The Cheerful Subversive's Guide to Independent Filmmaking : From Preproduction to Festivals and Distribution book cover
1st Edition

The Cheerful Subversive's Guide to Independent Filmmaking
From Preproduction to Festivals and Distribution

ISBN 9781138185128
Published September 1, 2016 by Routledge
240 Pages

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Book Description

In The Cheerful Subversive’s Guide to Independent Filmmaking, celebrated Slamdance Film Festival co-founder Dan Mirvish offers a rich exploration of the process and culture of making low-budget, independent films. Once labelled a "cheerful subversive" by The New York Times, Mirvish shares his unfiltered pragmatic approach to scriptwriting, casting, directing, producing, managing a crew, post-production, navigating the film festival circuit, distributing your film, dealing with piracy and building a career. Readers will learn how to game the Hollywood system to their advantage, get their films accepted by respected festivals without going broke, and utilize a broad range of media and tactics to promote and distribute their work. A companion website features behind-the-scenes interviews and footage from Dan’s films, and much more.

    • Learn everything you need to know to make, promote, and distribute your independent films, with time-tested lessons and practical advice on scriptwriting, casting and directing A-list actors, financing, producing, managing a crew, editing in post, creating visual effects on a budget, and successuflly navigating the film festival circuit
    • Find out what it takes to become a true "cheerful subversive" and adopt new and innovative approaches to producing your films, discover hidden loopholes in the Hollywood system and festival scene, take advantage of a broad range of media formats to promote and distribute your indie films, and generally make bold moves in service of your creative work, all while staying flexible enough to pivot at a moment’s notice
    • An extensive companion website features in-depth interviews with filmmakers, more than an hour of behind-the-scenes footage from Dan Mirvish’s films, festival resources, and much more

Table of Contents




Section A. – Getting Started

Write a Brilliant Script!

***Poem: On Strike

Umm, What to Write?

Adapt or Die

You're No Genius

You're in Good Company

Playing Around with George Clooney’s Happy Ending

Books are Just Screenplays with Adjectives.

Develop Relationship with Original Author

Use Their Experience to Your Benefit

Connect with the Material

Don't Call it "Opening Up"

Location, Location, Location.

Editing; Macro and Micro.

Putting the "Move" in "Movies"

Use Your Source Material's Pedigree

Don't Apologize for Your Source Material

Try This On For Size: Improvise!

Buying a Script on the Open Market

Choose a Castable Script

Lawyer Up!

Chain of Title Isn't Just an R&B Song

Mining for Gold: Discovering the Lost Jules Feiffer Script

***NameDropper Sidebar: Robert Altman

There's No Business Like a Show Business Plan

Project Summary

Project History

Key Production Team


Director’s Statement


Why Support Independent Film?

Product Integration & Branded Sponsorship

Financing Options

Budget Considerations/Options

Distribution Potential

Distribution Scenarios

Contact Info


Remember, It's a Visual Medium



Pitch Cinema


*** Sidebar: Famous Director Kickstarter Campaigns

Takin’ Care of Business


Putting the Love in LLC!

Wonderful Waterfalls

Making Sure You’re Not a Flimmaker

Registering with the State

The New Pizza King of Omaha

EDGAR, EDGAR, Give Me Your Answer Do

Boiler Rooms and Shriners

Casting Your Banker

Hey Buddy, Can You Paradigm?

***Poem: Crowdfund This

Staff Up: Your First Round of Collaborators

Producing a Producer

Interns and a Clean Garage

Terrorist Filmmaking

The One-Armed Executioner


Section B. – Shooting the Movie

Casting Your Movie With A-List Actors

Assemble a Team

Aim High

Go to New York

Be Bi-Coastally Curious

Don't Have a List!

Develop Relationships with Agents Yourself

Play the Agency Game

Bait and Switch

Set a Start Date

Make it Real

Magnetic Balls of Iron

Take Advantage of Others' Misfortune

Oh, and What if You Don’t Have Famous Actors?

***Poem: Call Backs

Directing Famous Actors in a Microbudget Film

Cast Well


***Namedropper sidebar: Harold Ramis

Use Rehearsal Wisely

Overlapping Dialogue

***Sidebar: The Sound of Music ***

What’s My Motivation?

