5 of Our Key Takeaways From Indie Voices at SXSW 2024

The indie filmmakers of SXSW 2024 offered valuable advice to aspiring filmmakers, talking budgets, schedules, cameras, and more.

5 of Our Key Takeaways From Indie Voices at SXSW 2024

This year’s South by South West has been making headlines with Sydney Sweeny’s jump-scaring horror film, Travis Kelce’s producing debut, and artist boycotts

Indie filmmakers, however, also took the stage at SXSW, offering advice, perspectives on the future, and more.  

In this article, we’ll explore the top five key takeaways we learned from independent filmmakers at SXSW 2024. 

Indie filmmaker Joe Swanberg talks about indie film budgeting at SXSW 2024
Joe Swanberg at South by Southwest

1. Joe Swanberg on the Indie Film Budgeting Mindset 

Indie filmmaker Joe Swanberg took the stage as one of SXSW’s keynote speakers. Known for his micro-budget indie films that rely heavily on improvisation, Swanberg has become a key figure in the mumblecore scene with films like Drinking Buddies and Hannah Takes the Stairs. 

From the financial horrors that almost derailed drinking buddies to his series Young American Bodies increasing their budget by tenfold, Swanberg got into all things budgeting in his speech. 

His personal journey reminded attendees that the film and TV landscape is always changing. Financing and budgeting strategies that worked for his four-season internet series over a decade ago don’t apply to today’s new streaming landscape. Theatrical releases are seeing dwindling audiences, and DVD sales have dropped by almost 97% since their peak in 2006.  

While the indie filmmaking scene may be difficult to navigate, he left aspiring filmmakers with three pieces of advice when it comes to thinking about their budgets:

  1. Act like you have no money and stay scrappy, forcing yourself to think creatively and make the most of your money.
  2. Act like you don’t need money. People only want to give you what you don’t need and deny you what you do. 
  3. Time and — more importantly — your happiness is money and should be budgeted like your funds. When people are unhappy on your set, you're burning future relationships. 

Scraping together the funds and investors for independent projects is a mental and emotional challenge for many filmmakers, especially as the industry landscape continues to shift. 

Indie producer Mark Duplass speaks on the Indie TV round table at SXSW 2024
Mel Eslyn and Mark Duplass on the ‘Future of Indie TV’ panel

2. Mark Duplass is Betting on TV 

In this shifting landscape, the king of indie filmmaking, Mark Duplass, is all in on TV. He and his brother founded Duplass Brother Productions in the 90s and quickly became indie-producing mavericks with hits such as Safety Not Guaranteed, The Skeleton Twins, and Tangerine

The Duplass Brothers' film success started to stagnate when distributors stopped knocking on their door. Indie filmmakers stopped garnering the interest because buyers were only looking at serialized content. Streamlining platforms needed as much content as possible to keep up in the Streaming Wars. 

Now, the Duplass brothers are producing indie pilots, premiering four at SXSW, which he says are funded by his paycheck from The Morning Show

Watch the SXSW 2024 round table ‘The Future of Indie TV’ for Duplass’ advice on making indie television. 

Indie filmmaker and actor Alice Lowe as Agnes in Timestalker, which premiered at South by Southwest
A still of Alice Lowe in Timestalker

3. Alice Lowe on the “Miracle” of Indie Filmmaking

With all this talk of the landscape changing against indie films, it may feel like an uphill battle to make an independent feature — or a miracle. 

Writer-director-star Alice Lowe’s sophomore feature Timestalker had its world premiere at SXSW. A subversive twist on fairytales, Timestalker follows a woman named Agnes who is murdered in the 1600s and vows to find her killer in the next life. She and her murderer are reincarnated throughout time, including the 1980s and a post-apocalyptic future. 

When asked about her SWXSW premier, the auteur stated that it’s a “miracle” when an indie film is made. Lowe’s film took seven years to come to fruition but only 22 days to film once the production company Western Edge Pictures came on board. 

The film almost died many times throughout the long development period. Lowe credits her and the producer’s “evangelical belief” in the film that multiple resurrections — or reincarnations, like her Agnes. 

While art often feels like divine timing, Lowe’s shrewd approach to budgeting helped bring her fantasy piece to life. As the writer, Lowe is always considering her budget and used Timestalker’s reincarnation element to recycle props, sets, and actors, saving time and money, and ultimately making the film possible. 

4. Film.io’s Decentralized Filmmaking Platform

While the future of indie filmmaking may sound uneasy, with stories of long developmental periods, shrinking demand, and funding hurdles, there’s still hope for creatives focused on feature-length projects. At SXSW, Film.io announced its launch of a decentralized platform and a $30K collaboration grant. In this blockchain ecosystem, fans use Film.io’s $FAN tokens to support and vote for projects they believe in.

With this community-based voting system, Film.io hopes to break the barrier to entry for marginalized voices. The voting system is intended to help increase visibility and draw interest from investors for films that have garnered genuine interest from audiences. 

Instead of needing an agent, access to distributors at major festivals, or a miracle, filmmakers can leverage the audience they cultivated on Film.io to open doors to success. 

The ARRI ALEXA 35 is a top camera pick for indie filmmaking and directors of photographers (DPs) at SXSW 2024

5. Cinematographers Reveal the Best Cameras for Indie Films

Making a successful independent film largely depends on making the most out of the budget. While a smaller budget may have more limitations, such as a shorter shooting schedule, less equipment, or a skeleton crew, the camera can make up for these limitations.  

IndieWire surveyed forty-one cinematographers behind the films premiering at SXSW to find out which cameras they used and why. The top three cameras used in the survey are:

  1. The ARRI ALEXA 35
  2. The Sony Venice
  3. The ALEXA Mini 

Both the ARRI ALEXA 35 and Sony Venice were chosen by filmmakers for their ability to render natural skin tones and high performance in low light. 

Rendering natural skin tones makes the characters look more realistic and relatable on-screen and eliminates the need for on-set color correction. Cameras that can shoot at high ISO and deliver powerful imagery in natural lighting help filmmakers achieve the desired aesthetic even with limited equipment.  

Lightweight and portability were common factors when cinematographers selected their cameras, like the ALEXA Mini. Small but powerful cameras allow indie films to shoot more agilely on the move and in tight spaces. 

At the end of the day, when it comes to making movies, it’s not the size of your budget that matters. It’s how you use it. 

Indie filmmakers come together to produce new content after wrapping up pre-production. 

That’s a Wrap

At its core, indie filmmaking is fueled by passion, creativity, and a little lunacy. While the change in entertainment technology and distribution may be causing new challenges, technological advances also open new avenues for filmmakers to make their mark. 

RivetAI is one such technology that is here to help filmmakers achieve their goals. RivetAI was created to empower filmmakers to bring their vision to life by helping creatives streamline pre-production so filmmakers can optimize their budgets and schedules and better pitch their projects wrapped up in one tool. 

While greenlighting an independent feature is no easy task, filmmakers can bring their vision to life with the right tools, a positive mindset, and a pre-production process that maximizes funds.