Monday, August 9, 2010

Why Microbudget FIlmmaking Sucks

Crafty on a makeshift table--a trash bin.
(Photo: Anton Delfino's Craft Disservice)
Posted Thursday, May 13, 2010 by Mynette Louie

Note: I am repeatedly asked about Microbudget filmmaking. I respond and say that feature filmmaking is for professionals, Microbudget filmmaking is really what I consider home movie making.

I think it's critical that filmmakers and their casts (if working with actors) are paid for time and work. If one wants to make an independent feature, one should do it professionally and not expect people to work for free in violation of state and federal labor laws. Filmmaking is a busines, making a product for mass distribution. Home movie making is a hobby that is best done as such. Have a good time, make a film.

Ask people to "work" on your film, treat them as professionals and pay them. Provide safe working conditions, insurance to cover injuries, work days that reflect overtime compensation, etc.

I found Mynette Louie's blog by accident. It's wonderful and relates to her experience making a fiction film that screened at Sundance in 2009 called "Children of Invention." I like both her positive and negative points of making a microbudget film. It's a good point of view even if I don't agree with it...

By Mynette Louie

Microbudget filmmaking is all the rage right now--it's the new paradigm b/c it MUST be. The old system is bloated and fiscally irresponsible.

This is what everyone's saying these days. But many of those doing the talking have never even made a microbudget feature. While it's true that we all need to squeeze down our budgets now, I rarely hear the pundits and panelists talk about why microbudget sucks.

As someone who's made 3 microbudget features and a bunch of microbudget shorts, and will (must) continue to do so in the foreseeable future, I'd like to tell you why microbudget sucks:

1. The wages can't pay your rent. This relegates filmmaking to a "hobby"--but one that necessitates your 24/7 engagement. Paradox!

2. Tough to get experienced crew, so you have to hire and train newbies. Training takes time. A lot of it. As if my job weren't hard enough.

3. Hard to do more elaborate stuff like period pieces, night exteriors, car scenes, fantastical elements, guns, blood, dolly, steadicam, aerial, underwater, etc.

4. Hard to get A-list talent, which in turn, makes microbudget films harder to sell.

5. Craft service is often lacking (see above). Thankfully, this isn't true on my shoots (though I did have to nix the Red Bulls on Day 3 of CHILDREN OF INVENTION to preserve some dough for music).

6. You have to wear a lot of hats. This can be a "good" thing if you get bored easily, but it can also be exhausting. Also, there can be confusion as to who's responsible for which task.

7. The economically disadvantaged rarely apply to work on microbudgets. They can't afford to! This limits crew diversity and keeps the film industry insular and homogeneous.

And to counterbalance the above, here's why microbudget is good (from a producer's perspective):

1. It's financially sound and investors recoup faster. This is the reason cited by all the pundits, and they're right.

2. Creativity stems from poverty, or: necessity is the mother of invention!

3. You really learn how to cut the fat. Every single shot must have a purpose and be worth our time and money.

4. The fact that it's hard to do effects means that you make pure cinema. You focus on the writing and acting because you can't hide behind effects.

5. The "circus" is contained--there's often not a ton of crew and equipment to distract the actors and director, and the leaner and meaner company can move more efficiently.

6. You get to wear lots of hats. Yes, per above, this could be a "bad" thing, but not if you like variety.

7. Most of the cast/crew are doing it for the love of art, learning, and community...because they sure ain't doin' it for the dough!

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