Trust Your Scripty

Encourage "Chemistry" Among Your Cast

Behave Like a Big Budget Production

Block Scenes On Set

Use Multiple Takes as Your Coverage

Have Faith in Editing

Say Something to the Actors

Methods to their Madness

Lights, Camera, Cinematographer!

Good vs. Nice

***NameDroppers Sidebar – Rian Johnson

They’re Like Actors with Cameras

It's Who They Know

Putting the "DP" in iDentity Politics

Are They Still Called Films if They’re Digital?

Film’s Zombie Resurgence

***NameDroppers Sidebar – Christopher Nolan & Emma Thomas

Deconstructing the Cult of Galileo

Frankenlens and Mir (vishscopes)

Walt Disney’s Secret Optics Bunker

Time to Shoot!

Does It Take a Video Village to Raise a Film?

Bump Up the Credits

Finding a Crew with Donut Group Therapy

Dress the Part

Group Hug, Safety and Prayer to the Film Gods

Your First-Day Disasters

Hello, My Name is Josh

Find the Goat

Ready, Aim, Fire!

Be Prepared

Two Takes Ahead

***NameDropper Sidebar – Alexander Payne

Arrive Early, Bring Donuts, Wear Tape

Making Your 12-Hour Day

Feeding the Beast

Making an Epic EPK

***NameDropper Sidebar – John Carpenter

Devious Use of the EPKorner

Still the One

Getting Your Kill Shots

Point and Shoot

To Infinity and Behind-the-Scenes

Making Product Placement Work for You

Cash and Carry

Break Down, Go Ahead and Give it To Me

A Clear and Present Necessity

Selling Out, Even if You Don’t Get Paid for It

Killing Two Birds with One Stone

***Poem: The Locavore Filmmaker

Livin’ La Vida Locavore

Keep Your Homebase at Home

Cast Locally (sort of)

Find Locations Close to Home

Drag Your Actors out of Bed

No, Seriously, Keep it Really Close to Home

If You Travel, Hire Locally

Editing, One Pant Leg at a Time

Screw the Environment, Do It for Yourself

***Poem – Hack Attack


Section C. – Post-Production

Editing Like an ACE

Editors Are Like Bass Players

Finding Fresh Eyes

Cut Yourself

***Poem: The Artisanal Filmmaker

Start Strong; Stick Your Landing

Don’t Let Your Post Supervisor Escape To Madagascar

Teasing Out Your Assistants

***NameDropper Sidebar – Jon Bokenkamp

Getting a Little Testy

It’s Not Easy Being Green Screened

Sound and Fury

The Breakfast (Nook) Club

Temp Decomposing

Song Sung Blue



Section D. – Festivals

Toronto, Toschmonto: Time for a Festival Plan "B"

It's Just as Well. Your Film Wasn't Finished!

It's All About Sundance Anyway!

To Get Distribution!

***SideBar: Producer’s Reps vs. Foreign Sales Agents

Don't Buy Into the Premiere Arms Race

Play Them Off Against Each Other

Volume, Volume, Volume

Get Reviews

Meet Your Audience

See the World!

They're "Romantic"

Meet New Money

Get DVD Extras

Meet Other Filmmakers

***Poem: Putting the Festiv Back Into Festival

How to Avoid Going Broke Applying to Film Festivals

Be Selective

Make a Personal Connection to the Festival Programmer

Offer Your Premiere Status

Offer Up Talent

Ask for a Waiver

Don't Ask for a Waiver

Aim Foreign

Mail Smart

Submit Vimeo Links

Hand-Deliver Your DVD

Meet Festival Directors at Other Festivals

Bribes and Blackmail

***SideBar: Top 24 Sundance/Slamdance Rejection Rationalizations

***Poem: We Are Slamdance

How to Start Your Own Film Festival: The Birth of Slamdance

Sundance or Bust

Anarchy in Utah

Prospecting for Screening Rooms

The Birth of IndieWood

***NameDropper Sidebar: Steven Soderbergh

Our Napolean Complex

***NameDropper Sidebar: Marc Forster

Billions and Billions

***Poem: Slamdance at 15

Section E. – Distribution

Sexy Things You Get to Do When You Think Your Film is Finished


E&O Insurance

Repair Relationships

Promote Your Friggin' Movie

DVD Extras

Crowd-Funding Perks




Write Checks



Escaping Your Distributor

Dissolving Your Entity

Rinse, Repeat

***Poem: Don’t Get Distribution

Aarghh!  How to Beat Film Pirates at their Own Game

The Whack-a-Mole Takedowns!

