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Guerrilla Filmmaker & Advocate for True Independent Films

Andy Mingo

Andy Mingo
It’s Film Festival Season when independent films get their big chance to compete with the major players; but some insiders say that’s not true anymore. We connected with film maker Andy Mingo to find out if the American Dream is still alive at the festivals.

Andy Mingo Interview

IP:  Andy, what is Film Festival Season; we’ve all heard of the Sundance Film Festival – has it grown beyond that one event?

Andy Mingo:  Well, yes and no.  Actually there’s been an explosion of film festivals since the heralded 1980’s where Sundance was established as a beacon for independent film.  But since then Independent Film has become big business and the large festivals that want to be Sundance try to fashion themselves after that model.  In the end  a lot of festivals cater to “independent” films made with multi million dollar budgets that may or may not already have distribution.  For the true independent filmmaker that world is as tough as ever if not tougher now that we ironically have to compete with big studios for screening slots.

IP: You speak frequently to your students and at industry events about True Independent Films. Exactly what are those?

Andy Mingo: When I teach my digital filmmaking classes I’m sure to cover all the great success stories, Robert Rodriguez’s book, Rebel Without a Crew is required reading.  Mainly I try to build my students up and give them the knowledge that they need to carry out their own vision.  In Oregon where I teach, the Governor’s office has put a lot of effort into catering to filmmaking at all levels and I like to get students involved. 

Andy Mingo: Take the film “Management” with Jennifer Aniston and Woody Harrelson for example, we got students internship positions on that production to give them a look at all sides of filmmaking.  They understand how the studios do it so that they can replicate the process.  Recently I hauled students down to the State Capitol for the Oregon Film and Media Industry Day.  They got to talk with people from production houses like Laika, which just produced the animated film, Coraline, while I talked with State Senators and Representatives about the role true independent filmmaking has in the State.

IP: You also draw a distinction between corporate films, corporate independent, and True Independent Films. What are the differences?

Andy Mingo:  Let me start by saying that I love films from all kinds of sources, from the corporate blockbusters like Iron Man and Twilight that I resort to watching when I’m brain dead at the end of the week and can do little more than drool.  Then there’s corporate independent (I won’t name names) who infiltrate the festival scene with the intent of establishing that “Indie” mystique.  It’s a marketing tool more or less.  Then there’s the true independent films, mostly made for little money and financed by cliché credit cards.  There’s a long history of such films: Clerks, Eraserhead, Hollywood Shuffle, PI, and most recently The Dirty Garage, which is shockingly doing well at festivals, against all odds.

IP: You’ve said that the Festival committees are now turning their backs on these True Independent Films. Isn’t Festival Season all about independents and high budget films being on a level playing field?

Andy Mingo:  I wouldn’t say that they’re turning their backs on true independent films per se, it’s rather a problem of mathematics.  Let’s say that you are a filmmaker that produces a great feature.  You send it to the festivals where it arrives and is placed onto the slush pile.  There, it is allocated to “interns,” who more often than not are teenagers or somebody’s nephew, or people off the street, who “view” the films.  This usually entails maybe or maybe not putting the screener in the DVD player, giving a condescending yawn and then hitting eject.  Why?  Because the available screening slots have already been taken up by well-financed VIP films who go to the front of the line like at that nightclub you heard was really cool.  Think of these films as Paris Hilton, and well, you are just you.  I think the problem is that people confuse festivals with being something outside of the film industry, true independent filmmakers included.

IP: What do you see as the future for True Independent Films? If the Festivals are closed to them, does this put the independent filmmakers out of business?

Andy Mingo:  The good news is that there are a number of film festivals out there that either are emerging or are making a conscious effort to get back to the roots of independent films.  That said, the industry is changing in a way that filmmakers don’t have to rely on theater screenings.  There has been such a vast disimination of media via the web and DVDs distributed over the internet so that anyone can get their film out there, but then one has to contend with the vast sea of content that already exists.

IP: Do you see a parallel here between independent publishing or independent music labels with the plight of the independent film maker?

Andy Mingo:  Of course.  Aside from the fact that the film industry seems to be doing very well these days, independent publishing in particular offers a great example of the future of things.  The larger publishers carry so much overhead that they have to sell tens of thousands of books in order to make a profit and therefore it has offered independent publishers the opportunity to rush in a fill the void where big publishers once resided.  Eventually the same idea will apply to the large studios, especially as filmmaking technology becomes less and less expensive and video keeps advancing to the point that it can affordably compete with film stock.

IP: You’ve got a new film out yourself – The Iconographer. Does it meet the test for a True Independent Film?

Andy Mingo:  If by “test” do you mean does it fit the category of film made on a shoestring budget with a skeleton crew, financed by credit cards, the whole world seemingly plotting against a core group of believers who in the end pulled it off?… then yes, it is a True Independent Film.

IP: So tell us a little about The Iconographer story line.

Andy Mingo: The Iconographer is a film of two brothers sliding backwards on the ladder of success.  When life crashes them both back to their starting line (which in this case is their family’s liquor store) both brothers have to scramble to redefine their lives.  It’s a story of people having to adjust due to disappointing events.  It’s a modern tragedy -- the perfect story for the situation we now inhabit in 2009.

IP: You have a built in audience from the grass roots fan base you’ve built but what do you tell your students who ask for career advice?

Andy Mingo:  I generally don’t have to tell my students much.  They still believe in the dream where anyone can make great films for the rest of their lives, and I really don’t want to be the Debra Downer that tells them otherwise.  Part of making it as a true independent filmmaker is believing in yourself and maybe being a little monomaniacal as well.

Andy Mingo is an independent filmmaker and professor of digital media in Portland, Oregon. His newest film, The Iconographer, is under review by several film festival committees for the Summer 2009 season. Trailers for The Iconographer are viewable online at www.theiconographer.com.