I've been engaged in an email exchange with a reader who's also a filmmaker currently in pre-production on a no-budget/lo-budget feature film he plans to shoot in the late summer. Our exchange prompted the question in the title of this post.
First, after getting his permission to do so, here's a snip of a longer email he sent me this morning, which I thought was at the heart of the matter: "... A problem here is that there are a lot of filmmakers who do have these ideas about films not capable of being made for less than certain amounts, like 6 figures. There are those who’ve bought into a system of how a film should be made and for how much that’s dominant right now, and who won’t even consider the possibility that you really can make a film for very little money. You just have to be savvy with your scripting. I’m working on a feature right now and when I tell some people how much I’m going to make it for, they turn their noses up, and don’t want to be any part of it, because in their heads, if it’s not a 6 or 7 figure budget, then it must not be good or worth their time. There’s this mindset that a lot of us have which we need to shake."
The budget for this filmmaker's feature film is around $35,000.
In the past, I’ve brought up for discussion the idea that making a film doesn’t necessarily have to be a super-expensive endeavor, ultimately hoping to encourage those starry-eyed filmmakers (certainly not all) to rethink their allegiance to Hollywood’s conspicuous spending model.
Partly inspired by the above filmmaker's comments, I’d like to conduct a filmmaker and audience survey: my question to all you filmmakers and audiences reading this is really to respond to what "John" said above. For filmmakers, how cheaply do you think you could make a feature-length film? Of course, it goes without saying that it’ll be a feature film you’re proud of, is technically and creatively sound, made by a skilled team – enough that you’ll enthusiastically submit it to film festivals, and also to distributors, for acquisition consideration; or that you’d even self-distribute. Take a look at all the feature-length scripts you’ve written (or all the ideas you have yet to put on paper) on your hard drive, that you’re hoping you can make into films some day, only if you are able to raise the necessary funds. Now, looking at all of them, how much cash would you need to get any one of them produced? What is the least amount of money you think you’d require to get this hypothetical film made? Is there a figure in your head that you believe is (or should be) an absolute minimum when it comes to feature film budgets, regardless of all other factors?
And for the audience, does a film's budget (if you know it) affect how you react to it, before you even see it? Do you find yourself dismissing films when you discover how cheaply they were made for, assuming that, because of how low their budgets are, they must not be very good?
Yes, I know it's not such a black and white matter, and really, you could make a film for as little or as much as you want. And with connections, relationships with above- or below-the-line talent, resources and smarts, you could reduce the costs of, or even eliminate several line items.
And obviously it depends on the script as well.
I can think of several films made for less than $100,000 that went on to do well, relative to budget. Barry Jenkins' "Medicine for Melancholy" is just one of many examples.
But indulge me here folks… is "John" correct in saying that there is a mindset amongst filmmakers who've, as he states, bought into a system influenced by Hollywood's spending habits, and have come to believe that making a good film means spending lots and lots of money, and the idea of making a film on the cheap is taboo, no matter what? And also, are audiences and even financiers (whether individual wealthy people, or Kickstarter contributors) scuffing at films with no/lo-budgets?