Make Money From the Pirates

The Fakeout!

Using the Pirates to Screw Your Distributor!

Embracing the Pirates!

Slut-Shaming the Advertisers

Make Piracy an Essential Element of your Release Strategy

Use the Pirates to Pimp Your Merch

Use Piracy to Charge for Product Placement

What Operas and Sharknado Can Teach Indie Films

***Poem: Analytic Black Hole

When In Doubt, Create Your Own Oscar

Go Team America!

Big in Germany

A Tree in the Forest

Race to the Academy!

We Wuz Robbed

***Poem: Transmedia Verse

How to Make Money From an Oscar Nomination

The Accountant

How to Become a TV Director and Make it in Hollywood

Recut Your Reel.  

Redo Website

Update Your IMDb and Wikipedia Pages 

Make a List

Whom to Meet With?

How to Get the Meetings

***NameDroppers Sidebar: Joe and Anthony Russo

Research Their Shows

Research The People

Go Early 

The Pre-Meeting Meeting

Check for Breaking News

Do You Take The Water?

Choose Wisely Where to Sit

Wear or Do Something Memorable

Tell Funny Stories About Yourself

***NameDroppers Sidebar – Lynn Shelton

Ask Them Personal Questions

Get Something Out of Each Meeting

The Parking Garage Meeting After the Meeting

***SideBar: The Eight Stages of Success for an Indie Filmmaker



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Dan Mirvish is a director, screenwriter, producer, inventor and author. Mentored by Robert Altman on his first film, Omaha (the movie), Dan co-founded the Slamdance Film Festival. Dan's film Open House forced the Academy Awards® to rewrite their rules, and he also co-wrote the critically-acclaimed novel I Am Martin Eisenstadt. His award-winning film Between Us played in 23 festivals and sold to 144 countries. Dan’s latest film isBernard and Huey, written by the legendary Jules Feiffer. He’s also written for Filmmaker Magazine, Indiewire and The Huffington Post. Dan has a master’s degree in film from USC and has guest lectured at UCLA, NYU, USC, CalArts and many other film schools. Once labelled a "cheerful subversive" by The New York Times, Mirvish was named one ofVariety's Top 50 Creatives to Watch. 


"Learning how to produce ultra-low-budget feature films is a demanding and complicated task. Even earning a Bachelor’s degree in Film, from any of the nation’s best film schools, often fails to provide the intricate methodology of professional producing. Dan Mirvish remedies this inadequacy by providing all the information you need to know in this erudite, anecdotal and humorous book. Brevity is the essence of wit, and Mirvish imparts his philosophy with a poignancy that becomes part of your filmmaking DNA."

—Rob Goald, Senior Editor, Film Festival Today

"What Mirvish has accomplished in this book, is to regale the reader with one man's journey in how to become a 'wildly successful' independant filmmaker. But, he doesn't hold his journey out as a map for everyone to follow; As he concludes in the book's epilogue, 'Find your own way...'"

—Michael Ogden, Journal of Media Education

"Hands down the most fun book on filmmaking I’ve read. I wish this book existed when I first started making films."

—Caveh Zahedi, award-winning filmmaker, Assistant Professor in Screen Studies, The New School

"My students would not only buy the book, but they’d hang onto it after the class was over."

—Lise Raven, Associate Professor, School of Communication & Media, Montclair State University

"An extremely realistic (not to mention funny) look at how to make a truly memorable independent film...or at least have fun trying! Dan's insight into the independent film world is invaluable, mostly because he's made all the mistakes he wants you to avoid!"
—Stephen Dest, award-winning filmmaker; Professor of Film Studies, University of Connecticut

"Dan Mirvish is Hollywood's Merry Prankster: a guerrilla filmmaking guru whose wisdom and insights are as valuable as they are entertaining."
—Kevin DiNovis, award-winning filmmaker; Writing faculty, New York Film Academy

"Dan's book explains the current independent film industry from a producer-director's perspective in a thorough yet highly-accessible manner that is sorely lacking in most film industry books. The fact that the book is presented in a conversational and even irreverent manner which never sacrifices the book's strengths is a pleasant bonus for any reader."
—Robert L. Seigel, entertainment attorney

