Skip to main content

Producing An Independent Film From The Grassroots Up

Lesson 2 of 18

What is Grassroots Producing?


Producing An Independent Film From The Grassroots Up

Lesson 2 of 18

What is Grassroots Producing?


Lesson Info

What is Grassroots Producing?

We'll talk about what is producing now at the end, like I said it's, anybody who gathers in l a but the elements involved for making a film, um, my grassroots producing is a separate thing that I'll talk about in a second, but you know, it's, this might be the biggest mystery, and if we can solve anything, I hope it's weakened solve what producing does. My parents still don't know what a producer does. You can see that his screenshot of that all facebook because you could apply any name you want my dad, which is funny, um, like I said, gathers all the elements you bring people, you muttering material you bring resource is together, that's it no matter what that means. Um, and, uh, the most prominent example that, you know, we'll talk about a little bit. Here is beasts of the southern wild. Now, um, my role on beast was for the year prior to going into preproduction, all I was responsible for was finding the people to be in the film. I was going up because we had a very particular way o...

f or ben the director had a very particular vision for what he wanted for the people in the film, what he wanted them to, um I feel like and how they were going to add to the texture of the film that he was trying to create uh he knew that he didn't want anybody with experience, you know, it was he wanted nonprofessionals it wasn't you weren't cast wasn't mark against you if you had experience, but the starting point was not going to be casting agencies the starting point was going to be local people, so that immediately made it a grassroots production, but we'll get into that later. Um so my job for the whole year of two thousand nine was pretty much going into schools, churches, libraries, barber shops, you know, corner stores anywhere I could and getting word out about these very informal auditions that we would be having pretty consistently. And I started in new orleans, where I would sort of my bread and butter was going into schools because I knew that we needed to find a six year old or at the time we thought she was going to be nine years old, a nine year old child to play the main part on dh so I would go into schools and I'd say, you know, I'm I'm here were making this movie and we're looking for children between these ages can I get up in front of your kids and sort of talk about it um and hand out flyers and that's what did and I did it and as many schools that could in new orleans with the help of ah kind of volunteer army some people who eventually got involved in the film or um you know they got involved in the film in a number of different capacities but at the moment that was the most essential thing that we could do towards the creative vision of the film. Obviously there was a lot of kind of budgeting and negotiations and planning tio that needed to happen too and my producing partners were taking care of that meanwhile we needed to find this girl or this movie wasn't going to happen um in another in more of a hollywood kind of film what I was doing would have been taken care of by casting agent you know? But because ben had a very particular thing he was looking for and we were just a small team you know, it was just four people in a room in new orleans we you know, we were operating in a vacuum of resources and also fortunately I think that the kind of casting we needed to do ben needed to trust that myself and the people that I was working with wouldn't know what he was after I so and I did that for a year and then that led to a role on set in which I was in charge of making sure everybody all the all the talent or all the actors basically or non actors in this case we're taking care of and that they knew where they needed to be on everything like that and so that's how I got into producing beasts and it's like I said, that would usually be a casting director but in this case I was responsible for gathering a very important element to the to the film so at the end of the day that's that's what end up happening that's how I got into it now my role you know, on different projects and shifted but you know, even with we're still using these methods to this day for other films were still going into schools I do this almost every weekend when I'm back home in louisiana um go out to auditions we are we hold auditions in far off areas in louisiana looking for particular kids or something like that were still using this stuff to this day so that was, you know, five years ago that we were doing this and we're still doing them because they work these methods it takes a lot of you know, time and energy and manpower but you can do it if you have the right team and enthusiasm and that's going to be a consistent thing that you'll hear a lot too is, um common interest and enthusiasm that's sort of the bread and butter of a grassroots operation I'd say um that's a good ah good way to go into grassroots producing um as you get in, I just want to share some praise that we have in the chat room from people who absolutely love the film lots of people timing in make says I can't believe you have michael gottwald on the air right now and beast of the southern wild was one of the most gorgeous and unexpected films I have ever seen, bridget said it was such a good film I cried my eyes out when I saw it, so I think right now is you're discussing this and kind of how you came about that everyone in the chat room is remembering their feelings when they first saw the movie and it it's just a great experience everybody can experience while you're watching and sharing those emotions so keep those comments coming in we love to hear from you in the chat room so if you're not in there yet click that chat iconic get in that chat room and share your experiences cool I'm glad to hear oh it's always good to hear when people like the film I was just a such poppy, says she's a small part of a bigger universe I was just a small part of a very, very large operation and I just feel, you know fortunate that I get to be here and talk about that experience but also others um so what do we mean by grassroots producing now I have the definition here provided by jeremy bird now jeremy bird was the uh ohio field director of barack obama's two thousand eight election campaign he was my boss because I worked there too before I started working on beasts of the southern wild I was working in ohio as a new media director before that I worked as a field organizer for barack obama in pennsylvania and indiana um and jeremy bird sort of came up with this with this guy named marshall ganz who also barack obama studied under who's sort of the godfather of community organizing grassroots ideas jeremy went on to become the field director for the entire campaign in twenty twelve and I worked with him again and in twenty eleven in a brief stint that I did in the chicago headquarters between film things but so anyway, so if we're going to trust anybody about grassroots the definition of grassroots we're going to trust your herd but again, this is a this is a campaign a political, campaign centric kind of version of it but you can see some of the overlaps that will start to get into hey says access to data and information that is very much a political thing really responsibility and goals at the local level that certainly applies to what we'll be talking about um the ability to scale and make your campaign accessible so in other words the same enthusiasm that I was trying to engender in these when I would go to schools and or neighborhood to get people excited about the process of having people who've never acted before in films you know take that same kind of taking that same kind of grassroots energy going door to door and and applying it to when we actually started making the film we needed to find housing for a bunch of crew for example we needed to find locations later or in another lesson we're going talk tio somebody that I worked with on the casting who then went on to also be the locations manager associate producer of the film and he can talk about sort of the overlaps between those two because there's actually very similar similar um fundamental belief that volunteers can change the outcome volunteers a very kind of campaign