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2013 S&A Highlights: What Are You Willing To *Forgive* When It Comes To No-Budget/Lo-Budget Films?

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act December 31, 2013 at 3:20PM

This is independent filmmaking folks, where money is limited, budgets are anywhere from zero- to low-budget, so whenever I'm screening an indie feature, I'm more forgiving, you could say. I don't expect that every single aspect of production will be top notch. It's never really a surprise if some aspects aren't as strong as others. I understand that when you're working with a very limited budget, some things will likely suffer; you'll have to make adjustments and compromises. 
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Director Philippe Lacote (R) and actor Isaach de Bankole shoot a scene in the film "Run" in Bassam on August 18, 2013.
Director Philippe Lacote (R) and actor Isaach de Bankole shoot a scene in the film "Run" in Bassam on August 18, 2013.

Editor's note: As 2013 comes to an end, I'll be reposting some of our highlights published during the year. Those who've already read each one can obviously skip them, or revisit if you'd like. For those who joined us later in the year, missing many of these posts from earlier in the year, they will probably be new items. Here's the fifth of many to come, originally posted in January 2013, which generated some good discussion on this blog, and elsewhere. Happy New Year to you all! 

This is independent filmmaking folks, where money is limited, budgets are anywhere from zero- to low-budget, so whenever I'm screening an indie feature, I'm more forgiving, you could say. I don't expect that every single aspect of production will be top notch. I understand that when you're working with a very limited budget, some things will likely suffer; you'll have to make adjustments and compromises. 

Not that all indie films are made equal. First of all, you'd have to define what exactly an indie film is, and that's a conversation the film community (both indie and mainstream) have been having for years now. But I guess you could say that I'm much tougher on studio pictures that cost millions of dollars, usually with top notch talent both in front of and behind the camera, and resources seemingly in near-abundance, than I am when it comes to *smaller* films - especially those in that sub-$500,000 category; and even more-so with those that are made with 5-figure budgets or less.

For example, I made a feature-length film in 2003 (my first and only feature) for $5,000! Does it show? Of course it does! At least I think so.

But when we (my business partners and I) 4-walled a theater here in NYC for 3 days of screenings, over a weekend, the only reactions I got from audiences were on how authentic and real the film's depiction of a relationship between a man and a woman was, with some even asking if the actors were a couple in real life. There was really no mention of the film's low production values.

Of course, that doesn't mean that there weren't those who thought the film was a piece of shit. I'm pretty sure there were. They just didn't say anything to me directly, which is perfectly ok.

But the point is that some were willing to overlook certain inadequacies and instead allowed themselves to be taken in by what many felt were the film's strengths, which they remembered the most. Or, to put it another way, for some, the film's strengths overshadowed its weaknesses, enough for them to appreciate the experience.

Do we expect every film to deliver fully, with each and every individual aspect working perfectly in unison, resulting in a rich, memorable, resounding cinematic experience? Of course we do! But how often does that happen even with expensive Hollywood studio movies, let alone with those made within the resource-limited indie-world?

To be clear, I'm not suggesting that one is inferior to the other, but to consider how we watch those *smaller* films, remembering the challenges the filmmakers had to tackle to see their films through completion. 

So, the question is, what, if anything, are you willing to *forgive,* for lack of a better word, when it comes to watching no- to low-budget indie films? The popular saying is that nothing else really matters but the story. Is that true for you? If everything else is sub-par, but there's an interesting story that hooks you, would that be enough to carry you through the entire film? If the acting is weak, but the cinematography is sublime; or if the sound is poor, but the acting is strong; etc, etc...

Or do you say, tough cookies, I look at every single film, whether studio or indie, through the same lens, and judge them exactly the same way, no matter how expensive or how cheaply-made they are.

After all, there are no-budget/lo-budget films that have impressed in all categories. But like I said, not all indies are created equal.

Discuss...

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