One day my partner, Samantha, asked me how much money we had in the bank. Her voice sounded odd.
I told her. We’d been saving for a couple of years. We work in film and television; she’s an actress and I work in production and had been restocking the coffers after a couple of slow years for the industry in Toronto.
“That might be just enough,” she said.
I felt the onset of dread. Sure, we had enough to see us through what was looking to be a real dry patch as strikes among the various film technician unions loomed.
I think we should take that money and make a movie in Mexico, she said.
She had the look that all real indie filmmakers have: the shining eyes of a fanatic.
Everything about her demeanor told me that she had activated the doomsday device in her soul, and she would either make this movie or she would cease to exist.
My only decision at this moment was how long it would be before I surrendered to her dream.
To me, a true no-budget movie is one that is solely funded by money that, were you sane, you would use for your continued day-to-day survival.
As we boarded the plane, I thought, everything will be fine, as long as I get a decent gig the moment we get home. Of course that would happen, because it had to.
The universe couldn’t possibly be so cruel as to punish two dreamers for attempting something so fantastic. Then I tried very hard not to think about the almost non-stop parade of genocide that had been the 20th century as I worked on my storyboards.
Budgets, like everything else, are relative. I used to gnash my teeth when I’d hear someone refer to a movie as low budget when it cost, say, 15 million.
The real secret of actual indie filmmaking is that it is entirely possible to make a feature for exactly $0. The secret to doing so is this: do not spend any money.
Of every proposed purchase or rental, I would ask myself if it was more important to me than my future food and shelter. That’s the sort of measure that makes you really creative, that makes you focus intensely on what you have rather than what you do not.
In the end, you have to focus on story and performance.
Last year I spent 8 months working on the crew of a giant Hollywood remake of a twenty year old sci-fi movie, with a budget far exceeding what it would cost to vaccinate an entire continent against polio. It was the most miserable experience of my life, by far. I went to the premiere with my fingers crossed that it would be a decent flick, but despite having superb production values it had zero character or plot, showing all the usual signs of a script that had been drained of all dramatic value by a pack of overpaid suits.
The big studios can afford to throw money at effects and advertising until they get enough bums in seats to make their money back. The independent filmmaker can’t. Make characters and situations that your audience will care about and your movie will be far more memorable than the studio piece of crap I worked on that, thankfully, I can no longer even remember the name of.
How? I’ll tell you in my next post.