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Indie Filmmaking Innovation in Making and Distributing a Low Budget Film

I interviewed Stephen Meier about the making of his new film WOODBRIDGE.

Below is the unedited full interview on Indie Filmmaking Innovation.

Tyler M. Reid: Can you tell me a bit about your new film WOODBRIDGE?

Stephen Meier: Inspired by true events, Woodbridge. is a high octane, coming of age thriller about the loss of innocence. Set in Southern California in 1988, and taking place over the course of one night, it tells the story of four friends ages fifteen to sixteen, who set off on a five mile trek to confront the school bully. Along their journey they will explore the deeper meaning of friendship, responsibility, fear, and standing up for what’s right and wrong. What will happen that night will change their lives forever.

TMR: What has been your role in the creation of the film?

SM: I’m the writer, director, and producer, as well as casting director, location manager, caterer, etc. Haha. I’m the everything. When you’re doing a true indie, and I mean, shoestring budget indie, you do anything and everything to make the film happen, including cleaning the houses you rented so that you don’t get hit with a cleaning fee.

TMR: How and why did you decide to cast the film the way you have?

SM: This is a great question. So the first thing I did when I decided to make the film was reach out to three “kids” who I had cast in other projects, which unfortunately never got made. I wanted to work with these actors, and felt a sense of loyalty to them to give them a chance. Therefore, I sent them the script and told them to pick their roles (I knew what roles they would pick just from their personalities). Once they decided who they wanted to be, we set up auditions. They invited all of their friends to audition, who happened to be big on social media, which was important, but not the most important, and then sat in with me during those auditions. A little unorthodox, but it paid huge dividends. First off, we found new talent that would never have auditioned had the kids not told their friends. Secondly, we could see chemistry right away. And lastly, it created this really cool atmosphere and environment, where everyone felt supported and excited to be there. Honestly, the energy was amazing from the get go.

TMR: You seem like someone who thinks about their distribution and marketing strategy the moment they have an idea for a film. What your is your process in determining the route you have taken for WOODBRIDGE?

SM: One hundred percent. I always say you have to marry the business side with the creative side for longevity in this industry. From day one I was always intrigued with influencers true ability to influence, and I wanted to test this, as well as disrupt the current state of distribution, which is completely broken. I mean..for the past few years I’ve sat back and watched “kids” who lip synched songs for six seconds make hundreds of thousands of dollars. Then I sat with my target audience, and asked them about the types of films they loved and why. More often than not I was told MID90’s. When I asked why, I was told because it was a slice of life movie they could relate to, it was real. Plus, they loved that they casted new comers. This resonated with me. Around the same time I was helping two high school girls write their screenplay. When I asked them who they wanted to be in it they gave me a list of influencers. This was that lightbulb moment. Kids today don’t care about Hollywood Stars. At all.I mean if we need anymore proof, look at the fact that Emma Chamberlain was on the cover of ROLLING STONE. ROLLING STONE for God’s sake. This was it. This is when I realized I wanted to do a slice of life movie with influencers and then try to market straight to their followers. So I casted 17 kids who were big on social media, but could act. Acting was a high priority.

TMR: Did you try anything new with your film in terms of casting, production, or marketing/distribution that you have never done before?

SM: Well, we just discussed the casting…which I have one more thing to add. I also casted a girl who bombed her audition only because she wrote me the sweetest email afterwards. I was moved by it, and told her that if she worked with my acting teacher I would give her one line. She ended up having about twenty lines and a monologue that will make you spin. As far as production — that was pretty straight forward, except for it was done over ten nights. Well, eleven. Five on, one off, five on. All overnights. And…four of those RUN AND GUN. We filmed in my hometown of Encinitas, where you don’t need permits. It was exciting times.

Marketing/Distribution — one hundred percent doing things differently. First off, I’m going with Kinema, which is a distribution platform. So many reasons why I’m doing this. The number one is the CEO, Christie Marchese. She loved the trailer, did her research, saw the kids were big on social media, and emailed me directly saying how WOODBRIDGE and KINEMA were the perfect fit, and they are. Why? Because I have a social media army behind me: My Cast. My kids have a huge following. Yet, it’s not just my kids, but their friends, roommates, boyfriends/girlfriends. Thees kids can make WOODBRIDGE trend on social media, which is where my target audience is.They have fans/followers in the multi millions — But guess what, I don’t need millions of their followers to buy the movie. I only need half a percent of one percent of them to buy the movie to make a 300% ROI. More importantly, my target audience doesn’t care if the movie is in theaters. They watch films from their phones and computers. So that’s what we’re going to do. WE’re going to do a social media takeover for a week… And that’s just phase one. Phase two is taking that data set and pitching it to a streamer with a second version of WOODBRIDGE that has an all 80’s soundtrack.

TMR: And more importantly, If you are okay with sharing, what is the budget(or a round number) of the film, how did you about financing it?

SM: $150k. All in. I put money in, and told my friends the train was leaving the station. That’s when people started investing; once they knew it was real. We didn’t have the whole budget until two weeks after we shot. A bit stressful at times, but I kept the faith. In the landscape that indie films are in now, what are a couple significant areas of indie filmmaking that filmmakers should focus their energies on? Knowing their audience, and how they are going to market the film. You have to have a strategy. Hope is not a strategy. (Quality of content, audience growth, grassroots marketing, et cetera) I think that’s a good starting point!

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