"Dan cast Julia Stiles for a bag of peanuts! I also did not realize that the author is the co-founder of the Slamdance Film Festival. Those two facts, each individually and by themselves, made whatever he had to say gospel. More importantly, he wrote about something that he actually did and not just heard about."
—Christopher C. Odom, Professor, Full Sail University

"The biggest thing that Mirvish’s approach offers is the fact that he has already done all this. Unlike most authors of filmmaking books, Mirvish has made several feature films, he has been to dozens of festivals with his movies, he has negotiated countless deals with representatives and he has founded and run his own major film festival. I can’t think of any other writer of filmmaking books that has that pedigree. So he offers what the audience most craves: inside information. And he drops truth bombs constantly - filmmaking is really hard; doing things the ordinary way will probably result in failure. He’s not afraid to be negative, but he also offers ingenious ways around the typical land mines in the path of every filmmaker."
—Marc Pilvinsky, veteran film and video editor

"I’ve found myself referring to it, remembering it, listening to it as I finish post-production and enter the festival realm with my film. It is completely applicable, very accessible and totally useful. I think it will come in handy to a great many filmmakers who are looking for guidance. The book makes it feel like something which can, and will, be conquered. The book makes filmmaking understandable, like a how-to guide, while still allowing freedom for the filmmaker to explore and create."
—Daniel Moya, USC School of Cinematic Arts; Director of indie feature, Rental

"Dan is a true pioneer of the independent spirit. With one foot in a hot tub and the other on a mountain top he plants his independent flag somewhere between heaven and hell. In the great independent tradition of father John Cassavetes, Dan does what he has to do to exist in the inhospitable world of the true independent film artist. He is a fellow combatant against mediocrity in motion pictures and any upstart dreamer can benefit from what he has learned in the trenches of the 'just fucking do it' school of Cinema."
—Alexandre Rockwell, Sundance Award-winning director of In the Soup; Associate Arts Professor/Academic Director, NYU Tisch School of the Arts

"The last 25 years has been the most turbulent period in the film industry's history, and Dan has continued to navigate through it and survive. He is a legitimate insider with a wealth of information and knowledge."
—Sean Baker, Spirit and Gotham Award-winning director of Tangerine, Starlet and Take Out

"Dan Mirvish's experience along with his intelligence and humor makes The Cheerful Subversive's Guide to Independent Filmmaking indispensable in the library of every filmmaker. If you have a budget for only one book, this is the one. This investment will pay off and help you not only make money, but to build a career and keep your focus where it should be. The Cheerful Subversive's Guide to Independent Filmmaking is insightful, filled with knowledge, wisdom, and real filmmaking experience. It's perfect for the independent filmmaker."
—Patricia Cardoso, Sundance Award-winning director of Real Women Have Curves; Adjunct faculty at USC School of Cinematic Arts

"Spend your hard-earned cash on Dan's book, read it, and then go make your movie."
—Matthew Harrison, Sundance Award-winning film and TV director of Rhythm Thief and Sex and the City; UCLA Extension instructor

"Both a brutally realistic view of the state of indie film and a remarkably comprehensive and aspirational step-by-step guide to the filmmaking process, Mirvish's book is essential reading for all working filmmakers. Equally applicable to traditional indie filmmaking and the brave new world of digital content creators working at any level, from YouTube to network TV. With Mirvish's quirky sense of humor and shoestring-budget approach to filmmaking, it's an essential addition to any film school curriculum that wants to quickly engage their students with an accessible and relevant text."
—Jon Reiss, award-winning director of Better Living Through Circuitry; author of Think Outside the Box Office; Film directing faculty at CalArts

"If making a feature film is your dream, but nobody is banging on your door to offer you a deal, this book is an invaluable guide on how to never take 'no' for an answer and make it happen yourself. Dan Mirvish demystifies the nitty gritty aspects of making your own film with enthusiastic DIY flair. Seriously, I wish I had this book when we were trying to figure out what K-1s were for the first time!"
—Claire Carre, Gotham Award-nominated writer/director of Embers

"This is the guidebook that belongs in the proverbial rucksack of anyone embarking on the perilous adventure of making an independent feature film. Read for advice, inspiration, and to remind yourself that with enough willpower and a little ingenuity - it can be done."
—Charles Spano, writer and producer of the award-winning feature Embers