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What Is Involved in Independent Film Production?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 23, 2024
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Independent film production typically involves many or all of the same issues as any other type of film production, though on a different scale and with some different considerations. Films, including ones made independently, typically begin with a period of preproduction in which a screenplay is finalized and the cast and crew are assembled. This is followed by production in which the movie is actually filmed, typically done in a shorter time and on a smaller budget than a studio film. Production then usually goes into post-production, in which editing is performed, any audio and visual effects are finalized, and the film is completed.

The major difference between independent film production and studio film production is that an independent film does not have the financial backing of a studio during production. Many of the same issues arise during production of an independent film, but at a smaller scale and with a more limited budget. Most productions begin with pre-production, in which the screenplay for a film is completed, the actors and crew are assembled, and other preparations are made before filming. This can include scouting of locations, finding and dressing sets as needed, and acquiring necessary equipment such as cameras and audio recording hardware.

Independent film production then typically continues with the actual production phase of making a film. This involves the cast and crew working together to capture the scenes necessary on film and audio to eventually assemble into a complete film. Production usually involves the largest number of individuals working on the movie at any one time, and is also typically the most expensive part of the production process due to greater numbers of people working on the movie. Independent film production is usually done in a much faster time than studio film production, since cast and crew members are often paid by hourly or daily rates.

Once the production phase is complete, then independent film production typically goes into post-production to complete the film. Any special visual effects needed for the film are completed during this phase, and the movie itself is edited into a final film. The audio for the movie is completed and assembled, synchronized with the visuals, and music is added. Once post-production is complete, then independent film production often involves the filmmakers looking for a distributor who can help finance the costs necessary to distribute a film to theaters for public viewing.

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Discussion Comments
By Saraq90 — On Aug 20, 2011

@sinbad - One of my favorites was the move "Crash" and it won an Academy Award! Its budget was only 6.5 million, so it was not quite a "Blair Witch Project" which was rumored to have a budget of somewhere between 25,000 dollars and 500,000 dollars, but still quite inexpensive in comparison to the big budget films.

I loved "Crash" for just the emotion it made me feel and the discussions it opened up!

By Sinbad — On Aug 20, 2011

@backdraft - Thanks for sharing your film-making adventure. I have always thought making an independent film would be time consuming, but I always wondered just how time consuming it would be.

Now knowing what it takes to make an independent film and some of the hurdles it can have especially in comparison to larger budget films, I was curious as to what were some independent films that have made it into movie-making history even though they did not have lots of money to produce the movie?

By EricRadley — On Aug 19, 2011

@watson42 - That's not a bad idea at all, but an independent film can be made into a top quality production, it can still face several difficulties simply because it's independent.

The most obvious one that I can think of is distribution. It's hard to attract large enough audiences when you're competing against hugely marketed blockbusters and discriminating theater-owners. Can you shed any light on other issues they might face?

By fingered — On Aug 18, 2011

@Ivan83 - You're right, there are often a lot of politics that go into the making of a big-budget film. Even though an indie production may have a harder time due to their small budgets, at least they can express the script in a truer fashion without having to compromise for the sake of someone else.

For example, some producers have to alter the script because a certain bit of dialog or scenario might not be in line with the film company's ideals. There is a lot of talk that surrounds political correctness as well, so the average Hollywood blockbuster has to tone down certain aspects in order to avoid offense and appeal to the masses.

By ALevine — On Aug 17, 2011

@ZsaZsa56 - The low budgets of independent film certainly makes life difficult for the whole crew, but I think it also has its advantages. The main plus point being that it sort of forces the producer to get more creative in how they go about making the film.

Even though similar problems might arise as with mainstream film productions, independent film crews would have to think about how to tackle it in a more cost-effective manner. They may even come up with methods that are better than the large-scale productions!

By watson42 — On Aug 17, 2011

A few years ago now, during the writer strike, Joss Whedon tested his own theories on independent films. He decided that the hubbub in the industry was not needed for making good entertainment, and made a 45-minute film over the course of three days' filming in Los Angeles. The result, Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog, was first put online and then later released on DVD.

While the story was quirky and not for everyone, I think anyone can appreciate that he made a truly top production quality film without actual top production materials.

I think that as the film industry grows and the economy continues to have to cut down in places, more and more film makers might do well to learn from Whedon and others who produce things independently.

By backdraft — On Aug 16, 2011

A few years back I decided to write direct and edit and independent film. I had made a few shorts in the past but never anything this ambitious. But I got a hot idea for a feature length movie and just decided to go for it.

The production went smoothly but there was a lot more involved than I ever would have expected. I think I put in 15 hour days for months.

But what really shocked me as far as the production goes was how long post production took. The process of editing all that film, getting the sound and the dubs right, putting in credits and realizing when important shots are missing. That took a really long time. I was exhausted in so many ways by the time the film was finished.

So to any aspiring filmmaker I would warn them to know what they are getting into. It may only take 1.5 hours to watch a movie but it takes hundreds to edit one.

By Ivan83 — On Aug 16, 2011

I've worked as a grip for a long time and I've worked on lots of different productions. Some of these have been tiny independent movies and others have been major summer blockbusters.

My observation about the difference in production styles is that there is often a more individual vision and creative focus on indie films. A lot of times the whole movie flows from the mind of the director. They scrutinize every little detail and they don;t have anyone to second guess them. This effects the production in lots of ways.

By contrast, big budget movies are often really managed affairs. There are lots of different creative visions combined with the will of the studio who is putting up the money. Sometimes this can feel like making art in a board room. There is the feeling of making a production and not a film. In its own way this effects all areas of the production.

By ZsaZsa56 — On Aug 15, 2011

The good new and the bad news is that almost all of the elements involved in mainstream film production are involved in indie film production.

This is good news because it means that you can have a really polished and well crafted film. Indie films don't have to be full of shaky cameras, watery scripts, lazy effects and D list actors. Everything is possible in an independent film. If you want to make a movie filled with aliens set in another galaxy, you can do this with an indie production style. You have no creative limits.

This is a bad thing because it means that making a quality independent film is still out of the reach of a lot of ambitious and skilled filmmakers. If you want it to look good and get seen it is going to take some money. Not 100 million dollars but more than most of us have. And its going to be difficult. It takes more than a camera and some friends, making a real movie take a lot of work. So don't let anybody fool you into thinking that making a movie on any terms is easy.

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