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SXSW Panel: Indie Career Advice from Filmmakers Candler, Poyser and Zobel

Thompson on Hollywood By Valentina Valentini | Thompson on Hollywood March 11, 2013 at 1:58PM

About halfway through the Sustaining a Career in Indie Film panel the filmmakers began talking about labs – Sundance, IFP, The Hamptons – and 80 percent of the audience began scribbling down notes. It seemed to be a session for real beginners, the people that haven’t quit three or more jobs to take on little film gigs that come up, or sat in a corporate office because they needed health insurance.
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SXSW Indie Career Panel: Poyser, Candler, Zobel
SXSW Indie Career Panel: Poyser, Candler, Zobel

About halfway through the Sustaining a Career in Indie Film panel the filmmakers began talking about labs – Sundance, IFP, The Hamptons – and 80 percent of the audience began scribbling down notes. It seemed to be a session for real beginners, the people that haven’t quit three or more jobs to take on little film gigs that come up, or sat in a corporate office because they needed health insurance.

Regardless, there were tidbits of helpful information from three indie filmmakers – Bryan Poyser (whose "The Bounceback" has been well-received here), Kat Candler ("Hellion") and Craig Zobel ("Compliance," producer, "Prince Avalanche") – who still don’t have health insurance or a retirement fund.

Pay rent or make a film?
Poyser: I’ve managed to barely pay it for the last 20 years. But it’s been a mix of things: When I was attending University of Texas I accidently started a film festival, and the university funded it partly and that gave me a bit to live on and eat Ramen. I worked at SXSW in early 2000s, but I ended up going corporate with a telecommunications company. I didn’t feel like I was a filmmaker there though, and I quit that job to produce and co-write. I ran out of money though and went back to the corporate job. Get a full time job ideally with benefits and then quit – that’s kind of my MO I guess. 

Candler: I worked at a bookstore for five years and made a tiny feature and saved up all my sick time and vacation time to do so. Then I worked at an Artificial Intelligence software company. I would finish my work by 10am and then for the next eight hours they were essentially funding my next feature. I got in trouble for making too many copies once, though. I sold a script 2 years ago, but that money doesn’t last. But despite making no money I wake up every day and say I freaking love what I do. I probably won’t be saying that when I’m looking for my retirement fund, though.

Zobel: You direct a movie, then you get the idea that you get to write and direct another right away, but it took flights out to Los Angeles and for things I wasn’t even that excited about. While "Compliance" was being edited I was a field producer on the HGTV show "Kitchen Cousins." You definitely have to take those gigs.

The breaking point?
Poyser: It’s that point when all the people in your life start to turn off and roll their eyes when you begin talking about how you haven’t made a film in so long. It’s when you have to wonder if you’ll still have friends if you keep complaining that it’s been five years. You feel like you’re a racehorse at the gate and if the gate doesn’t open, you have to push it open.

Candler: Just because you’ve made one movie doesn’t mean they’ll come banging down your door for the next.


This article is related to: SXSW, Festivals, Bryan Poyser


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.