Part 3: How to Take Your Indie Film to the Next Level

In my previous posts on elevating indie films I discussed my take on strategies for development ( and the importance of proper preproduction ( I also discussed the creative side of preproduction and how critical it is for a successful production phase and smooth postproduction phase.


Today I’m going to talk pipelines. Pipelines are an integral part of organizing the flow of diverse elements in a film production. It’s the “road map” leading from development to deliverables. When you first gaze upon the flow chart that represents it, many of you may freak out.


Nevertheless, without it you may sail happily through principle photography occasionally spouting that oft heard phrase “We’ll fix it in post”. Only to discover you’ve sailed into post production hell; a dark, mind numbing experience, where you find new ways to express your favorite expletives.


You will push, pull, and shove your film across the finish line with a bright cheerful face. A face that masks the despair that haunts you, and in the deepest, darkest corners of that hell you find yourself singing Bob Marley’s classic “Everything’s Gonna be Alright”. Then you make a promise to yourself; “Never Again!”


To some, never again, will mean you never make another film. For others it may mean cherry picking that one thing you’re sure was the culprit; only to find, in your next film, you are right back in that same hell. The only difference is you’re fighting different demons. Still others, and these are unfortunately a minority, will recognize that every single element that goes into making a film is critical to its success. If any one thing doesn’t measure up the entire film can founder. These filmmakers realize that process is important too.


What I am revealing here is, hopefully, a fairly comprehensive pipeline. Remember we are talking about elevating indie films to a higher level. At first glance the flow chart representing the pipeline can be a confusing spider web. But, rather than gazing at it until your eyes glaze over, follow one line at a time. Follow them as they flow from development to deliverables. If they branch off follow one branch at a time. Notice how some flow in both directions; indicating collaborative ebb and flow, polishing elements into their final form. Notice too, in what phase of the production process each element is initiated, transforms, branches off, or merges together.

Production Pipeline_001
Film Production Pipeline (Click to Enlarge)


Every production starts at a single point and it’s the single most important aspect of a successful film, the concept. Every production also ends at a single point, the final film. As you proceed through each phase of production you may find sections of pipeline don’t apply to your film and that’s fine. What you want to avoid is discovering you need something too late in the process. Therefore each production requires an assessment of the production pipeline at the very early stages of preproduction.


However, a production pipeline is much more than a flow chart. Under the hood are functional parameters; file naming conventions, data storage and retrieval mechanisms, directory structures, process controls, procedural protocols, iteration and metadata management, as well as, crew relations and expectations, to name a few.


Right about now I bet I’m starting to loose a bunch of you. You’re thinking “I don’t need this; all I want to do is make movies”. If that’s you, then by all means run and gun it. But, I would wager you or the people trying to help you are already attempting in some, perhaps minute, way to better manage their filmmaking process; spurred on, no doubt, by some previous nightmare production experience.


Filmmaking is all about collaboration but collaboration without coordination creates chaos; wasting time, talent, and money. Every film, even big budget blockbusters are constrained by their budgets. They can’t afford to waste a dime and neither can you. Since you may also have people working for little to no monetary compensation, you can’t afford to waste good will either.


Think of film production pipelines like a wind up clock. The key that winds the clock in filmmaking is the story. Yet you have to build the clock before you wind it up. Once wound it intiates the turning of a complex arrangement all coordinated to yield consistent and precise results.


There is nothing that can guarantee your film will be successful; the audience is the true arbiter of that, however you can improve the process making it more effective, efficient, and less stressful. That’s where production pipelines can help.