Thursday, December 22, 2005

Budgetary Considerations

Filospinato commented on a post regarding budgetary considerations and how they affect the final product - your movie. He supposed that the lack of budget really hindered the look and quality of his short film.

You are always going to run into money problems on a film. It happens even to the big guys. I was one of the many "soldiers" in the electric department of Die Hard With A Vengeance. That was an $80M film and it had problems with the budget.

Because you are an Indie filmmaker/writer you have to "solve" those problems creatively. You don't have any money to waste. The way you do that is by:

1. Mastering all of the tools at your disposal.
2. Preparation and design.
3. Experience.

Mastering the tools:

The best way to learn the capabilities of your equipment is to do it yourself. You should be shooting a lot of footage on your own. Experimenting with lighting, composition, settings etc... What look are you going for? How can you achieve it with the tools at your disposal?

The more you know about the tools, the more creative choices you have. It also allows you to bypass the standard thinking and come up with something creative to achieve the same effect. I was working on a movie called Ripe back in 1995/96 and we were shooting a scene from the woods out onto a roadway at night. In the rain. At the end of the road we had a crane with a 12K lamp shining down onto the scene. The problem was that the camera could see the crane in the frame. We didn't want to move the crane (that would have eaten up time and light) and we didn't want to move camera (again, time and we wouldn't have been able to get the shot we needed). So what to do?

The Producer suggested we wrap the lower half of the crane in black plastic to hide it. The DP said we could try it, and as the prop and scene crew went to do it, I raised my voice and said, "No!"

(Now understand, I was an electrician on this show. This really wasn't my call to make. But I've never really been shy when it comes to film)

I went over to the DP and the Producer and took a small leafy branch with me. I held the branch out on camera right and asked the DP to look through the lens. The small branch, up close to the camera like that, covered up the crane that was far away.

The DP smiled, looked at the Director and nodded. We could get her shot the way she wanted.

If I hadn't known about foreground, mid-ground and background, I wouldn't have been able to suggest the solution to the problem.


Preparation and Design:

Many people are under the mistaken impression that low budget filmmaking means shooting on the fly, when the exact opposite is true:

The script is written for the budget and the tools available (location, actors, costumes, props).
It is developed and simplified.
All so that you can make a cool movie that can be marketed.



Like I said above, you should be shooting a lot of footage, playing with your equipment and learning how to do this thing called filmmaking. You shouldn't make one or two short films and expect to go off and make a full blown feature and expect to sell it.

You need experience. If your first films look crappy, then ask yourself, "Why?" Learn from your mistakes so that next time you don't repeat them.

I made a lot of crappy short films ("Effugium") and was involved as a crew person in a lot of low budget pictures ( Freakshow, Hellblock 13, Head Cheerleader / Dead Cheerleader, An Occaisional Hell) as well as a ton of commercials (Adluh Flour, Addams bookstore, Icee, Sports South, St. Patty's Day Parade, Linde Praxair, ad infinitum...) . My mistakes were onscreen for all to see (and they still are for that matter).

So what?

They say it takes ten years to become an overnight success. They say that everyone has one good script in them, but it's blocked by about fifteen crappy scripts. Go get some experience and don't worry about what other people think.

You will find that putting these three concepts together - mastering the tools, preparation & design, and experience - you will be able to overcome any budget and any situation and create entertainment. Don't blame the budget (or lack thereof) - that's a cop out.


Aric Blue said...

Couldn't have said it better myself. I totally agree with you.

But the thing I'm now experiencing is this:

Actually, it would be too long a post. I'm going to post it on my blog, feel free to comment on it(if you read it) on your blog since I read it all the time.

Just did it--Expectation versus reality.

Me said...

Dear Bill,

thank you for the very interesting posting.

Sincerely I felt a bit frowned upon (can you see my bottom lip sticking out?) when reading: "You shouldn't make one or two short films and expect to go off and make a full blown feature and expect to sell it".
Well, it was not my expectation.

I just thought the movie could have come up better.
After I realized how crappy was what I made, I did exactly what you suggested: trying to figure out what was wrong and not to repeat it.
Thanks again.

Bill Cunningham said...

Just keep working at it Filo. My saying that was not (just) addressed to you, but for the many who don't speak up and ask the question. You're obviously on the right track because you did question what went wrong. Good. Keep it up.

Me said...

Thanks. I will.
Oh, and BTW, the second short movie is, in fact, well...better.
I'll black out for some days now. back on the net at the beginning of next year.
Wish you a wonderful and exciting 2006.