Sue the Screenwriter cheers on indie filmmakers

Posted in Blogs, Literary

BY SUZANNE KELMAN, Sept. 27, 2013

Hurrah for the independent!

I love this time of year. There’s nothing more enjoyable after a summer of energetic activity then closing my door, lighting a fire and settling down to watch a good movie. And when I’m in the right mood, there is nothing I love more than a good independent film.

I am fascinated by indies for many reasons, one of them being it’s an opportunity to partake in another storyteller’s personal dream or passion.  Often choosing uncomfortable subject matter or thematic elements that just wouldn’t work in the mainstream, an indie filmmaker burns with a story that just has to be told; one they were compelled to write and produce, and somehow some of that raw passion always seems to spill out onto the screen.

ATH new smaller (324x500)

This summer I was invited to attend several indie screenings, one of them written and co-directed by my friend, Persephone Vandegrift. A group of friends and I attended the premiere of her movie, “All Things Hidden,” in downtown Seattle.  This brave story aims to draw attention to the lasting effects of domestic abuse on children. In a recent interview with Her magazine, Persephone told Kyna Morgan that she hoped the film would leave people with hope and courage, no matter how young or old they are and no matter what the situation.  “All Things Hidden” was recently selected for the Seattle Social Justice Film Festival, and I applaud her efforts to bring domestic violence issues to the forefront. You can read more about “All Things Hidden” at

Indies can also be fun.

Another premiere I attended was for the film camp project here on Whidbey Island.  Run by film advocate and tireless volunteer, Chris Douthitt, this had to be my favorite screening for its sheer fun factor. Basically, groups of young people are given a camera, some editing equipment and three weeks. During that time they have to write, cast, direct, film, act in and edit a movie.

The last couple of years, I have been invited there on the first day of camp to advise them on their screenplays. I am always in awe when I arrive three weeks later for the screening of a complete movie experience, including posters and blooper reels.  And talking about indie creativity, I did wonder after reading the script on the first day how one of the filmmakers was going to film a “demonic hellhound.” Fortunately for us somebody’s dog obliged and was filmed in such a way that it didn’t really look like he was trying to lick his victim to death.

I actually think the most exciting time in history for indies is right now. In a recent interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Steven Spielberg predicted the inevitable collapse of the established film industry due to the chances of high-budget movies flopping.  I, however, think the indie market is going to continue to grow. How can it not, with filmmakers tapping into social media, Kickstarter and Indieflix to garner support? This fact, I think, is reflected in the growth of film festivals over the past decade. Writer/producer Stephen Follows recently did a very interesting study on film festivals and found that there are about 3,000 film festivals worldwide, with 75 percent of them created in the last 10 years.

Another reason I love indies is because I always feel I’m an active collaborator in the production process. Half the anticipation of going to see an indie movie set in space, for example, is in seeing how they manage to pull it off. I am often in awe of the creative choices a film crew has to make to fully tell their story, but still appease a tight budget.

Sue Screen film camp

Sue the Screenwriter lends her advice to young filmmakers at a screening in Oak Harbor.

That was one of the things highlighted, when I touched base with Orson Ossman, another local filmmaker whose film premiered this year. When I asked him what the hardest part of filming his recent indie “The Phoenix Project” was, he admitted that the lack of crew and budgetary constraints were tough. The group that call themselves the Ironwood Gang had a very short time frame to pull it off, which left them with little room for error. In order to do produce the film, they had to live and work together in a small space. Orson admitted that going in they had zero contingencies, plus filming a full-length feature was a steep learning curve for them.

Hard to believe, because when I attended the screening of the movie, which is about four scientists’ quest to create life, I thought it was beautifully filmed and had some incredibly heartfelt moments, along with a memorable score.

Orson has certainly come a long way from the first time I saw him onstage as a tap dancing reindeer!  I wish the Ironwood Gang all luck as they move forward to take “The Phoenix Project” onto the film festival circuit. You can follow their journey at the Ironwood Gang.

Orson tells me the Ironwood Gang intends on making many movies together. I was glad to hear it, as I settled down to pick another indie for the evening. It’s comforting to know that we will still have something to watch if Hollywood implodes into a golden ball of glitz and glamour. And by the way, if that happens, don’t worry Steven, there will always be a place waiting for you behind an indie camera. We’ve heard you’ve got talent.

Suzanne Kelman will be teaching a six-week screenwriting basics class from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday mornings Oct. 12 through Nov. 16. Look for more details at Whidbey Life Magazine and on Drewslist, or you can email Sue the Screenwriter for more info at



  1. Suzanne- thanks for the good words for Orson– and for noting the vibrancy in the way of the independent artist– when your heart is in it, all the difference in the world is made!

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