HOW BUDGET STRANGULATION IN INDEPENDENT CINEMA CAN CREATE ORGASMIC RETURNS
by Jim Lounsbury
1. Embrace Chaos
From Swingers, to Blood Simple, to Pepi, there is a level of chaos that comes from workingwith smaller budgets. A level of energy. An organized chaos that becomes the template forthe creation of the work. For instance, in
, Doug Liman chose to shoot the barscenes in an actual bar while it was open, because he didn't have money to build or rent thevenue. He pre-lit the seat where Heather Graham was going to sit, and then shot it fromacross the room… Many of the patrons of the bar didn't even know a scene was being shot,and by embracing the chaos, Liman gained a sense of authenticity in the scenes.
Even in larger budget films, such as Iñárritu's
, or Coppolla's
Lost in Translation
filmmakers reach for the authenticity of documentary style acquisition, opting to shoot thecontextual underpinnings of their films in the actual environments, cinema verité.Rather than trying to control everything, it is essential to allow a level of chaos to infuse thefilmmaking process. Capture reality wherever possible.
"It was really Doug's (Liman) idea to use this documentary cinema véritéapproach. His whole approach was, "Don’t make
with half as muchmoney, make
with ten times as much money." He was taking all thesechances. Of course, to us at the time it looked like he was kind of flying by theseat of his pants, but ultimately the movie looked really good and we couldn'thave gotten that kind of energy or authenticity if we had done it any otherway…"
John Favreau re: Swingers
2. Form a Tight, Small Crew
There is not only a level of mobility and flexibility that comes with a smaller production team,but a level of intimacy and connectedness. In order to create an environment where actorscan settle into their characters, and the crew can be mobilized to take advantage ofopportunities that arise, a small, close-knit yet independent production team can be moreproductive, and more resourceful than a larger, and more dependent, team.This is never more apparent than in the recent Australian success, Samson and Delilah, therecent Australian feature, shot and directed by Warwick Thornton, who shot with a crew assmall as 6, and rarely more than 12 throughout the shoot.
"There were no grips, no gaffers, no cranes and not too many lights on set…Money creates problems. You know, films turn into these sort of big circus andclown shows in a sense and it was important for me just to have that sort ofpersonal space with the two actors and be able to direct that way. Not to directthrough a crew."
Warwick Thornton re: Samson & Delilah
According to sociologists Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith
, there are six fundamentals ofcollaboration that are necessary for high performing groups:
- Small numbers of people -- Typically less than twelve
Horowitz, Josh. The Mind of the Modern Moviemaker. New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2006.
Lowenstein, Stephen. My First Movie: Twenty Celebrated Directors Talk about Their First Film. New York, NY.Pantheon Books. 2000.
ABC News Online "Low-budget masterpiece pulls focus on Indigenous problems" by Rebekah van Druten PostedMay 12 2009
Katzenbach, Jon R., and Douglas K. Smith.
The Wisdom of Teams.
New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2003.