The following Career Dispatch was written by Jonah Feingold, who directed, wrote, and produced the IFC feature “Dating & New York.” It is reproduced with the permission of Backstage.com. To activate your 30-day free trial as a performer, or waive the typical casting fee as a creator, use the code FLUCAST19 at checkout here. And for free access to Backstage Crew, sign up here.
I hope this article finds you well, as I sit in my Greenpoint, Brooklyn apartment five days away from the opening of our feature film, “Dating & New York.” I’m just so excited—and there are hints of fall in the air, too: pumpkin spiced lattes (never had one) and school supplies (don’t use paper anymore).
Ever since high school, I’ve sent hundreds of cold emails to directors, writers, actors, producers, composers; bts photographers from “Pirates Of The Caribbean,” asking for a bit of their time to lend some advice to an aspiring filmmaker. I was obsessed with what people’s *processes* were. Specifically, how were directors communicating to actors? How did they block scenes? Literally, how did they send emails? Was it formal? Casual? Visual? Throughout the process—which is still ongoing—I learned that no two approaches are the same.
In short, no one knows anything.
That said, I wanted to make an ongoing diary entry, dedicated to filmmakers. A simple, brief, and practical guide to making an indie movie. Or, more specifically:
A Brief and Practical Guide to Making an Indie Rom-Com in New York for 15 Days That Does Post Production During a Pandemic Then Plays at Tribeca and Gets Acquired By IFC:
- The two most effective pieces of film advice I’ve ever gotten: tell people you’re making a movie and pick a start date. The more you start talking about making your movie, the more real it will become; out with friends, on a date, at Thanksgiving dinner with your mom and stepdad Larry. People will hear you’re making a film and try to help. This is key; they might have a location they can offer for free—or have gone to college with Michael B. Jordan.
- That script you randomly wrote in 2017 is going to help you. Broadly speaking, everything you write and create and every person you meet could end upl being integral to the completion of your first feature film. Here’s the quick story: In 2017 I wrote a script called “What Are We?” It was a rom-com about a couple going through that weird gray zone in their situation-ship. It was supposed to be a feature but ended up being a black and white short film. Classic! Tons and tons of the tone of “Dating & New York” was invented by this short film, but perhaps the most meaningful act of writing that script was that if fell into the hands of my mentor, brother, and executive producer, Jerry Ferrara. Had the script not been written, it’s very likely “Dating & New York” wouldn’t have been made.
- Early on, find producers who will support you and elevate you. You won’t always agree with them and this is good. If you’re really lucky, you can hire Joaquin Acrich (producer), Katie Schiller (co-producer/AD), Kieran Altmann (co-producer, line producer) of “Dating & New York.”
- Absolutely make a shot list so you can eventually forget you made one.
- If shooting with funny people, use two cameras so you don’t miss that amazing improv moment.
- Don’t spend a single day in a single location for a single scene (when making an indie, in NYC, for two weeks)
- Buy extra hand warmers.
- The “making of” the indie movie felt real the second I started working with our amazing DP Maria Rusche. It’s when everything clicked and the vibe was “making a movie! Production!” In short, hire Maria Rusche.
- If a scene isn't working, don’t be afraid to stop and figure out how to make it work. Reminder: You are surrounded by smarter and more talented filmmakers, who are there to help you. Your movie can always be elevated by your department heads who understand the film just as well as you do. In short, hire Michelle J. Li (production designer), Hope Furie (costume designer).
- While you should always keep an open mind and heart to the consensus on set when it comes to creative choices, don’t forget that the director goes down with the ship. Trust your gut above all.
- You and your editor should have similar tastes, senses of humor, and generally get along. Part therapist, part creative mastermind, it’s an important relationship and the quicker you can learn to communicate openly, the better your process. In short, hire Hanna Park.
- Your editor is probably right about cutting that scene that you want to keep because of how hard it was to shoot.
- Learn what your editor likes for lunch and for snacks.
- Score, to me, is just as much part of the film’s DNA as the actors you cast. Even on an indie budget, I would encourage you to seek talented composers who are looking to work in the feature world. Original music is life, and you can do more than you think—even on a budget! The same goes for motion graphics and VFX. Hire Grant Fonda (composer) and Gustavo Rosa (VFX).
- OK, so you made your movie! You tested it with friends, family, exes, strangers, and you feel good about it! By the way, it’s totally normal to go through phases of not loving your own movie. I remember watching a rough cut and considering buying a ticket to Mars. Anyway, it's done, you love it! And now it’s time to figure out how to get it out into the world. Festivals or VOD are what I was told and were eventually how we did it. We also had sales agents.
- It will take a long time to hear back from a festival, but it’s always worth the wait. I say this after having multiple psychotic breaks during the waiting process. Thank you to Joaquin, my producer, and Tracy, my manager, for being there.
- Things, generally speaking, will work out.
- (*Jeff Goldblum voice*) indie movies will always find a way.
And to reiterate once more: There is no one way to do things and no one knows what they’re talking about. You got this!