Eden Ames Tells Compelling Stories As An Indie Filmmaker
Eden Ames is a writer, director and producer doing most of her work in Chicago (for now). When she isn’t doing film stuff, she shares personal anecdotes, production knowledge, and film reviews on her blog, EdenMakesMovies.com. Read our interview with the lovely Eden below…
What motivated and inspired you to start your own business?
I spent most of my life working part-time jobs and then eventually finding my way into an office doing the 9-5. I would’ve probably stayed there had it not been for all the things I was juggling at the time: I was finishing a degree as a full-time student, I had side projects that I would work on in the evenings and weekends and I was a first-time mom. With all this going at once, I really had to evaluate my priorities and ask myself what things in my life were going to put me closer to my longtime aspirations of working in the film industry. As comfy as the desk job was, I decided to walk away from it for several reasons:
- The nature of the work was not aligned to my passions and it was difficult to take pride in my work because of some unfortunate office politics.
- I was preoccupied with the projects I actually wanted to be working on, so it was unfair both to me and the company to remain on board only half-committed.
- Being tied to a 9-5 schedule is awful. At least for me it is. Lots of people say routine is healthy, but as a creative professional, I need the liberty to change up my schedule on the whim.
I knew at the end of the day that I needed to take that “leap of faith” if I really wanted to get to where I want to be.
Tell us about your business.
As of right now, I offer my skills as a freelance jack-of-all-trades. My professional experience includes film production (from ideation all the way through to building budgets, writing proposals, pitching to financiers, scheduling, and even post-production), marketing, motion graphics, and more recently, web design. I’ve also recently started sharing my production knowledge and set experiences in a new blog called EdenMakesMovies.com. My aim is to identify compelling stories and share them with the world through the medium of film, TV or web content. I love this visual medium because of its incredible potential to evoke empathy and generate important discussions.
In 2012, I won first prize in a contest run by the National Coalition Against Censorship for a short film I made called “Waking”. It was a metaphorical examination of the importance of open-mindedness and free thought. More recently, a music video I made for a Chicago band called the Kerosene Stars was selected to be screened at the 2017 Chicago International Music and Movies Festival. I have also received production grants for my projects after pitching my ideas to DePaul University, where I attend school.
Where is your business based?
Currently, my work is based out of Chicago, IL, but I’m not opposed to moving around a bit.
What were the first few steps you took to get your business up and running?
I took indie filmmaker Joe Swanberg’s advice to “be prolific.” In other words, since leaving my job, I’ve had project after project lined up. Every minute is spent developing a new idea and preparing for production and eventually distribution. In such an oversaturated industry, one good film won’t be enough to get you noticed. In the same way that bloggers approach their websites, it is so important for an upcoming filmmaker to continually deliver strong content. What you put out brands you, and the more often you drop something new, the more often you’ll come to mind when a person thinks of a filmmaker.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness of your business and getting new customers?
I sort of answered this in my response to the last question, but in addition to consistency and quality, it is so important to maintain positive relationships. Filmmaking is such a collaborative craft as it is, so networking naturally becomes one of the most important things you can do to help your career in that field. I’d suppose this is the same in most industries, but again, the film industry is so oversaturated, so recruiters will likely choose people who they have a personal connection to over the thousands of strangers applying for the job. Relationships should never be taken for granted.
What have been your biggest challenges so far?
So far, my biggest challenges have been balancing jobs that don’t directly contribute to my creative aspirations against passion projects that I can’t wait to work on everyday. Especially as a young mom still finishing school, I often feel pulled in many directions. I often have to stop and ask myself what the greater purpose is behind the things on my to-do list. When they don’t line up to my goals, I have to cut them out—that’s difficult when you want to say yes to everything. When it comes to productions, the greatest challenge is always the money: finding it, or making what you’ve got work. As of right now, I’m working with a tiny budget for a highly stylized, 1930’s western-influenced music video. Trying to squeeze the vision I have for this project into the resources available has required a lot of thrifty thinking, but I’m always up to that challenge.
How did you overcome these challenges?
