Independent Filmmaking in Detroit

Detroit has been the backdrop to many films. From “8 mile” to “Beverly Hills Cop” to “Transformers”, this city has seen itself as part of the landscape for many feature films produced by high-profile filmmakers. Many of those high-profile films potentially get recognized nationally as part of Hollywood’s annual award’s programs.

However, there are many well-known movie directors who started as independent filmmakers with comparatively low budgets, but managed to become major Hollywood producers and filmmakers. For example, Spike Lee’s and Robert Townsend’s early movies didn’t have mass theater distribution initially, but through hard work and audience support, they became recognized as successful filmmakers and have become major players within the film industry today.

Detroit-native, Terri Lee (no relation) is an entrepreneur, independent filmmaker and the movie critic for WWJ Newsradio 950 and a guest critic for Fox 2. With over thirty years of experiences in multi-media and running her own public relation’s firm, Lee wanted to create an event that’s unique to Detroit while recognizing the hard work of independent filmmakers who produce “low-budget” films. However, Lee notes many do not receive the same recognition as peers with major budgets and significant Hollywood support.

With this in mind, Lee has developed the “I See You Awards”–an event designed to recognize independent filmmakers who produce movies with low budgets.  This event, which is scheduled to be held in Detroit, in 2017, will be the only award’s program of its kind in the country.

I recently discussed with Lee, who has produced and directed a short film and is currently planning a Detroit-based movie, challenges for independent filmmakers, the “I See You Awards” event and her desire to have it here in Detroit.

Lee:  You’re launching the “I See You” Awards.  What exactly is it and why are you doing it?

TLee:  The “I See You Awards” are a celebration of low-budget independent filmmakers.  By low-budget, we mean filmmakers with budgets up to $700,000.  I’m doing it because the Awards fill a niche and create a platform for recognizing independent filmmakers that is currently missing in mainstream Hollywood.  As an independent filmmaker myself, “I see” how hard it is for independent filmmakers to do everything that’s needed to bring their projects to life.

An award recognizing the hottest up-and-coming male and female talent in Hollywood, and Special Achievement Awards (such as a “Filmmaker to Watch” award) will be handed out at such times as the voters feel such a reward is deserved.

And awards will be handed out in both short-film and feature film categories.

Lee:  How did you become an independent filmmaker?

TLee:  I became an independent filmmaker because I’ve always loved working on various productions, I enjoy writing and I love movies.  After I had been reviewing movies for several years, I decided that I wanted to make a film.  I initially had planned to produce my feature film first, but after meeting and networking with several people in the industry, they advised me to “get my feet wet” by producing a short film first.  They also told me that a short film could be used as my “calling card” to show people that I could make a feature film, so I took their advice and wrote the script for “Quickee Loob,” a laugh-out loud comedy about a day in the life of the employees of a 10 minute oil change shop.  It received rave reviews and was shown before two-packed audiences at the Emagine Theatre in Novi.

For the past several years, I have been in pre-production for my feature film, “Think,” and the experiences I’ve had are what led me to create the “I See You Awards.”  Also, as someone who reviews movies professionally and gets to vote in several awards shows, I believe that indie filmmakers deserve recognition too!

Lee:  Is this for local and/or independent filmmakers and how can entries be submitted?

TLee:  This award is for national and international indie filmmakers alike!  Directors, producers, production companies and distribution companies can all submit entries by visiting the I See You Awards website at www.iseeyouawards.com.  And, if you’re a talented actor and you want your work recognized, please encourage your movie’s production team/distribution company to enter the awards.  We want to see you on the Blue Carpet!

Lee:  What’s the difference between an awards program and a movie festival?

TLee:  In order to win a film festival award, filmmakers must enter each festival they’re interested in.  And there are literally thousands and thousands of film festivals.  But, there is only one “I See You Awards” program and we aim to be THE annual awards program that indie filmmakers will aspire to win!

Lee:  Why are you focusing on low-budget independent filmmakers?

TLee:  I am focusing on low-budget independent filmmakers because there isn’t an awards program that recognizes the work of the low budget and ultra low budget indie filmmakers.  Anyone who is or knows an indie filmmaker knows how hard they work to bring their projects to life.  Not only do indie filmmakers have to, in many cases write their own scripts, they also have to raise the funds needed to produce their films, cast them, produce them, shoot them and then once their films are completed, they’re also responsible for securing distribution.

Our goal is to help indie filmmakers gain recognition for all of their hard work.  Our future goals also include helping them to secure funding and gain distribution.

Lee:  Are there specific examples of producers of movie directors starting in low-budget films?

TLee:  Yes,  there certainly are.

  • Spike Lee – produced “She’s Gotta Have It” for $175,000.  It made $7.1 million at the box office.
  • Robert Townsend  – produced “Hollywood Shuffle” for $100,000.  It brought in $5.2 million at the box office.
  • Oren Peli – writer and director of Paranormal Activity.  This film had a budget of $15,000 and it has gone on to gross $193 million.
  • Robert Rodriguez –  writer and director of El Mariachi made for just $7,000.  It brought in $2 million at the box office.  He is now a Hollywood powerhouse.

And, Ava Duvernay – produced her 1st film, “I Will Follow” for $50,000.  It brought in $360,000 at the box office.  Next, she made “Middle of Nowhere” for $200,000, which won her the Directing Award for U.S. Dramatic Film at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.  She went on to direct the critically acclaimed “Selma” and has carved out a successful career in Hollywood, including working on projects with Oprah Winfrey.

Lee:   Other cities have strong independent film bases.  Why are you bringing this to Detroit and when?

TLee:  Why Not Detroit?  All across the world, Detroit is known as “the comeback city!”  Think about 1)  Detroit vs. Everybody, 2)  Detroit Hustles Harder®,  3)  Imported from Detroit (former Chrysler ad campaign), and 4)  Made in Detroit (Kid Rock product line)

People everywhere are coming to Detroit to see the turnaround that is taking place.  The “I See You Awards™” will also be a part of that transformation!  When the film incentive program ended, many indie filmmakers packed up and left.  The “I See You Awards™” will give them a reason to return.  The date is August 27, 2017.

Lee:   What can people expect when they attend this event?

TLee:  Attendees will have an opportunity to walk the official “Blue Carpet” of the I See You Awards!  Why a blue carpet?  The Red Carpet is synonymous with a number of awards shows.  We are setting ourselves apart with our Blue Carpet!  As our event grows in popularity, we are anticipating that independent filmmakers, film fans, supporters and others, will look forward to attending our event each year to walk the Blue Carpet, obtain autographs from the celebrities in attendance and, of course, take pictures and walk away with fantastic memories!

The “I See You Awards” are a celebration of low-budget independent film like no other!  We support indie filmmakers and we love indie film!  Just as small businesses are a vital part of the nation’s economy, indie filmmakers also create jobs and contribute to the economies of cities and states nationwide.

Also, with so many options to watch movies, indie films are an important source of entertainment.  Just think about all of the streaming services that didn’t exist years ago, such as HULU, Netflix, Amazon, etc.  In addition to that, there are also numerous cable channels that need and want content.  The “I See You Awards” are here to help make that happen.

The website is www.iseeyouawards.com.