Friday, June 11, 2010

Micro-budget Blues – Or How to Make a Movie in 6 days: PART ONE

What exactly is a micro-budget movie?

Well this is what wikipedia has to say:
“A micro budget film is that which is made on an extremely low budget, sometimes as little as a few thousand dollars.”

I’ve spent the bulk of my movie career, so far, working on micro-budget movies. I consider a micro-budget movie to be “any movie shot for under 50k. Anything over that, qualifies it as low-budget, at least in my mind, because it’s right around that budget that you can afford to pay for “name” talent (at least for one day of shooting.” Plus you can rent at least some "real" equipment, maybe even get some permits and paid locations. A micro-budget movie usually has no “name” talent, is comprised of a non-union (usually low or no paid) crew and is most likely a complete labor of love for the creator.

All three movies I’ve written and directed were all micro-budget. The largest budget of the three was “Edges of Darkness” which came in around a whopping 20k, give or take. It was shot over the course of 6 days on a location that the producer had free access to.

What is the biggest drawback to making micro-budget films?

The biggest drawback is, well, there’s no money, for anything. The producer has to convince an entire cast and crew to work for much less than they’re worth without looking like they’re taking total advantage. This often times means employing friends, in-experienced talent and volunteers. On Edges, I got most of the FX work down for only the cost of material, because the FX artist owed me a favor. Typically the filmmakers work day jobs, some in some out of the industry, while struggling to bring their visions to the screen (or DVD which is more often the case.) We burn the candles at both ends. During the production of Trap, shot over three consecutive weekends, I worked 5 days a week without a rest at my day job, all while prepping for the shoot, holding auditions, rehearsals and dressing the set.

Are there any advantages?

Yeah, there’s little money at stake, so you can take bigger creative risks. If these movies bomb, suck or are never even released nobodies financially devastated. No mortgaged homes or loans that take a life time to pay back. With so little money at stake you can really push the creative limits of storytelling. With Edges of Darkness, I experimented (to varying degrees of success) with 3 fairly non-conventional stories that were intercut with little concrete connections between the three. There were strong thematic connections, all three dealt with loneliness, broken families and people trying to reconnect with each other or their humanity. Then I set these stories against the backdrop of a zombie apocalypse, not exactly mainstream cinema type stuff. It was a risky project. With Edges it paid off and the movie made quite a bit of money, especially given the budget. However, if it would 500k, the producer wouldn’t be so happy.

How do you write a Micro-Budget screenplay?

Most screenwriting books will tell you not to write with budget in mind. But, when you are writing a script to be done on a micro-budget you really need to take into consideration what you have access to; locations, actors, equipment, FX, ect… Then ask, what kind of narrative would best utilize these things. Usually, I limit the number of characters and locations to cut down on costs. When writing Trap, I created a story with only three main characters and most of it took place in a single location. The location was donated by one of the three main actors, who also acted as a co-producer. If you’re goal is distribution it also helps to do some research on companies releasing micro-budget movies. What kind of movies are they putting out?

More to come…………


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