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.
If you follow the microbudget/no-budget/nano-budget film scene at all, and read websites like No Film School or Indie Wire you’ve probably picked up a few things that make this a great time to be a microbudget filmmaker.
All this, and more, is true. This is a great time to be a microbudget filmmaker. And yet... it’s damn hard to build audience and launch your career. Some commentators emphasize that quality is the key to building an audience. And they’re right – to a point. If your film is weak and the story doesn’t hold together, it is infinitely harder to build an audience for your film. But that alone isn’t enough.
The idea behind the “quality is what matters” is a simple and an old one: the market will raise the best to the top. Except that this is a myth.
Look at what comes out of Hollywood. There’s technical wizardry and skill, to be certain. But what the Hollywood machine has come to rely upon is market saturation (with $100+ million advertising budgets & re-packaging already well-known past hits – through retreads, sequels and adaptations from comics, etc). The goal is to make their films ubiquitous so that everyone is talking about them. This is their means of building audience and it has little to do with narrative innovation or quality in the sense of creating thoughtful, unique cinema.
In fact, the blockbuster profit model is premised on using formulas that have worked in the past to make profits in the future.
So, how can a bunch of teeny, tiny little films without spaceships and superheroes battling supervillains from another dimension, hope to get noticed? The truth is, bar the occasional bright light and some niche films, they can’t. Not alone. As long as we’re all stuck in our trenches trying to be fabulous on our own, we will find it very hard to break out.
But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. How did the Nouvelle Vague movement get noticed? Mumblecore? Dogme ’95? In part it was because they created a support network and promoted their vision collectively, as a group. This isn’t unique to film, of course. In the past, art movements have often done the same. The early 20th century was awash in art movements and manifestos – the Surrealists, the Modernists, the Dadaists, the Futurists, etc. It was a way to unite these artists and to inform the world of their existence and their goals.
And they were products of their social and historical context. They were rebellions against some aspect of the social order – the monotony and dehumanization of the newly arrived industrial capitalism or the horror of war. They connected their art with a profoundly felt anxiety or desire and became an expression of those desires and anxieties.
In doing both these things – creating a common forum, aesthetic, and network and connecting with the “zeitgeist” – they were able to create awareness and to elevate the value of their work to their audiences. They created buzz and controversy around their goals and methods. Their messages were “universal.”
As filmmakers on the outside of a massive industry that mobilizes tens of billions to sell the same old, same old, we don’t need to relate better to the market as it exists. We need to create a new market. Or, rather, we need to connect with the pockets of ideological ferment that exist; the hunger for a different, better world and different, more fulfilling lives. And we need to work together so that our voices are heard above the din and are seen as one expression of those anxieties and desires.
What do you think? How can microbudget filmmakers build a movement that grows an audience hungry for something new and more authentic?
One of the things we need is to give people a leg up with training. How do we make films for next to no money? What are some of the tricks to saving money while still getting a good film at the end? Too many budding feature filmmakers, people with real vision and talent, are wiped out by mistakes that destroy their project and their confidence. Or they're simply afraid of that happening because they've not seen just how possible it is to make a feature film.
If we can reduce the fear and the rate of failure with some clear direction, tips, training - we can increase the community and increase the people who can make up this Microbudget Film Movement. To do our little part, we have this free ebook that you can download that has a bunch of tips based on the feature films that we've made. We hope it will help you out!
ABOUT THE WRITER: Shawn Whitney has worked as a development executive for the past 8 years with a production company in Montreal, Canada. He also freelances as a story editor, providing support in the screenwriting phase of development for numerous writers and directors. He has taught workshops on nano-budget filmmaking for filmmaking organizations and festivals and has also taught screenwriting at the University of Toronto and Ryerson University. He is also himself a screenwriter, with a Made For TV film under his belt and a few TV series in development, and a writer-director-producer who has produced two no-budget feature films. You can read more about his journey to award-winning feature filmmaker here.
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