At different points in everyone’s life there is a decision made to either go for it or play it safe. This happened to me when I decided I was going to stop talking about making a movie and take some action. Making a movie wasn’t playing it safe for me because I had no connections in the entertainment business, had never written a script, and had no real to money to produce my own movie.
This was 10 years after filmmaker Robert Rodriguez’s legendary indie movie El Mariachi was made for $ 7,000, give or take few bucks. I read Rebel Without A Crew when it was published because I was entertained by El Mariachi and the filmmaker behind it came out of nowhere. He wasn’t the son or relative of an already established Hollywood director, producer, or actor. The book spoke from a true indie filmmaker’s perspective. Hollywood could not script a better story. An unknown indie filmmaker shoots a low budget action movie in Mexico that starts a bidding war between studios. Robert Rodriguez went so far as being a human lab rat for medical trials to earn money to make his movie. That’s going for it.
10 years later I was ready to give it a go. I had been talking about making a movie for years. But that’s all it was…talk. I finally stopped talking, got serious and dug in to do my homework on making a smaller budget movie. I started reading up on a new wave of indie filmmakers that were making movies with smaller budgets just like Robert Rodriguez had successfully done. It’s funny how life moves. Over the next couple of years I ended up a partner in a small industrial video company as my regular job. On the side I was moonlighting producing reality videos. It wasn’t like making a movie, but was I learning areas of production hands on by doing.
During this time I came across an interesting article in a magazine about a small budget action movie that was made by one new filmmaker for $ 12,000. The filmmaker’s name and movie escape me right now. But this was a few months before I was close to getting enough money together to make my first movie Consignment. What got me about this article was reading that this small budget action movie was able to support a large and well equipped production crew during production. Post production was equally impressive as the filmmaker rattled off what they had done during final edit.
I was amazed this indie action movie could be made for as little as $ 12,000. Even the marketing stills shown in the article looked professionally done. I already knew to save money on the Consignment budget that there would not be a set photographer hired to shoot marketing stills. We would have to wing it. As I kept reading I thought to myself if this filmmaker can do this for $ 12,000 I should be able to make an even splashier movie on my planned budget.
To the filmmaker’s credit, towards the end of the article, they shared that the $ 12,000 spent was only a small fraction of what the movie really cost to make. The reported $ 12,000 budget did not reflect donated time of some cast and crew members, generous equipment discounts through a connection, and other contributions to the overall production.
The point I want to get across is every filmmaker has different resources when making a movie. If you read that a smaller budget indie film was made for “X amount” take it with a grain of salt. Co-producer/editor Tim Beachum handled a bulk of the post production work for Consignment himself. His contribution did not appear as an expense in our final budget. Another filmmaker would have to pay an editor or post house hourly. Filmmakers that have made movies know how expensive post production can get. As a friend Tim wasn’t going gouge the production budget on editing. A relative who is a chef provided catering on Consignment 3 out of the 9 production days free of charge. That’s not cheap with a cast and crew of over 50 people to feed quality meals to.
Bottom-line is friend and family favors are never reflected in a true indie movie’s budget. Keep that in mind next time you hear what an indie movie was reportedly made for. What does appear in a budget is hard money you have to spend on your movie. It’s easy to leave out the free things you get, but a indie filmmaker keeps track of every real dollar spent. Especially for money that comes out of their own pocket. With Consignment we ending up having to spend $ 7,000 at an Orange County post house finalizing the master for distribution. That was Robert Rodriguez’s total budget to make El Mariachi and almost half of the reported $ 15,000 budget used to make Paranormal Activity.
Aspiring filmmakers can lose focus causing them to run into problems when they get caught up in the production hype of another movie. After indie movies like El Mariach and Paranormal Activity are released by major studios everybody with a camera and editing software sets out to make it big. That’s the Paranormal Activity and El Mariachi effect in action. Right now there is some indie filmmaker out there thinking, “I can a hot movie on that budget if they did.”
Don’t expect after hearing a indie movie was made for $ 7,000 or $ 15,000 you’ll get the same result. It could be that a small amount of hard money was actually spent, but in reality without that filmmaker’s particular resources it might have not turned out as successfully entertaining. I have not seen Paranormal Activity yet. El Mariachi I’ve seen a dozen times. I can’t say enough about how cool the shooting location in Mexico played. Visually it had character.
Rebel Without A Crew is still one of my favorite books on making movies. What some aspiring filmmakers gloss over is that Robert Rodriguez utilized resources he had that did not impact his budget. What’s important to remember when making a movie is to stay focused on what you’re doing as a filmmaker. To get more no nonsense advice and entertaining stories about making movies outside of Hollywood pick up The First Movie Is The Toughest. There are many books on making movies, but not many are as truly personal, entertaining and informative as this one.
Slice of Americana Films is a tight-knit crew that produces indie cinema and video on demand programming. Founder and filmmaker Sid Kali is best known for his hard-hitting urban movies that feature authentic characters, sharp dialogue and provocative storylines.
Sid’s book The First Movie Is The Toughest [http://www.sidkaliflicks.com/book.html] is a powerful resource for for aspiring screenwriters, directors, and producers along with the casual reader with their own great story idea for a movie. Every chapter has solid information that will help you avoid many common problems and save you money through every stage of production from script to distribution.
Question by Julie-Anne: Best external hard drive for indie filmmakers?
I have about 30 hours worth of footage from mini DV tapes that I’d like to digitally store on an external hard drive. I’d also like the hard drive to have enough space to back up my Mac onto.
What quality hard drives would you recommend?
Answer by Pixelito
Both Seagate and Iomega are good brands for external hard drives.
Since you are doing a lot of video, you will need a decent amount of storage. You can get 1TB external drives fairly cheap.
What do you think? Answer below!
Want to make a low budget movie? Learn how to produce an Indie film with tips from an expert in this free filmmaking video. Expert: Kevin Lindenmuth Contact: www.lindenmuth.com Bio: Kevin Lindenmuth has worked in the film/video business for more than 20 years. He received his BA in film/video production from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in 1987. Filmmaker: Travis Waack
Video Rating: 4 / 5