A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the New Filmmakers Los Angeles festival – a monthly event sponsored in part by SAG-AFTRA (the actors’ union) that screens independent films. This was my first time attending an actual film festival, so I didn’t know what to expect. At the invite of my friend Maddie McGuire, I went to support her short, P + V, which had been selected as part of January’s line-up.
And here I’ll be honest.
I was completely blown away by the talent and films produced.
The film industry is not one that is lacking in content. With the internet and streaming devices, so much video content is being produced that I can hardly keep up. It’s difficult to narrow your focus and know what projects to which you should be paying attention. But I will say, this festival is one of them.
When people hear “independent film”, they usually think three things: 1) the film had zero budget, 2) no “star names” are attached, and 3) there is no big studio support. Because of this, they believe the film can only be mediocre at best. Well, my friends, I’m here to tell you that because of those three things, the films are that much greater.
Yes, working with a small budget has its drawbacks. You might not get those locations you dreamed of – or have the luxury of a lengthy shoot due to scheduling constraints (most people can only work for free for a finite amount of time). But in the challenges come the great work – the collaborative efforts, the creative problem solving. Because one thing is for sure – with independent film making, there is no lack of passion.
These filmmakers have much more control over the finished product than those having to abide by big studios or networks, which are focused on what will make the most money – and fast. With these contracts come concessions – in creative, logistical, and casting decisions. Plot points are dropped for the sake of profit, less deserving actors are cast for the sake of audience draw, and often the art of this medium is lost completely. The last time I went to see a big studio movie, the previews featured no less than 5 sequels (where is the original content?). When you don’t have someone holding you to legalities and financial obligations, you are given the freedom to make your art in its full capacity.
Now, let’s get back to the festival itself. Like I said, I didn’t know what to expect. Sure, I’ve seen friends post their short films on Facebook, and I applaud the effort and their motivation to create their own content. But if I’m being completely honest, I don’t always foresee catching them in the marquee at the movie theater. And that is absolutely fine. You should create art to create art. Work begets work. But NFMLA is not simply sharing their Facebook friends’ videos. They are culling together monthly screenings from thousands of submissions. Maddie’s film itself did not get chosen to screen until almost an entire year after her submission because each month they only feature a specific theme.
The festival (which includes an open bar!) schedules three blocks of short films, followed by one feature. At the end of each block, the film makers (directors, actors, etc.) are invited on stage to answer audience questions. They covered the most challenging aspects – time, lack of permits, editing – as well as shared personal stories, like the difficulties of making a film with your spouse, running around in a sweltering dog costume in the middle of LA summer, and having to enact intimate situations with a close (purely platonic) friend. We weren’t able to get into the nitty-gritty of independent film making, but Maddie will be popping up in this space soon to share more about that.
I was only able to attend the Shorts Program #2 but was so impressed by the quality of films. There were the films that were beautiful in their simplicity, their dialogue, their ability to parallel life – Bastard, P + V (no, I am not just saying that), and Alex at Noon (adorably heartbreaking). The film makers were able to take such personal, private moments and pump real beating blood into them. Even Jolly Boy Friday, which is not usually a genre to which I’m drawn, captivated me in its cinematography work, its commitment to tone and vision, and the actors’ effortless chemistry on camera.
I think it goes without saying, – I’ll be back. Maybe (eventually? hopefully? am I dreaming?) with a film of my own. As there are only two women on stage (above), I think we should help change that.
To watch these films’ trailers, click here. Besides their monthly screenings (this is the next one), they also host an “On Location” event once a year in the fall at the Hollywood Studios lot, where they provide a DJ, food, open bar, and roughly 15 featured films. Maddie had her docu-short, LArtists, selected for that last year as well, which you can see below. She’s obviously one to watch.
If you’re still not convinced to attend (or submit or participate in this organization in some way!!), let me leave you with some words from Maddie:
“On a small scale, I feel like it’s [SAG-AFTRA’s] way of giving new filmmakers an opportunity to submit their work and hopefully have it seen. The process of working with [NFMLA] is absolutely fantastic: they’re responsive, easy-going, and most of all kind. I have met so many amazing people from the night that P+V was shown: composers, producers, actors/actresses, other filmmakers. It’s such a great event to bring the film community together for a night and celebrate the art that’s being made.”
Filmmakers have to start somewhere, right? Wes Anderson’s somewhere was with his “little known” roommate, Owen Wilson, in college. Friends with no money but big visions. (Hook ’em!)
*Thank you to NFMLA for the photos.*