Indie Filmmaking: Where’s The Cavalry?

A couple of years back, I had the pleasure of attending the SXSW festival in Austin, TX.  It’s a conglomeration of film, interactive media and music that takes place in mid-March every year.   It’s kind of the mack-daddy of independent everything, in my view, and a very exhilarating festival to attend, especially if you’re an indie-minded individual.

As a new-to-the-industry producer, the pioneering veterans who have walked the very crooked sidewalk known as independent filmmaking inspire me. In my humble opinion, Mark Duplass and Jay Duplass not only represent the true spirit of indie filmmaking, they put their actions where their mouths are by lifting up others who are struggling to bring their creations to life.

Stop and think about that for a minute.  These brothers, now quite successful, champion others on their way up; the very antithesis of the Hollywood Buzzsaw that cuts newcomers to shreds and sends them packing, bloody and limbless, back to Omaha where they came from.  That’s some good karma right there, so filmmakers take note!

The year I attended, Mark Duplass gave the keynote speech at SXSW.  If I went to ANY event during that week, it was going to be his speech. I think I actually waited in line for quite a while that morning. Very unusual for someone like me, who has the attention span of the camera flash but it was well worth it.

His speech was entitled, The Cavalry Is Not Coming

You can read it here

Or watch it here….

At first glance the title sounds like the speech will be a real downer, as if he’s going to say something like, “Give up the dream before it kills you, brothers and sisters!  There’s still time to take up underwater basket-weaving because nobody wants to see your shitty indie drivel.” But, hallelujah, it was the opposite. It was the most genuine and inspiring speech I’d ever heard and I normally don’t gush, so pardon the fan-girl tone.

In a nutshell, the foundation of his speech was to build your body of work organically by using what you have, reaching out to your fellow content creators and artists and just doing it.  So often we stew and stress over how on earth we’re going to get the crazy characters, scenarios and environments we’ve created in our minds puked out into the world before they devour our subconscious.  Who’s going to help us??  I’m reminded of the opening sequence of the Monty Python’s Flying Circus show I used to watch on PBS as a kid.  In one of the intros, a man’s noggin pops open and a motley crew of characters come spewing out.  I mean, who opened that dude’s balding dome and let all the characters out? I suspect it was not the cavalry.

(Sorry. As usual, I got sidetracked.  Suffice it to say, I hope nobody ever cracks open the melon-of-controversy I call my brain. Not sure what would come flying out.)

Getting back to Mark Duplass…the title of that speech has echoed in my head since 2015. It’s become an inspirational mantra for me, something that lifts me up when I find myself slipping dangerously close to pessimism.

As I often do, I Googled the phrase “The Cavalry Isn’t Coming” and found an article from Psychology Today.  Here’s an excerpt:

“In old Hollywood Westerns the action started when a disheveled old Gabby Hayes character would ride into camp and announce “The cavalry isn’t coming”. This cliché marked the onset of intense fighting…Put in the charm of our modern milieu – we keep our head down and take what’s coming to us, look for an opportunity to move on or escape, or decide to creatively engage the conflict that transforms us…That is, we reject the push of events and embrace the pull of our destiny.”

That may be a high-brow-psycho-speak explanation but I think it’s scientific evidence supporting the epiphany I felt after hearing Mark’s speech.

“I get it! WE are the cavalry.”



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