James Merendino has been making underground indie classics since the 80s, including microbudgets. He's most known for SLC Punk! and his recent follow-up nearly 20 years later but has made 13 films, largely outside the Hollywood machine. Here he talks about how he got films made and his philosophy on filmmaking for ultra indie filmmakers.
There's a lot of ways to cut corners on your no budget feature film to get it in the can and out the door. We're big fans of making your film whatever way you can, by hook or by crook. But this is one corner you should seriously consider NOT cutting.
Technological innovation has made filmmaking affordable to millions. But to get truly innovative, microbudget films out there into the world and build audiences, we need something more: we need a movement.
HERE I PROVIDE AN EXCERPT FROM OUR BOOK: MASTER THE NANO ON WRITING GOOD SCRIPT FOR YOUR NO-BUDGET FILM:
Three-act structure gets a bad rep. Blame Hollywood. They have perfected the three-act machine to drain the life and edges out of scripts – catalyst happens at 12 minutes, first act change at 22 minutes, B story introduced at 30 minutes, etc. But this is in part because the three-act structure is such a powerful and simple machine for storytelling. That is, simple to say or analyze – not so simple to do well.
Everybody makes mistakes. Some of us make a lot of them. It’s no different when you start making feature films. Every feature film process – script development, pre-production, production, post, festival strategy, distribution – has A LOT of moving parts. You can and probably will screw up multiple times on any given day. The hope is that your screw-ups won’t be fatal to your project. And most of them aren’t but they can certainly set you back in terms of time, money and heartache.
If you’ve ever shot a feature film in 10-15 days you know that it’s a manic, stressful experience. You’re shooting 8, 10, 12 pages a day to try and get your story in the can. It’s like climbing Mount Everest: it can be done, others have done it, but dozens die every year halfway up the mountain.
Once upon a time I almost made it to the “big time” in the film industry. It was 2007 and I had just finished a post-graduate program at the Canadian Film Centre. And even more, I had managed to get a feature screenplay into the hands of an Oscar nominated, extremely prolific producer who loved my script. In my head I was already spending the six-figure script fee. I daydreamed meetings in LA with A-list agents. For me this was extra-exciting because, prior to getting into the CFC, I was entirely self-taught. I never went to film school. And, yet, here I was, on the brink of the big time.
My first short film, we rented a lighting kit “out of the back of a truck” – literally. A very, very sketchy dude named Scott and his rude girlfriend came by with a van load. He showed up 12 hours late (yes, 12) and almost pooched the shoot. At the end he showed up late to pick up his gear and tried to squeeze more money out of us. His gear was beat up and included (if I remember correctly) maybe 5 or 6 lights of various sorts. We had to build our own softboxes. We paid him $500 for the weekend.
Maybe I’m just a shop-a-holic and haven’t quite come to accept and admit it. But I think that – besides the advances in camera gear and the potential for internet distribution and marketing – e-commerce and e-shopping are disruptive elements in microbudget indie filmmaking.
I've shot two microbudget feature films plus a few no budget short films as well. Based on this experience I’ve decided that the one constant you can count on when shooting a microbudget film is endless surprises and endless improvisation. Let’s list some of them from the first week of shooting Fucking My Way Back Home (FMWBH) in 2015.
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