BIG BRAINS – small budgets
Sharing Hard-learned DIY Filmmaking Lessons
The BIG BRAINS – small budgets Series Introduction
I had the idea for this series when working on the screenplay for my second DIY Film. My first film BETI AND AMARE was at the beginning of its festival successes and I realized how much easier things had gotten now that I had done it already.
I wished that I could share my experiences with aspiring DIY filmmakers to make things easier for them. I wished that there was a resource for DIY filmmakers that didn’t focus only on the technicality of building your own rig or dolly, but one that focused on DIY as a completely new way to make films, separate from mainstream independent filmmaking.
I sensed that the understanding I had reached through my work was part of a bigger phenomenon and I had the idea of concretizing this phenomenon by getting a bunch of us together, to talk about our experiences, in one place.
So when putting this series together, the only guidelines I had when selecting the filmmakers featured here were that they had made at least one feature length film and that they had made it DIY style. When I did the interviews with the filmmakers, I focused my questions in a way to get them to talk about what they wanted to talk about.
It became clear that my instinct had been correct and that many of the lessons we learned while making our first films seemed to apply to all of us and were separate from the lessons filmmakers have learned while making traditional independent films. This was instantly exciting to me, because it meant that we could indeed use those experiences to concretize DIY filmmaking as its own phenomenon and that we could begin to define it.
On the set of APOCALYPSE NOW (which I personally classify as a DIY film, albeit not a micro budget one) Francis Ford Coppola once said into his spouse’s camera that ”One day some little fat girl in Ohio is going to be the new Mozart, you know, and make a beautiful film with her little father’s camera recorder. And for once, the so-called professionalism about movies will be destroyed, forever. And it will really become an art form”. It is apparent to me that we have reached this point in history. More and more people are making wonderful self-financed narrative films on micro-budgets, and with very limited resources and some of them may indeed be savants. It started with the huge success that was CLERKS, evolved into THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, and continued growing from there.
For the first time in history, making a movie has become as accessible as recording an album. We have reached the digital age, where low-end professional cameras are as affordable as used cars. Literally anyone can pick up a camera and shoot a movie, no matter what your background or circumstances. It is now up to the artist, which films get made and how they get made. Hence, it is my belief that DIY Film is part of the natural evolution of the art of filmmaking and will allow for yet unseen artistic heights to be reached in film.
But there is still work to be done throughout the film industry to foster this phenomenon. I have realized that this series, and others like it, shouldn’t only serve the purpose of giving advice to filmmakers, but also of evening the way for them by describing and defining this phenomenon to people who are interested in it from an artistic, academic or journalistic perspective.
If we want to someday be graced by Coppola’s Mozart, we have to create awareness of this kind of film.
The first step in this direction is to recognize the distinction between mainstream independent films and DIY films which are driven mostly by one person, who does most of the work themselves, with budgets that can mostly be described as “no-budgets”, non-existent crews, and equipment with low-end prosumer value.
The filmmakers featured here are all great examples of durability, flexibility, innovation, and artistic capability. And yet, many of them have not had the success that they deserve. Many directors who make high budget films aren’t writers, cinematographers, actors or even musicians, and I’m not really sure how many dramaturgical decisions they actually make themselves, so I wonder what even makes them directors. For me their accomplishments pale in relation to the accomplishments of the directors featured in this series and any other director who has a clear vision of all aspects of their film.
At this point, I want to iterate that DIY doesn’t have to be micro-budget, although it mostly is. As I have said, the DIY ethic is characterized by the creation of something without asking permission. Another way to say this is that DIY filmmaking refers to any director who has a clear vision and knows how to implement it without compromising its core.
It is my hope that this series is not only read by prospective filmmakers but also by people who wish to gain an appreciation for what DIY filmmaking means in the context of filmmaking prowess.
If you’re a journalist, I urge you to write about DIY films, if you’re a festival programmer, take a chance on these films and invite them into your selections, if you’re an appreciator of art, find these films and watch them and tell people about them. It’s what you must do to allow the art of film to evolve.
If you’re a filmmaker, or a prospective filmmaker, know this: there are no more excuses. If you want to make a successful and/or acclaimed DIY Film like Gregory Bayne’s DRIVEN or my debut feature BETI AND AMARE, you can. Just pick up a camera, gather together a few friends, and do it. You don’t need anyone’s permission. The only thing standing in your way is you.
Before I end this rant, I’d like to make one more point. It is important to remember that most DIY filmmakers aren’t micro-budget filmmakers by choice.
When we are offered help, we usually take it.
Stay tuned for posts from the following filmmakers, part of the BIG BRAINS – small budget Series:
Michael W. Dean