What lessons can a No Budget filmmaker take away from today's Hollywood?
MARK: Wow! That's a hard one. I spend a good deal of time teaching what I call The Alternate Universe of Filmmaking (coined by Peter Broderick), whereby the rules of Independent Low-Budget Filmmaking are exactly the opposite of studio filmmaking.
Don't compete with Hollywood, find a niche they aren't serving well and make it yours.
And as far as storytelling for independents, I'm a big believer in hitting them where they ain't. If you try to compete with Hollywood on their own turf, (like making a conventional romantic comedy), you're going to get clobbered. Hollywood seems to be teaching us that if you throw a lot of money at a problem, you'll succeed. That you don't need to be unique, you just need recognizable elements to sell a film.
I guess if I can come up with one thing, it would be that there's a core audience for every film. And the definition of a Core Audience is the audience who doesn't give a shit how good your film is. Studios have been making bad films that appeal to core audiences--large core audiences--for years. They may be 15-year-old boys or 15-year-old girls, but they can be very passionate, even about the worst films. Independents need to realize that there are core audiences for their films too.
And since making a good film is so damn hard--nearly impossible, especially on a no-budget--it is vital that filmmakers work hard to discover who that core audience is and figure out cost effective ways to reach them. And since these no-budget films won't have big stars in them or be based on comic book heroes, these core audiences will be small. They'll be niche audiences, not defined by demographics like "males 18-49". If a filmmaker can properly court the core audience for their film, they'll succeed even if they don't make a perfect film.
(But I disagree with the notion you can't make a film with "comic book heroes" in it for no budget)