Saturday, October 30, 2010

Movie-Making: Indie Budgets, aka Use What You Have

I'm going to digress a little.

(That's funny Abby-- you're digressing and you haven't even started talking about the topic yet.)

Yeah, I know.

But I'm still gonna digress a little.

Because in this post I will be referencing my film, Pirates in the Suburbs (but we'll just call it "Pirates" or "PITS") and I would love to give you a little intro...

does that really count as digressing?


brief history on the origin of PITS:

Some kids in the neighborhood had an idea for a pirate movie one fine, spring day in the year 2009. I got wind of it and offered to write the screenplay for them. It was a casual deal, and no one expected anything to really come of it.

Except me.

I threw myself into writing a great, swashbuckling epic. I had it all planned out-- we would need a ship, a warehouse for the Island sets, weapons, explosives, a bunch of extras, a place to film over at the coast, a dock, a castle miniature and castle sets, costumes, more miniatures, you know... a whole lot for a few neighborhood kids.
I wanted to make Pirates of the Caribbean!

And one day, said to my mother, "So uh, Mom, what's my budget?"

I think she jumped.


"Yeah, Mom. I wanna make this movie..."

After I gave her the general scoop of my great, swashbuckling epic, my Mother gave me the "What? Are you crazy?" look and then said:

"Abby... to make that kind of movie well, you need a studio-sized budget.

And we have no studio. And no budget."

Me- "So.... what do I do, then?" (I was very grumpy upon hearing this.)

A few days later my Wonderfully Geniusly Brilliant Mother pitched an idea to me:

"There's a little girl who loves pirates, and one night after reading her pirate storybook before bed, the story's pirates show up in her room, and she has to hide them from the family."

I liked it, she liked it, and everybody else involved liked it.

Thus, Pirates in the Suburbs was born.

It's only a 33min movie that was shot with a single camcorder over 14 non-consecutive days, and it was my first film. It was not the epic I envisioned originally, but it was a very very good story that was turned into a pretty decent film.

Your point, Abby?

Oh yeah. I was supposed to be talking about Indie (Independent) Film Budgeting, huh?

I'm not here to give you figures and tables and average amounts of money. 

What I am saying is this: to make a good movie, you need a good story, and you need to know your limits. 

My Mom continually said to me, "Use what you have."

We had a suburban neighborhood and a bunch of enthusiastic kids. We didn't have a couple million dollars to spare.

If we had gone ahead and tried to make the swashbuckling epic originally planned, we would have ended up with kids running around with plastic swords in the street and sailing around on cardboard ships in the garage. It would have looked like a kiddie skit caught on camera. You know what I mean??
We weren't capable of making a movie like that look good.

But a story set in the contemporary that incorporates two pirate characters, that, that is doable. And we did it. We used what we had to make a good movie.

So my advice to young independent filmmakers, and even to those of you who aren't filmmakers yet, is make a movie that you know you can do well. Utilize what you have, and try not be in denial about the stuff you wish you have that you don't. You don't have your own film company, multi-millions of dollars, and a mansion in Beverly Hills, I'm sorry.
Neither do I.

But look around. What do you have at your disposal? What is in the backyard, in the attic, down at the park, up the street? What is around you that you can utilize to make a good movie? 

I'm not saying that you have to make contemporary films, always. The Burns Family made Pendragon, which was set in early medieval time, and visually looked very good. But they had quite a large budget for an independent Christian film. 

But what about that great, epic fantasy I wanted to do? And my 17th century film? And all those other movies I had running around in my head that require million-dollar budgets???

Don't worry-- you will be able to make those movies, I promise. Just not yet. Some common, very helpful advice for young filmmakers is to start out small. Make short films, make things that you can do and do well. And as you gain experience and recognition, your projects can get bigger and bigger, and hopefully better and better. 
Remember, you're just starting out; nobody's expecting a blockbuster from you yet. It's okay to make small movies. Really. 

I have a hunch that people think more highly of a well-done short film with a good story than a 2-hour-long attempt at an epic.

Did that help any?

Oh, and speaking of Pirates of the Caribbean,

 The only rules that really matter are these: what a man can do and what a man can't do.
-Jack Sparrow


1 comment:

Lainie said...

It is such a blessing to have a teachable daughter. You make proud ;)