I recently had the opportunity to interview Jason Buff who’s the founder of the Indie Film Academy. IFA is a podcast that’s dedicated to indie filmmakers and learning about and supporting their filmmaking journeys.
1. What’s the story behind how Indie Film Academy came to be?
Over the years, I have put together a number of independent film productions that have all fallen apart in one way or another. I even had a film that was fully funded and set to start filming in 2013 that fell apart just before we started pre-production. So, I put together the Indie Film Academy as a way of not only educating myself about all the things that were getting in the way of making these features, but also to share the information with other filmmakers. I have always loved teaching, so for me it is a perfect mix.
2. How do you decide on the guests you want to interview, and how do you get them on your show?
We focus on 4 main topics. Screenwriting, Funding, Shooting, and Selling. I try to focus on guests who are, in addition to being film industry professionals, also enjoy teaching. Finding people to interview is relatively easy. Sometime I interview the author of a filmmaking book I have enjoyed. Other times I will see an interview on a filmmaking site or a video on YouTube and try and get in touch. My latest guest, Kevin Shahinian, did a presentation at CineSummit that blew me away. So I just sent him an email and he said no problem. The funny thing is, the people who are very successful are usually pretty laid back and down to earth.
3. Why should filmmakers listen to your show, and how can the content benefit their teams and projects?
Each of our guests has something new and interesting to teach about filmmaking. Most of the interviews are about topics that I find interesting as a filmmaker, so I can only assume other filmmakers will find them interesting as well. For example, one of the key things I didn’t understand during my earlier projects was the business side of filmmaking. In many ways, understanding the film “business” is much more important than being a brilliant filmmaker. We are entering a new era of filmmaking where filmmakers really need to understand marketing and how to promote themselves online. It’s fine to make a movie that only 3 people want to see, but it’s going to be very hard to get investors. And even if you do get investors and make your film…chances are nobody’s going to see it. There are just too many options.
On the other hand, the online film market is flooded with horrible movies with cool looking packaging. Just click through the horror section of Netflix and you’ll see a lot of great artwork for horrible films. So we have these two opposite poles and I try to show how you can make the two meet in the middle. A film that makes people want to see it, but also a good film. Jaws is the perfect example of this. If you see the poster, you want to see it. But, it just so happens, the film is also amazing. These days, you see a lot of posters for movies that look amazing, but once they start your realize that someone has tricked you. So I beg filmmakers to start with an idea that people will want to see in the first place, and then make that an amazing film. Sorry, got off track. I just email people I want to talk with and some say yes, others say no.
4. What have you learned personally since the show made its debut?
I have learned so much it would be hard to just name one thing. I love simple tricks more than anything. Or hacks I guess I should say. One of the key issues I try to address on the site is how filmmakers can reduce their risk when it comes time to selling their films. I’m a big proponent of first-time filmmakers going to Sales Agents before they ever start their project to see what they think about it’s chances to sell. That was my primary concern as a filmmaker. But it’s also been illuminating to see exactly how few films make their money back.
Let me focus on one key thing I have learned from each of our four topics.
Screenwriting: Your first draft will always suck, great screenplays come from lots of rewriting.
Funding: There are a lot of rich people out there who would love to be part of a film.
Shooting: It’s important that your film looks expensive even if it isn’t. Avoid handheld and study the masters use of camera movement. Bad acting will kill a movie.
Selling: Horror always sells, try to get at least one known actor, create amazing artwork, start building your audience before you start filming so they’re waiting when it’s done.
5. What does the future hold for your show, and how do you see it evolving over time?
My hope is that the Indie Film Academy eventually lives up to it’s name and becomes an online school. I would love to create a program that guides filmmakers through the process of making their film. For example, the funding part of the program couldn’t start until the screenwriting part was done. Maybe the screenplay would need to pass through a certain criteria. Then students would gain access to the funding portion. I think it would cut down on a lot of the bad films that are made every year. I just wish filmmakers would slow down and wait until their screenplays were really ready before making their first films. I have seen many films that are halfway through filming before they realize the screenplay just isn’t holding up.
6. Where can we tune into, and subscribe to your show?
7. Do you have any tips or advice for filmmakers just starting out in the industry?
Ok, I’m going to try and blurt out everything they need to know in one bite…it won’t be easy. Obviously, first things first, subscribe to the podcast and get our newsletter. Ok, here we go. Write and rewrite your screenplay and then rewrite it 5 more times. Get 3 people who will be honest and know screenwriting to give you harsh feedback. Talk to sales agents and other people in distribution to find out how much your film can man. Get at least one known good actor on your cast to: 1. Help get funding 2. Help teach the other actors on set. 3. Help sell your film. Shoot the film in a single location. Hire crew that knows much more than you do. Make sure to do all of the legal things like contracts and releases. Learn how to promote yourself on social media and get a following. Create a free mailing list to contact your fans. Try to get reviews at a few film festivals. Get other filmmakers on your side by offering behind the scenes information….Ok….that’s all I can think of for the moment…I need to breath.
8. Any parting shots?
There is no better teacher than failure. So the more you fail, the better you will be. There are no excuses, get out and start making short films even if they’re only a few minutes long.
We thank Jason for sharing his story, and highly recommend listening and subscribing to Indie Film Academy.