lot of future filmmakers that are turning to that medium because it’s where more people are letting us loose. On Eastbound & Down – that HBO show I've directed – no one's ever given me a note on casting or editing ever, so it’s a beautiful place to work. Whereas now if you're working in a studio realm making a big Marvel comic book movie, I’m sure there’s a handful of people who are working very closely with you to make these decisions in a way that television used to be, and I’m sure still is on network sitcoms, but I don’t know that world – I’d like to, that’d be fun."


"With 3D and Oculus Rift – it all just goes to some other form of doing things. So many guys I know don’t go to movies at all – they play video games. They’re going to be stoked about that, that’s a new way to go entertain yourself. When I was a kid playing Super Mario Bros., it was fun for about 45 minutes before I wanted to go to a movie, you know?"