In this fully updated second edition, award-winning film director and Slamdance Film Festival co-founder Dan Mirvish gives you soup-to-nuts, cradle-to-grave advice on every aspect of the filmmaking lifestyle and craft. He drops advice on playing the Hollywood game, and shows you how to finance, cast, shoot and show your indie feature, documentary, episodic series, short film, student film, web video or big-budget blockbuster.
Once labeled a "cheerful subversive" by The New York Times, Mirvish shares lessons he's learned personally from film luminaries Robert Altman, Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas, Steven Soderbergh, Rian Johnson, Whit Stillman, Harold Ramis, Lynn Shelton, John Carpenter, Ava DuVernay, the Russo Brothers, Bong Joon-ho, Sean Baker and more. This revised edition includes brand new chapters on
- filming during a global pandemic
- finding investors and crowdfunding backers
- whether and where to go to film school
- how to get a big Hollywood agent
- self-distributing your film, even to airlines
- casting an Oscar®-winner as your lead actor
- and turning your garage into a 1980s New York subway
Visit the extensive companion website at www.DanMirvish.com for in-depth supplemental videos, behind-the-scenes footage from Dan's films and bonus materials.
Table of Contents
1. Section A: Starting on the Page 2. Section B: Finding the Money 3. Section C: Casting and Pre-Producing 4. Section D: Filming the Movie 5. Section E: Finishing with Abandon 6. Section F: Festing in Style 7. Section G: Distributing and Beyond 8. Section H: Moving on Up 9. Epilogue 10. Appendix: Secret List of Film Festivals Worth Considering
Dan Mirvish is an award-winning director, screenwriter, producer and author. His first film, omaha (the movie), led to the founding of the Slamdance Film Festival. His real estate musical Open House forced the Academy Awards® to rewrite its rules. Dan's critically acclaimed features Between Us, Bernard and Huey and 18½ have screened around the world.
Praise for the second edition
"Spend your hard-earned cash on Dan’s book, read it, then go make your movie. And the 2nd edition is packed with even more useful information than the first!"
—Matthew Harrison, Sundance award-winning film and TV director of Rhythm Thief and Sex and the City; LACCD and UCLA Extension instructor
"Dan Mirvish lends a fresh perspective to the landscape of independent filmmaking by providing readers a practical do-it-yourself approach and an entertaining insider’s look at the industry."
- Emilie Upczak, independent filmmaker and instructor at the University of Colorado, Boulder
"What I love about The Cheerful Subversive is exactly that—it’s Dan’s eternally upbeat tone along with his ability to get around the system, which are inspiring. He is not afraid to share both his failures and successes in a way that represents the 99% of filmmakers who are out in the world just trying to make something happen."
- Dean Yamada, independent filmmaker and Professor at Biola University
"My students buy the book for class, and end up using it for years after the class ends. As a filmmaker and a film teacher, it's the best tool I've found for teaching students how the real world works. The 2nd Edition delivers even more nuggets of wisdom and an up-to-the minute perspective on the industry, festivals and distribution. Students can count on Dan to tell it like it is!"
- Lise Raven, award-winning director of Low, Kinderwald and Snaeland; Associate Professor, Filmmaking BFA, Montclair State University
"It will be required reading. The 2nd edition brings even more insights into indie filmmaking that increases the necessity to upgrade!"
- Eugene Martin, award-winning director of Edge City, Diary of a City Priest and The Anderson Monarchs; and Associate Professor, University of North Texas
"Dan’s book is a prerequisite for anybody attempting to make an independent film. Do yourself a favor and read it now."
- Alex Ferrari, filmmaker and founder of Indie Film Hustle
"This invaluable volume by Dan Mirvish remains a necessary working tool for any serious film student or filmmaker. As a student, I found that this book demystified the daunting process of making an independent film, creating an atmosphere of possibility and imparting incredibly important information with a smile on its face. While Dan and I were collaborating on 18½, we consulted this useful and up-to-date second edition for cogent instruction, helpful reminders, and necessary inspiration. No matter your role in the world of independent film, there is much to be learned here. Lots of people talk the talk but Dan wrote the book and the rest of us should be thanking him!"
- Daniel Moya, writer/producer of 18½ and USC Film School Graduate
Praise for the first edition
"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
"Hands down the most fun book on filmmaking I’ve read. I wish this book existed when I first started making films."
—Caveh Zahedi, Gotham award-winning director of I Am a Sex Addict; Assistant Professor of Screen Studies, The New School
"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
"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
"Dan Mirvish is Hollywood’s Merry Prankster—a guerrilla filmmaking guru whose wisdom and insights are as valuable as they are entertaining."
—Kevin DiNovis, Slamdance award-winning director of Surrender Dorothy; writing faculty, New York Film Academy
"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 of My Brother Jack; Professor of Film Studies, University of Connecticut
"The Cheerful Subversive’s Guide to Independent Filmmaking 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, veteran New York entertainment attorney
"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
"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
"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
"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
"I can attest that every piece of advice, the stories, and all the 'how I make movies' facts in Dan's book are true and they work. Why? Because I've been there beside him as his peer and sounding board along the way. I am constantly amazed by his ingenuity. A must read."
– Paul Rachman, award-winning documentary director of American Hardcore; Slamdance Film Festival Co-Conspirator
"I can't think of a better person to write a great book about independent filmmaking than Dan Mirvish! Not only has he been there (everywhere) and done that (all of it), he writes with a wit and humor that makes the whole thing a joy to behold."
– Mark Stolaroff, award-winning producer, Pig; founder, No-Budget Film School
"For two decades, whenever I need advice on anything independent film-related, Dan Mirvish is the first person I ask. When people ask me for advice on indie film, I often am quoting Dan. I say this because he's got a new book called The Cheerful Subversive's Guide to Independent Filmmaking. On indie film, it may be the only book you ever need to buy."
– Terry Keefe, award-winning director of Slaves of Hollywood, co-producer of Altered Minds, producer, 18½
"Twelve or thirteen movies deep into my 'career' and I'm still learning (or re-learning) some of the hard-won truths Dan Mirvish offers up in his new book. Filmmakers, take note!"
– Richard Schenkman, award-winning director of Pompatus of Love
"I bought Dan's book on the day it came out, and read through it in one sitting. It's a terrific guide that I now recommend to any young person interested in pursuing a career in film – including my 15 year-old daughter! Dan is a national treasure. Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us, Mirvish. You can tell in every often hilarious page how hard-earned this wisdom really is. You're a one-man force of nature!"
- Paul Orzulak, speechwriter, President Bill Clinton; founding partner, West Wing Writers
"I teach low budget filmmaking at UCLA Extension, and I am putting this book at the top of my list of recommended reading. You can't find any other author who has such extensive experience as both a filmmaker and a film festival founder -- and who is willing to share his expertise in such a candid and fun-loving way."
- Kim Adelman, award-winning filmmaker; instructor, UCLA Extension
"Dan Mirvish's hilarious and incredibly useful book."
– Robert Hardy, FilmmakersProcess.com
"Do not miss The Cheerful Subversive's Guide to Independent Filmmaking."
– Bruno Chatelin, FilmFestivals.com
"Not a lot of books have trailers, but then again, not a lot of books are written by co-founders of independent film festivals."
– Michael Nordine, IndieWire