Asking these 25 affordable, supportive companies for help doesn’t require bending your knees.
The very definition of independent moviemaker means you have to fend for yourself in an often rocky, always-evolving landscape. It’s definitely a jungle out there, but you don’t need to blaze every trail alone. A thriving community exists which believes in the vitality of artistic independence; a support network is available if you know where to look, and in that community your calls will get returned and respect will be afforded to your project whether or not you can afford rate card prices.
Each year, MovieMaker forges a list of 25 of the most independent-friendly businesses in the industry. We scoured everything from rental houses to production studios to smartphone application companies in pursuit of technical excellence, outstanding customer service, real-world affordability, and most importantly, a solidly pro-indie business ethic. What we found was a treasure trove of companies that are eager to help turn your creative vision into reality.
1) Bexel // bexel.com // 818/565-4399
Bexel is a worldwide provider of audio and video gear sales and services, as well as production and post facilities featuring the latest technology in the field. But they’re also one of the independent moviemaker’s best friends, because they cut deals. If you’re straight with them about budget, they will very likely reciprocate with rental rates on some of their older tech models which are a fraction of their usual fees.
2) Chainsaw Productions // chainsawedit.com // 323/785-1550
They may have big-budget, Emmy-award winning productions on their resume, but L.A.-based Chainsaw works with indie producers as well. Their innovative, full-service post-production studio is a true one-stop shop, featuring sound mix, color design, and a host of other services—like a full-service rental house for Avid.
3) Breezelooks // breezelooks.com // 818/853-9000
Breezelooks, a subsidiary of 3D and visual effects production company Stimulated, Inc., is an à la carte content production service, specifically founded in 2013 for the independent filmmaker. Unlike most production houses, which offer clients a bid price based off their needs, Breezelooks instead opts to match clients’ own budgets with reasonable service, including title sequences, visual effects shots, infographics, and entire scenes.
4) Blackmagic Design // blackmagicdesign.com // 408/954-0500
Blackmagic’s belief that high-quality video should be affordable is more than just a tagline. The Australian manufacturer’s line of cameras (like the Production Camera 4K and the Cinema Camera) has become a popular choice for large and small productions alike—as has the DaVinci Resolve 11, the latest update to their color grading software-come-editing system (the Lite version of which remains free).
5) Collective Digital Studio // collectivedigitalstudio.com // 323/370-1500
With offices around the U.S., the Collective is an all-in-one talent management, media production, and marketing company whose focus is reaching millennial audiences. Partnering with such hit YouTube channels as Annoying Orange, Epic Meal Time, and Rhett and Link, the company has proven to be experts at developing online brands and revenue—bringing indies into mainstream spotlight.
6) Creative District // creativedistrict.com
Launched by Technicolor earlier this year, Creative District members create project pages that interested contributors apply to within the site’s professional network. A lovechild of Kickstarter and LinkedIn, the platform helps leverage social proof in seeking collaborators. Their monthly grants of $5,000 have funded such projects as SXSW comedy Fort Tilden, documentary My Country, No More, and web series Adult Wednesday Addams.
7) Division Camera // divisioncamera.com // 323/465-7700
Rental and sales house Division Camera supplies its clientele with top cameras and lens equipment, as well as grip, sound and lighting gear. In August 2014, building up from a longtime partnership with RED, it became RED Digital’s first authorized rental house on the West Coast.
8) FilmFreeway // filmfreeway.com // 604/229-0600
A burgeoning alternative to Withoutabox, FilmFreeway makes submitting a project to a film festival easy, intuitive, and most importantly, free. The website allows moviemakers to upload online screeners in HD quality, as well as through Vimeo or YouTube, while protecting their rights to the work. Festival hopefuls can also manage their projects on the go, as the site is smartphone- and tablet-friendly.
9) Film Sprout // filmsprout.org // 347/682-2483
These New York-based consultants specialize in social issue films that, as any documentarian knows, require made-to-order distribution strategies to reach target audiences. Designing comprehensive campaigns for docs like The Invisible War and this year’s Alive Inside, Film Sprout organizes beyond-the-multiplex screenings, manages outreach, and creates promotional and discussion materials for maximum engagement. Hourly rates start at $250.
10) Final Draft // finaldraft.com // 800/231-4055
For some 20 years, Final Draft has been the screenwriter’s best friend, with a user-friendly interface and powerful apps for the iPad and smartphone. Final Draft also provides educational resources for writers both new and seasoned, with video tutorials and articles. Given its market dominance, Final Draft retails at a fairly reasonable $250, and also offers special student rates ($130) and a free month trial.
11) FotoKem // fotokem.com // 818/846-3102
Whether you’re posting your project digitally or are sticking to your guns and keeping it on film, you can trust FotoKem. They care about your prints as much as you do, providing a 24-hour drop off and pick-up, meticulous color correction, editing suites, and even office space. (Insider tip: If you do a film finish on your film, they will store your negative at an excellent price.)
