Sunday, December 10, 2006

Interview Excerpt

Excerpt from an Interview with Monica Sellars, a University of Oregon Journalism Student.

This is part of a larger project that will be posted in it’s entirety on her website soon. To find out more check out her website,

Here is part one of my interview, I’ll post part two in a few days.

1. For what reasons did you become an independent filmmaker? What has been your greatest struggle? Your most rewarding moment?

When I was a kid I loved watching movies, but growing up in Oregon I never thought I could work in the film business, let alone make my own films. I was playing around with video equipment in high school. About a year after graduation I was working a horrible job, driving a delivery truck. I ran in to an old teacher who asked what I was doing. He suggested I go to college and study filmmaking. I ended up getting in to USC’s Film program, where I received both my BA and my MFA.

I left LA to become an Independent Filmmaker as I believed that they weren’t making the kind of films that I wanted to make. I moved back to Portland and started working on other people’s movies while I was making my own short films. The films that I wanted to make meant something to me. I didn’t want to do mindless entertainment, which was the reason I went to LA and USC in the first place.

In terms of struggle, every day is a struggle. It is a struggle to get financing, a struggle to make the movie, and then the biggest struggle is to get the movie out to audiences. For those who become REAL independent filmmakers, you just have to realize that your life will always be a struggle. Some days are better than others, some worse.

As far as rewarding moments, perhaps the first time I heard actors speaking the words in the script. I was watching a group of people become the characters that I had created in my head. The first time you hear your words coming out of some one else’s mouth is an amazing thing. When I finished my first feature film, Birddog, I looked at it and realized that I had created this movie. A lot of people helped me, but it was my vision up on the screen. I love the work, creating the movies. Screening them in theaters and in front of an audience doesn’t hold a candle to creating them and looking at it complete the first time.

2. What goes into creating a budget for an independent film? How do you keep costs down?

I start the budgeting process, when I am writing. I write scenes in places I know I can get, and with actors I know I can get. I make my movies on such small budgets that I am always thinking about the budget.

In my newest feature, Kicking Bird, I had written a script about a kid who runs. I made him a cross country runner instead of a track runner because I know I couldn’t afford to shoot scenes around a track meet. Track & Field takes place in the spring; you have distance runners, sprinters, javelin throwers, pole vaulters, etc. There is no way I could afford to put together a scene like that for the three races that are in the movie. By making my main characters Cross Country runners I didn’t need to worry about any of it. Cross Country teams are small, and the event takes place in the fall and very few people watch it because the runners don’t go around a track, they run thru woods, city streets, wherever. By making a change that makes no difference in the overall story, I was able to save thousands of dollars and it had no effect on the story I was telling.

When I make my budgets it comes down to what can I borrow, what can people donate, what can I get for no money. After that it becomes a game of trying to save money every where possible, with out hurting the integrity of the movie, and pissing off the cast and crew. I have been doing this for a long time; I know what I can usually get away with, and what I am going to have to pay for.

I always budget lots of money for food and beverages for the cast and crew. I never scrimp when it comes to them.

3. On that note, how do you finance an independent film? What resources do you call upon?

I do it differently then most. On Birddog I used almost all of my own money. I took everything I made as the Sound Designer on Good Will Hunting and put it in to the film. I ended up owing the IRS about $80,000, and the state of Oregon around $20,000, and a few other agencies. I figured since I had so many contacts in the Independent film world that I would get a distributor and be able to pay the money back thru the money I made on the movie. It didn’t work out the way I planned…
My last two features I made for $4000 and $6000 respectively, and I have called in a lot of favors. A lot of favors! Those movies would have easily cost $100,000 if I would have had to pay for everything.

The Gas Café I self funded with a friend. On Kicking Bird, I sent out a letter to 100 people I knew asking for $100 and all I promised them were “2 really nice seats” at the movies premiere. I raised $5800 in 2+ weeks, so I went out and shot the movie.

I self fund because after I made Birddog I spent almost 2 years trying to get a distribution deal and to put together my next movie. It was then that I realized that “Independent” film is really no longer Independent. It has been taken over by corporations in Hollywood and they only use the words “Independent” as a marketing phrase. There is nothing independent about them at all.

I keep my budgets small, and I make the movies I want to make. And I tour with them thru out the US and parts of the UK and audiences come out and like what they see. I also sell them on the internet.

When it comes to getting things for my movies; props, locations, whatever. I will ask any one for anything! Most filmmakers are afraid of the word, “No.” I’m not. My philosophy is “don’t ask, don’t get.”

4. Is there anything, in your opinion, that would make financing and producing an independent film easier?

You have to define “Independent”. If you are talking about 10 Million dollar Hollywood independents with TV stars in them, I have no idea. If you are talking about low budget REAL independent films with no one famous in them like I make, then I’ll tell you that financing isn’t the problem. Distribution is the problem.
The “Independent Film World” tells us we need big stars and at least 3 million dollars to make an “Independent” movie, otherwise they can’t sell it to an audience. That’s bullshit! The so called independent film distributors just want a 10 million dollar movie with Bill Murray in it. That’s what they call independent.
Real Independent filmmakers will always find a way to get their movie made. It is getting an audience to see it that’s the problem.


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