In regards to managing time, I’ve learned how to say no and not feel guilty. I’ve also been better at expressing myself graciously when I do need to say no so that I can keep bridges open. This was probably the greatest fear I had before when I wanted to say yes to everything – I didn’t want people to think less of me for it. It turns out, though, that the more selective you are with where your time goes, the more valuable it becomes to the people seeking it. In regards to producing micro-budget projects, I’m much gutsier than before when I wouldn’t even write the screenplay if I didn’t think the story could be made at a reasonable price. Now, I’m not afraid to be writing post-apocalypse thrillers, period pieces and even hybrid-animated/live-action because I know if there’s a will, there’s a way. As of right now, I’m learning to sew skirts from old curtains and table cloths to keep the cost of costumes as low as possible. When you’re up for the challenge, you become more and more versatile and resourceful.
How do you keep motivated through difficult times?
I watch a great film that I love or read about how a big director started off small. Having role models in your industry is a great way to keep yourself motivated. On a day when I’m down, I read about the Duplass brothers, Damien Chazelle and others to remember how they made it, and it reminds me that it can be done.
How do you distinguish yourself from your competitors?
There are a few things that I often see in other indie filmmakers fresh out of film school:
- The stories they tell don’t matter as much as the “flare”.
- They are less proactive about coming up with their own stories than they are about getting onto other people’s bigger sets (and this totally makes sense if you’re not interested in being a director).
- They don’t know how to market and sell their films.
I don’t mean to generalize by saying these things, either, but these points (especially the last) are very common issues I notice when I talk to my peers about their work. In this way, I’ve translated much of my marketing knowledge from working with the American Marketing Association for nearly 3 years to the craft of filmmaking. Whenever I begin a project, my first question is: is there an audience for this? And then I ask: what is the best way I’m going to be able to reach them? Having the answer to these two questions as I head into my projects allow me to plan far ahead for the material I’ll need to promote the film when it’s done and strategize the way I’ll get it in front of the right eyes.
What is the best advice you have received recently?
The best advice I received recently was from a professor who teaches my screenwriting class. He said, “Tell the story that only you can tell.” It was this advice that made me stop trying to tell those pretentious, indie dramas that every film student will inevitably try to make. Instead, telling a personal story has a much more attractive transparency about it. It’s not only easier to write (because it’s your own experience), but it’s also far more effective in expressing an idea or theme.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
I believe in the power of passion. That said, my advice to other entrepreneurs is to make sure that whatever they’re going into business for is something that they absolutely love. If it’s something you wouldn’t do if you weren’t getting paid, chances of long-term success are far less likely. But if what you’re doing is the thing that makes you feel alive, you’re on the right track. Find your mentors, make a plan, then do it and don’t stop until you make it to where you want to be.
What is your favorite business tool or resource?
Social media is great. It’s an obvious answer, but it really is so useful for telling micro-stories and starting conversations. It’s also great for networking, which, as I’ve mentioned before, is crucial to success in the film industry. Although I could really do with some online payroll software as things start to scale.
What social media outlets do you use? List them below.
What is a good article or book you have read recently?
I’m close to finishing “Bossypants” by Tina Fey. She’s hilarious. I love the relatable moments she describes, especially of her early days writing 30 Rock late into the early morning with the baby monitor up on her screen and then waking up a few hours later to go shoot the show. I also started “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy as one of several books I’m planning to read as research for a post-apocalyptic film I’m writing that tells the story of a mother who must trek across war-torn China to find her son.
What are you currently learning about for your business or looking for help with?
Right now, I’m growing my knowledge in the business side of filmmaking. As I prepare to graduate this June, I know that funding a film will be much different (and the expenses will be much greater when I don’t have DePaul’s equipment to use). That said, I’m looking for investors who are interested in telling a female-led story set in post-apocalyptic China (where tax incentives are really good right now). If that sounds like you, please reach out for the most recent draft of the script!
What are your goals for the next few months and how are you striving to achieve them?
Over the next few months, I have projects lined up one after the other. In March, we are shooting the music video I mentioned from earlier; in April, we’re shooting a coming-of-age short film about a girl’s sexual awakening backdropped by a strict, religious upbringing; in May, I hope to get going on a high concept web series that’s been in development for awhile now: Drag Queen Bible Scenes. Following that, a friend of mine is working with me on a TV series called “Queerly Beloved” – about two recent Christian college grads who get married only to realize that their matrimony won’t solve their sexual orientations. (All that written out right next to each other makes me notice a running theme…) And finally, the feature-length post-apocalyptic script will be hopefully through several drafts by the end of the year so that it can be ready to be passed around to producers. My plan to achieve all this? Stay organized and make it happen, one way or another.