Saturday, August 23, 2014

Can You make a movie with little to no Money?

As you may have suspected I am a Film Maker.  I make very short films that I like to call "Micro Budget" films.  These small movies consist of less than 15 pages of script and last, on average, three to five minutes.  I make these films so small because I have no money to pay anyone and the only way I can guarantee that it will get done and on time is to finish it in one day.  Yes, I know, those are historically called shorts but even a short film usually lasts 30 minutes or so, but when you are working with about $35 bucks for a production budget that can be a tall task.  More over, my actors are usually interested in only working a few hours and want immediate results.  I might be inclined to call myself a short order cook filmmaker, that sounds about right.  You see, I do not live in LA, Denver or even a smaller big city like Little Rock.  My acting pool comes from a very limited pool of actors and crew out of a little North West Arkansas town called Fayetteville.  Fayetteville has a population of roughly 75-80,000 people.  While the art scene here is quite plentiful it is not accustomed to making film, or even shorts.  Now, I am not saying that it is devoid of talent.  There are many here that make great films and more.  What I am trying to point out is the little problem of not having the funds to pay people to work.  Because the area is unaccustomed to the idea of making films, local investors tend to loose interest after saying hello.

Recently, in the past few years we have had some folks who were able to pay for the actors and crew to film in NWA (Fayetteville) and it spoiled the acting pool a little bit.  Films like "Greater, the Brandon Burlsworth Story" and "Valley Inn" as well as a few others paid a lot of people to work on their films.  This was great!  However, some of the films (of which I am not going to name names) had some missteps when it came to paying extras and eventually soured the taste for such things around the community.  Maybe it is starting to fade a little, this pain of working for nothing at all (in one case the extras weren't allowed to even have a bowl of pea nuts from the craft table), but shouldn't a film pay for the services of the people?  Yeah, they should.  I have tried numerous fundraising outlets to get a film going where everyone gets paid and paid fairly.  Those attempts have fallen flat, but at least I have tried, I really have.  So I stick with micro shorts and keep plugging.  Trying to make them as interesting as possible in a small amount of time.  So, it seems that you may need to have lots of money to make a film.  Ok, that makes sense.

Now, lets look at the flip-side of the coin.  Large movie companies are making bigger and bigger budgeted films in the past couple of years, and while they actually get the film to market and advertise incessantly, a lot of them have failed.  In 2014 there have been at least three big budget films that have fallen flat on their face. 
"Transcendence"  the movie with Johnny Depp uploading his consciousness to a computer cost 100 Million to make and only made 43% of it's money back.  Ouch!  That film even had high end great actors in it!  Another was the film Pompeii with Kit Harrington and Carrie-Anne Moss had an estimated budget of 100 Million as well and has of today made $108 million total.  That sounds like it has made money but don't forget that this includes the theater and distribution monies in it, TriStar/Sony/Columbia (all are virtually the same company) didn't get to take all that money home and spend it on Lambo's and pool parties.  All the while little films like "The Conjuring" with its budget of 20 million and "Paranormal Activity" with an astoundingly minuscule budget of 15 Thousand dollars brought in big money.  Makes these mistakes with big budgets look like the end of the world.  

To make a small film of about an hour to an hour and a half takes a little investment.  My friend Todd, who is the creator of the film "Neapolitan" (I am one of the "Stars") is to be released sometime, eventually... maybe.  Todd bankrolled the entire film and thought it would only cost a few thousand dollars, but that quickly ballooned into a figure that I am not privy to but I know it was a lot more than he bargained for.  He paid everyone of us a good wage and then paid some people who shouldn't have gotten as much as they did.  I am not bashing Todd, he did the right thing and no one is mad or upset about money.  The question I have is, could he have done it for less?  Probably.  Would it have hurt production? Maybe.  

I do know that you Can make a movie without spending money on more than pizza, gasoline and a hotel room or two.  The quality will not be world class but that may not matter much.  What does matter is the story.  A great story can outshine even the most mediocre of an actor, director, cinematographer and editor.  The sound could be "just ok" and not even matter.  Finding a story that will make people pay attention and draw them back in for another go is always priceless.  If you don't have that great story, it can be hard, but we can still make a film.  It is all about perseverance, and dedication.  

To make a no budget film that is watchable you will need to pay attention to every detail and you will need to be surrounded by dedicated and deliberate individuals.  Finding the people who actually care about the craft of filmmaking and will stick through the project no matter what, will allow you to make a movie without a mention-able budget.  It can be done.  Unfortunately for me, I haven't quite found the right folks, YET.  So, if you want to be in a film and can spare every free moment of every day making it happen, you and I need to talk.  I have great gear and the skills to make it work without having to break the bank.  If you wanna make a "Micro-Short", well, I am free on Monday.  How about a sequel to this one?

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