centric were or political campaign centric work but we certainly had a lot of people on beasts of the southern wild in other films that I've worked on that were there strictly because of the experience that's what I'll say you know I don't want to say volunteers but they were they were there certainly not for the huge paycheck that they were getting because it didn't exist um and I think that tapping into that well of enthusiasm in an honest way is like a key part of of this these kinds of operations um ok this is a still from beasts of the southern wild it aiken you know I can sort of point you through all the different kind of crazy elements of this of this slide and or this photo and how would they happen to be here? Um this guy I cast in a in a library in homa louisiana has named ernest a bear he's about ninety years old when we made the film this is floyd knockin he lived in the area where you're shooting the film I believe we actually shot this on his property but this is a construction but he this was his property and he of course is in the shot another example of just sort of like, you know, we're going to shoot on location we want to use the people there um this is ah mike arsenal you'll be seeing a lot of him he's dressed in drag uh usually he was our kind of boats on dh animals he was in charge of basically all the stuff that we really didn't know how to do he was sort of like there's always one guy when you make a movie whose if when you make a movie on location who sort of knows the location the best of anybody is really born and bred from there and makes things happen that's that's this guy mike arsenal we'll and we'll see more about him but you know uh he was I can't say enough about him this is his buddy jeff who was always there with him um this has been richardson the ah the director of photography um that's tim curtain he's thea you know he's made he's the grip he's making sure that ben doesn't bonus face somewhere over there I'm sure has been sighted in the director um and this this night when we filmed was sort of the climax of a lot of very unique things that we were doing on the set in that we were filming a celebration that we had sort of made up but that had ties to things that you would see commonly in southern louisiana we use as many people from the area as possible in the shot we also had everybody on the crew dress in drag and then being the shot themselves so we said we want to make we're shooting a party let's have a party so we had everybody sort of uh you know, get into the spirit and run around and there was tons of these sparklers and in fact that scene in the film if you've seen the film where uh huh poppy is carrying the sparklers that is from this night that we were that we were doing that so I'll talk more about how we got here ah, I did in a different lesson but I just wanted to use that as a reference point um so as I said I did a you know this goes back to the grassroots definition but for a year I did a research fellowship where I studied the parallels between independent filmmaking and grassroots political campaigns um and as I said the fuel for the fuel for each of them is enthusiasm and common interest on a grassroots film production in all these people that are sort of volunteers they're opting in to something because they want to do it and it's really important that you as a producer as the person gathering people involved be honest with them about what they can expect the last thing you want us to say this is going to be a cakewalk this film is really cool and you'll get down there and everyone will just lie around and well you know like relax and chill and then they get there and they you know are sort of running themselves ragged that's the last thing you want right so you have to be honest with them but it's always a mixture of honest honesty and enthusiasm so when we would talk to people about coming down to the bayou for beasts we would say this is going to be really hard it's going to be unlike any experience you've ever had in your life it's part of the world is fascinating but it's hot it's sweaty but I think we're going to make one of the coolest things ever here so it's all there's a lot of butts in there but like you leave a cz long as you're honest and you're enthusiastic and you speak to why you think something is a really unique experience it's on them they're choosing to opt into that experience you've given him you know, an appraisal of what it is and it's on them and you don't want somebody who is being forced down there or who is sort of reluctantly going down there and that's a key thing about both political campaigns you know, the volunteers that you work with and grassroots film production and um the yeah and in fact to speak to my own experience it was on ly that I have had the experience on the obama campaign going door to door that I was able and prepared to just cold roll up into a school in new orleans and say have, you know, have the guts to say, hey, I just want to get in front of your kids and try to make this announcement you know, if you get over that fear of like approaching strangers however you do it that was really, really important to film production because no matter what you're doing on film production at some point you're going tohave toe ask ah favor of somebody who you don't know that well and if you can get over uh meeting strangers then you've learned an essential tool um because that stranger could be a crew person that you're trying to hire it could be like the guy who's nightclub you want to rent at a very, very low price for night it could be like an extra or not an extra somebody that you see on the street that you want to throw into the shot you know and I mean, it seems sort of self explanatory, but it really is a key a key component I think t doing films especially at the grassroots level um the mohr money that gets involved I think you can isolate yourself a little bit more but that sort of take some of the fun out of it I think um so now what other situation here is that here's a prompt for everybody at home? What situation can you think of that you've been in your life that in which basically the two elements are common interest and enthusiasm? I'm trying to make this a little bit something that you can relate to because film and politics are not the only thing where you're having people accomplished things through just common interest enthusiasm so I'd love for people to think about what other situations or things they've seen in their life that get done in the same way um and then I'd love to that opening up to you guys is there anything that you guys can think of that sort of operates in same way good potluck dinner huh? That's a very good example we had a lot of those on beasts no, but it is it's just like everyone bring your own food we're going to do this and by everybody pulling their weight we all want to have a dinner together and everybody has their own part and we yeah I think that's actually really really good example I'd say that sometimes you know it's no mistake that we did a lot of um auditioning out of churches and community centers churches do a really good job of kind of pool in common interests on enthusiasm no one's really getting you know the church's congregation is not getting paid till like let's they do a thing s oh that's you know that's one thing a community center same thing it's like we used a lot of like the lions club the montague lions club in montague, louisiana it's just a place where people come together to hold events and and two in the common interest of the community so I consider that grassroots producing as well um all right so now we're gonna get into preproduction and uh and production so again there's my guards no hero um we're going to talk to casey coleman who is the aforementioned person I was working with and casting and then who became locations manager an associate producer and this is chris carol our assistant director will will we'll talk about them in a different lesson. The immersive experience of the crew. This was taken the night that we did the shoot with the fireworks and the whole crew dressed up in drag that's. The whole crew, right there, dressed in their crazy outfits outside of the same place where that the other photo was taken from, um, so my car snow is a local, and he was showing us around the boats. And this is shooting on experience, you know, on location with the whole crew.

