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  • Bazz Hancher

The harsh truth of no-budget filmmaking

So here I am again, ranting about what I love doing, filmmaking. I’m sure people think, why is he even bothering to make films? Let me assure you people, I have asked myself this same question many times. Ok, let’s put what I’m about to say into perspective. This is more about the expectations than anything else, the expectations of the audience who will watch our bottom-end films, the expectations of the makers of these films, and those involved in this madness.

My first example of this has to be the elephant in the room, the budget.

According to Stephen follows Currently, in the UK, many people will regard £150,000 ($245,000) as the cut-off for a film to be classed as a micro-budget film. This is largely down to the fact that £150k is the maximum budget for a movie to take advantage of the SEIS tax scheme (which protects ~78% of investors’ money). Film London’s Microwave micro-budget film scheme caps budgets at £150,000 ($245,000), and Creative England’s iFeatures is a “low budget” scheme at £350,000

WOW, I now realise I’m making films on a budget of two pints of lager and a packet of crisps. Basically, the chances of your film becoming anything more than a jolly for you and your friends at a few film festivals or a premiere showing for your no-budget movie is virtually zero. To put this into laypeople’s terms, if you put a formula one driver on a push bike and yourself into a BMW car for example, then race one lap around a track, it doesn’t matter how good that formula one driver is, he can’t compete with someone who can afford to drive a BMW rather than ride a bike. Talent and hard work, in most cases, are not the recipe for a great film. Cash is king when it comes to making great movies. My reasoning for this is that your film’s picture quality may be good but not great. Your film’s lighting may be good but not great. Your film’s sound may be good but not great. Why? The film camera, an ARRI ALEXA 35 Production Set is approximately $77,940 compared to our ‘budget’ cameras, along with our phones are light years away from where we are. Considering the high costs of the ARRI ALEXA 35 and all the associated kit means lighting, sound recording equipment etc., will also be stupid money for filmmakers like ourselves. I could go on, but I feel you get my point.

To be honest, it is not always about the equipment, it’s more about using the equipment competently. If we are honest with ourselves, as we are at the bottom of this food chain in filmmaking, most of us are self-taught or do weeknight courses on film, this is not to say that all no budget filmmaker aren’t fully educated and trained in their field. This is why more significant films have a DOP who runs a tight ship supervising a camera crew, lighting technicians, directing camera movement, and would composite visual elements in post-production. These people would generally have a degree in film, hence the big wage. I would say this is very rare on a no-budget shoot, but not unheard of.

However, one of the most essential elements of success, along with one of the most significant costs is the promotion & advertising; for example, the movie, Blair Witch Project was reported to have cost less than $60,000 to produce. It has also been reported that the co-director Daniel Myrick, in an interview, quoted that the movie’s distributor Artisan had an "official budget" of $350,000, which he said was "closer to the mark”. Several industry insiders have put the final price tag of the finished film at about $525,000. It doesn’t matter, in my opinion, these are still mind-bending numbers for such a low-budget movie as it still costs more money than we could ever dream for.

As bottom feeders in this enjoyable and equally shitty game, it is easy for me to understand why reviewers and audiences are so critical of rock-bottom indie films; they have such a selection of movies to pick from with such providers as Netflix, Amazon, Plex and so on. So why would they want to watch an unpolished 10th-rate low-end indie film? This is really hard for us to take as no-budget filmmakers because we work so hard and put everything we have into our projects; we are, in some cases, even competent at what we do from the technical point of view. However, this won’t cut the mustard with reviewers & audiences, and why should it? Our films will still look and feel like cheap imitations of a more significant budgeted film in comparison. Remember, film audiences can be picky as they are paying a small fortune to access movies through online providers. However, this is no fault of our own; the reality is that we can only afford a bike.

After saying all of this, we still have many positives to take from our endeavours, some people love raw indie films. There is a big fan base for splatter films in the United States and Europe, along with extreme horror films. I feel raw indie filmmakers seem to be able to get away with making these types of films as they have a more realistic feel to them and don’t have the layers of polish on them that mainstream films have. Also they are less likely to be picked up by a distributor which in itself leads to self-distribution and possibly financial gain. With the world wide web as it is, it allows our art to flourish among audiences, reviewers and dare I say fans who have become fed up with the mainstream money machine. There are many good people within no budget/microfilm world, and it’s great to be part of this family.

So, to sum up my rant, it doesn’t help you as an indie filmmaker to get upset at bad reviews or audience rejection, even though I have been upset by both of these things myself. Take a leaf out of Public Enemy’s book and don’t believe the hype; if you do you will be shot down. Not because your film is bad, it’s because you can only afford a bike. Remember, if you are going to tell the world via the credits on your movie that you have a, Lighting Department, an Electrical department, a director of photography, a 2nd Assistant Director a Casting Director, and so on and so forth, all this will achieve is to make the audience think, bloody hell that was a shit film considering the number of experienced people involved. Look up these roles before you attach them to people on your project, don’t bullshit people; just credit everyone for the job that they do.

I would say most of the people I know of in the no-budget film world don’t make any money, they give their films away to distributors who will happily make some cash off your hard work. This in turn gives you the filmmaker no income to fund your next project, which leaves you with the options of self-funding, investors or crowdfunding your next film. This in itself has its downfalls, it only tends to work when the economy is working well, and people have spare cash to help out. Making films this way may get our names on a google search or our films in shops or on amazon prime, but in reality, however good this makes us feel at the time, no big film companies are offering us a job or offering big funding, and I feel that is what I’m trying to say about the harsh truth of no-budget filmmaking. I haven’t written this to upset my brothers in the no budget film world as I myself am a no budget filmmaker, I have written this because this is how I feel no-budget filmmaking works.

This is only my opinion which is only right to myself, what I have said is not always the case as some filmmakers, crew, and actors do manage to navigate to success from the bottom rung of the filmmaking ladder. However, I believe these people have had a good understanding of this game from early on. I sincerely mean it when I say I hope my brethren make it too big and better things in this harsh and rewarding game. My advice is to make sure you have a good understanding of what no budget raw indie film actually is in comparison to a micro-budget film, a low-budget film, and a mainstream film. This will help you as a filmmaker with any disappointment and your future enjoyment of filmmaking further down the road. I know this seems extremely harsh but I can say hand on heart that I cannot recall anyone I know in this game who has been given a big budget or a chance to make a much bigger film by a producer further up the food chain.

To be honest who cares, I love what I do and will continue to move to the trick of the beat come what may, so to my fellow filmmakers keep riding our filmmaking bikes as hard and fast as we can. Long live no budget film and those who struggle making them.

By Bazz Hancher a no-budget filmmaker

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