How the hell do I know what people mean when they’re talking about indie film?

I worked with an indie producer once who told me that some would call what he did for a living “lying.” In fact, he was lying. But everything he would lie about would EVENTUALLY be true, so he didn’t exactly consider it lying.

I thought how so much of what we do as indie filmmakers is display an aura of confidence even if we don’t have any confidence at the time. And how there are certain things you hear over and over again from indie filmmakers that sometimes need a little translating.

So I made a helpful list.


  1. “We just have to get a rough cut before the Sundance deadline.”
    Meaning: “We are very nervous about getting into any festivals.”
  2. “We have a skeleton crew.”
    Meaning: “Me and my friend.”
  3. “We’ll worry about that in post.”
    Meaning: “We don’t have the money to finish that scene.”
  4. “We have silent investors.”
    Meaning: “My dad gave me some money.”
  5. “We have an amazing cast.”
    Meaning: “We don’t have any names.”
  6. “We will just sell the film at festivals.”
    Meaning: “No one was interested in it as a script.”
  7. “We almost got into Sundance.”
    Meaning: “We didn’t get into Sundance.”
  8. “Our film really plays better to an audience.”
    Meaning: “I had a screening with drunk friends and some of them laughed.”
  9. “I took some time off from making indie films.”
    Meaning: “My dad was pissed that he didn’t get his money back.”
  10. “My film looks better on a big screen.”
    Meaning: “I want someone to screen my film in a theater…some day.”
  11. “We got a lot of offers, but they were all just a little too low.”
    Meaning: “We didn’t get any real offers.”
  12. “Everyone on our film got paid.”
    Meaning: “There were only 5 people on our crew and each person got $50.”
  13. “My writing partner.”
    Meaning: “My husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend.”
  14. “We got a ton of great press off that film.”
    Meaning: “…A couple online articles that weren’t all great.”
  15. “Our film will sell really big in foreign markets.”
    Meaning: “Everyone in the US has passed on our film already.”
  16. “We chose to play all smaller film festivals to build our audience in a grassroots marketing way.”
    Meaning: “Not one fucking big film festival wanted our film.”
  17. “We are getting our financing in stages.”
    Meaning: “We don’t have financing.”
  18. “Everyone gets a piece of the backend.”
    Meaning: “This movie will never make any backend.”
  19. “We chose to skip the theatrical route and go straight to DVD because it was more cost effective.”
    Meaning: “We were going to have to pay for our own screenings.”
  20. “My agent is really pushing harder for me to get studio jobs and assignments now.”
    Meaning: “I’m too depressed from the failure of my last film to come up with anything else I’d want to make.”
  21. “My film is more experimental.”
    Meaning: “The story never really came together like we hoped.”
  22. “We’re recutting.”
    Meaning: “No one liked our film in its current state.”

Don’t worry, I’ve heard myself say a bunch of these.

Started a new job this week! Dances with Films is starting, get there! And LA Film Fest is on the 16th!

Heidi Van Lier is a filmmaker living in Los Angeles. She has directed 3 feature films, with another one on the way. Her first film, Chi Girl, won the Slamdance Film Festival in 1999. She has written a film school textbook called The Indie Film Rule Book, available on She has been a programmer for the Slamdance Film Festival, and on juries and panels at countless festivals around the country. She has an expensive 8-year-old daughter, send help.

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