In the last few weeks I've had several, sometimes heated discussions with people on both sides of the "should you make a low-budget movie" fence. Some people think it's impossible or unwise to make a movie for very little money while some people think spending any money (or time) on a local indie movie is pointless. Jim Brennan's CASA post ("So you think you're so different) is a must-read for both sides.
The one thing everyone seems to agree on is that it's probably unwise for anybody to spend money to make a bad movie. Yet, we continue to see low-budget movies made locally for as little as $2k to above $250k in the last few years that, well, frankly, aren't very good. The number of really good, truly local independent movies made in the last 2-3 years can probably be counted on one hand. Denver isn't alone in this regard. Los Angeles, while home to many of the greatest filmmakers in the world, also produces a ton of crap that fail both artistically and commercially.
In many ways, budgets make a big difference on what you can and can't do. But budget is probably the least important factor to making a good movie. The most important factor is obviously the script, but bad movies get made from good scripts all the time and in most cases it wasn't because the filmmakers didn't spend enough.
Much of the heated anti-low-budget movie sentiment always surfaces when I hold a "How-to Make a Low-Budget Movie" seminar down at the Bug Theatre. I teach it about three times a year. I recently had a guy who has never shot a feature-length movie tell me (well, he yelled at me) he wouldn't shoot a feature for less than $20K. He's apparently shoots stuff for a news station and thinks "shooting is shooting." Why would I pay somebody with no feature-length experience ANY money to make a movie that looks like a news segment because that's what I'd get. If I had $20k to shoot a movie, it certainly wouldn't go to THAT guy. And, besides, would his contribution in any way shape or form make getting back my $20k investment more likely or not? The answer is simple: I could get a much better job done by someone else for much less. Going with someone better and less expensive is a huge benefit both artistically and financially. A no-brainer.
Aside form artistic choices, the truly local indie filmmaker faces a lot of choices as to what kind of movie to make to maximize their return on their financial investment. Mark Grove and John Firestone over at Asgard Entertainment understand this better than anyone in town and have a business model worth emulating, especially as commercial success become more important in your career. Most great filmmakers, btw, made a really low-budget movie before they were big time because that's how most filmmakers start their careers. Very few (unless well-connected or well-funded) start off with a huge budget. Where are you? Beginner, emerging, established, or A-Lister?
So what if you're a writer and you have a story that doesn't have an obvious market or you don't want someone else to make it (assuming for a moment that someone would) and you don't have access to a lot of capital? Or how do you get people to invest in your project when you have never made a feature-length movie before? Would you invest in such a thing? If the answer is yes, please call me! If the answer is no, then you understand one of the many reasons people don't invest in independent movies. Do you let that stop you from making the movie you want to make?
My basic belief is this: If you think of yourself as writer, keep writing and pitching your stories to anyone and everyone who will listen. Someday someone MIGHT buy a script from you or you MIGHT get paid work on other people's projects (I get a lot of this kind of work). But if you call yourself a filmmaker, do whatever it takes to make films. Get it? Filmmakers make films. And they don't let other people decide for them if they 'get' to do that.
Making an artistically successful ultra low-budget movie can be done. It takes a lot of talent, a lot of time, and a lot of help from people who share your passion. Keeping your costs down INCREASES your chances for it to be a financial success, even if that means just getting your money back or getting other paid work because of it (I've gotten paid work because of my ultra low-budget movie Jimmy Said and it hasn't even been released yet!).
So anyway, the next seminar is tomorrow (October 16th from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.). It's at The Bug Theatre (3654 Navajo St., Denver 80211). Cost is $95. Come if you want. Or not.