Class Description

Producing an independent film takes an enormous commitment of time, money, and energy – but there are steps you can follow to make the whole undertaking more productive and less overwhelming. Producing An Independent Film From The Grassroots, Up is your guide to reducing friction during every stage of independent feature film production.

In this class, Michael Gottwald, a producer on the OSCAR®-nominated, Beasts of the Southern Wild, will detail the process his team used to bring this sleeper hit to life. By exploring the independent film production process through the lens of Beasts of the Southern Wild you’ll learn how to generate your own independent film success. 

Michael will teach you how to:

  • Find optimal material to produce
  • Engage private and social fundraising resources
  • Craft a production plan suited to your existing resources
  • Distribute and market a finished film

Whether or not you have industry connections, or live in traditional “media centers” (such as New York or Los Angeles), you can still give life to a project that will impact the film industry and artform. You don’t have to blindly navigate the rocky terrain of grassroots film production alone. Michael will offer the insights you need to tackle common challenges during every stage of the producing process.

Producing An Independent Film From The Grassroots, Up will show you how to create films that, if positioned properly, rise above the current indie film marketplace "noise."


a Creativelive Student

A top-notch presentation on indie film making. I learned a lot from this course which I hope to soon put into practice as I'm about to embark on my first indie film - as a screen writer for the first time out, but eventually I hope to write, direct, and produce my own film. Very easy to follow the presentations in this course, and the handouts I received when I purchased the course are quite useful.


Such a great course! Being an indie "Grassroots" filmmaker in the middle of three projects, I found what Michael shared to be very valuable. The way that he described the different aspects of producing and illustrated with examples was very clear and fresh. The course really opens you up to examine your own processes, what works / what doesn't and stirs up some new ideas on how to move forward. Thanks CreativeLive team for making the class happen!


This is a tremendous introduction to grassroots filmmaking. Michael takes you step by step through the various elements of film production and offers those so inclined a cursory understanding of what is required. Because filmmaking is a creative pursuit, the direction the individual filmmaker takes from there is entirely up to each. I would highly recommend this course to any one starting out in filmmaking. Well worth the cost. David W. King, Michigan Movie Magazine