12) Glidecam // glidecam.com // 800/600-2011, 781/585-7900
Amateur moviemakers and low-budget productions are frequent users of Glidecam’s stabilization harnesses, which lend a rolling flow to handheld operations. Amidst the wild-card nature of indie film location shoots, Glidecam brings—dare we say it—stability to the production, allowing for a smooth picture in even the roughest circumstances.
13) Got Films // gotfilms.com // 702/838-9143
Got Films is a Vegas-based grassroots production company that just so happens to be among the best in the business. Offering the services of experienced production crews, camera operators, gaffers, stunt crew—you name it, they’ve got it. Their camera packages are flexible and their attitude 100-percent positive.
14) LiteGear // litegear.com // 818/358-8542
This boutique specialty lighting company was started entirely by IATSE Local 728 lighting technicians. LiteGear has 20 years of experience creating customized lamps and lighting fixtures for set designers and cinematographers. In addition to their headquarters in Burbank, LiteGear also has outlets in Ohio, Canada, France and the UK.
15) Los Angeles Center Studios // lacenterstudios.com // 213/534-3000
This independent studio campus provides production offices and sound stages, as well as services such as grip and electric, transportation, and audio/visual equipment. A huge range of shooting locations on the campus (including a bar, a courtroom, a prison, and a police station) make it a moviemaker’s playground—albeit a 20-acre one.
16) MacTech LED // mactechled.com // 818/777-1281
Founded in 2011, L.A.-based MacTech LED’s lights feature consistent color temperatures, efficient energy consumption, durability, lightness, and a large variety of fixture configurations to meet any budget. These qualities, a representative tells us, makes them “versatile enough to light a large stage, a challenging location, or an intimate studio.” And their competitive pricing may convince you to peruse their inventory for a purchase or rental.
17) Panavision // panavision.com // 323/464-3800
Despite the weight of its name, Panavision has long been an independent moviemaker’s friend in the realm of accessibility. Check out their ongoing “New Filmmaker” grant program, which loans camera packages to all manner of low-budget, student, and not-for-profit projects. As a rental facility only, the company strives to make state-of-the-art technology more widely available.
18) RED // red.com // 949/206-7900
There’s a reason Steven Soderbergh has been a champion of RED since its beginning. Their cameras’ agility, mobility, and near-peerless digital resolution feel tailor-made for the unique demands of indie production. While the RED Epic is still a heavy investment for a low-budget production, RED Scarlet and RED One make for surprisingly affordable shooting packages.
19) SAGindie // sagindie.org // 323/549-6064
A nurturing arm of SAG-AFTRA, this exhaustive resource provides guidance on everything from signatory paperwork to casting for indies. Their website contains a useful production directory, open casting calls, and a FAQ page equal parts snarky and thorough. For in-person help, attend one of their free workshops on the signing process for low-budget agreements, held the second Thursday of every month at the SAG-AFTRA L.A. and New York offices.
20) Shotgun Digital // shotgundigital.com // 323/466-5589
Need a reel cut? Meet your new best friend. Shotgun is an L.A. editing powerhouse comprised of a talented team with surprisingly quick turnarounds. Their editors have a keen sense of timing, and are especially strong when it comes to editing comedy material. “I’ve used Shotgun for my actor reel for years, because they are so talented and quick,” says actor/filmmaker Mel Rodriguez.
21) Sony Creative Software // sonycreativesoftware.com // 608/203-2300
Sony Creative Software is a superlative suite of audio and video editing software programs, among the very best in the business. They feature a terrific variety of applications ranging from the extremely affordable (their most basic editing program starts at $50) to their top-of-the-line advanced suite ($800).
22) Stage 32 // stage32.com // firstname.lastname@example.org
Growing social network Stage 32 allows you exposure to over 300,000 creative professionals who have uploaded their sizzle reels, resumes, and awards to the site. Moviemakers mix with agents, producers and directors through Stage 32’s worldwide in-person events. They also host everything from webinars to writers’ labs, helping artists to hone their craft.
23) Trew Audio // trewaudio.com // 888/293-3030, 323/876-7525
This friendly Los Angeles-based sound equipment sales and rental house is famous for their excellent customer service and personal attention. The highly knowledgeable staff has a “no question is too small” business ethic, and their reasonable prices are an advantage for indie budgets.
24) Vegas PAs // vegaspas.com // 702/907-7096
Vegas PAs help production assistant hopefuls be successful, with workshops, mentorships, and internships designed to equip participants with the necessary hands-on experience to land industry jobs, and even to qualify for union memberships. As one reader put it, “Vegas PAs is helping put Vegas on the map for TV and film production by providing trained professionals for production companies to call on.”
Zeus Virtual Production’s two pre-viz apps are a highly affordable choice for indie moviemakers. The ZEUS (Zoic Environmental Unification System): Scout app for $9.99 allows users to navigate a virtual set before entering the studio, and the ZEUS: Track app for $14.95 generates and tracks camera movement to facilitate visual effects. MM
Read last year’s Indie-Friendly Business List here. This article appears in MovieMaker‘s Fall issue, hitting newsstands both physical and digital on November 25, 2014. Cover photograph by Pavel Losevsky / Courtesy of Dreamstime
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