IFH 092: Why Having No Budget Makes You a Better Filmmaker

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What is this guy talking about? No budget = better filmmaker? He must be nuts. Well, I’ll have to disagree with you. As I am going through my adventure on the making of my second feature film On the Corner of Ego and DesireI have discovered that’s the truth.  Having little or no resources to get your film made can really make you a better filmmaker. 

When you have little or no money and limited resources you discover new and creative ways to solve problems. Those creative ways end up on the screen and that’s where innovation comes from. Doing something people say is nuts.

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Credit: QuoteAddicts

“No one can stop you from doing exactly what you want to do. If you can accept that the cavalry won’t come, and if you can be the cavalry, it gives you a chance to be happy.” – Mark Duplass

When I announced I was going to direct This is Meg with a micro-budget I can’t tell you how many people said I was nuts. BTW, I love it when people do that, it lights my fire. I still think most of the cast and crew still don’t know how we’re going to pull this off.

In this podcast I go over the techniques I used to not only getting the ball rolling but also getting the film shot and edited. Enjoy!

Alex Ferrari 2:09
So guys today I know the title of the show is crazy is you know you become a better filmmaker when you have no money well you know what I'm gonna have to say yeah you do you become a better filmmaker when you have fewer resources. Robert Rodriguez said that back in the day he said that when you start doing studio movies or have bigger budgets, you just anytime there's a problem just throw a hose on it and call the money hose and that takes care of the problems when you can you lose your your ability to be creative and on the spot to kind of solve those problems but I wanted to bring this up because a lot of people have a lot of preconceived notions about filmmaking and what it what you absolutely need to make a movie and what you absolutely need to tell a story and I really kind of took this as Meg on as a experiment as well as my first feature film I wanted to see what was the least I needed to make a movie like literally what is what is the stripped down version of what it takes to make a movie so that's what I did with this is Meg so when Julie and I were coming up with the whole concept for this is bagging and getting it going and writing the script you know Julie was riding around locations that we had and I told her like you shoot here we could shoot there anything that we had control over and it worked out wonderfully you know just on a side note guys i'll give you guys an update on what's going on with this as mag. Right now I am in Edit I will hopefully have a locked a rough cut by the end of this week a full rough cut and a lock cut by the end of next week. And I move very quick I've moved I've been editing like a beast that's why I've been a little bit loose last week I only released one podcast which is the filmmaking hacks a film festival hacks podcast episode so I just been I've been busy in the lab guy so please forgive me for not coming out but i'm back with full force now with two episodes this week and moving on forward with two episodes a week as usual. But I you know I I'm learning so much and I've learned so much you know you think that just because in a lot of a lot of the tribes like well you know Alex has been in business for 27 years. You know like Yeah, but even at 20 some years you learn something new every day and this is a brand new experience for me to shoot the way I've shot you know I've shot on very big budget commercials and music videos where I had huge techno cranes and helicopters and and you know you're 50 people on the crew and so on. And this is the I really did not have that. This is mag at all. I stripped it down and I know A lot of people were asking me, what are you shooting on? What are you shooting in, what's the gear you're using, and I decided to use the Blackmagic Cinema Camera 2.5k not even the 4k version. Now the reason I decided to use the 2.5k as opposed to 4k and resolution was because I'm the DI t on this entire movie as well. And I didn't have the hard drive space and just all all bunch of different things I would have would have caused make it a little bit more headache, I would have to purchase more more cards for you know on set because it would have dropped everything in half as far as and so instead of 4045 minutes per card when we get 27 minutes per card, and so on. And it just didn't make sense for this kind of movie for this situation. The next movie I do, I'll probably shoot 4k probably won't shoot higher than 4k. Depending on what camera I use either the Blackmagic 4k Cinema Camera or the Ursa mini or something along those lines, but without getting too geeky. But the reason I'm bringing this up is because a lot of people get so caught up with all but I don't have this gear, I don't have that gear like I just grabbed the camera I had I own that camera. And then I was I was lucky enough to get a borrow a second camera. So we had a two camera shoot from my my main man and gaffer slash second camera, Austin, who was in who's my right hand man on this entire shoot, which I'm very grateful for. And I'll talk a little bit about the crew in a minute. How we were able to do this, but very, very important thing. I had a friend of mine who was on set not on set, but I think they'd heard about it. And they were going Hey man, what are they shooting their movie on? And this was a dp. And this is another dp who I barely knew. And they said, Oh, what are they shooting, like all the shooting on the Blackmagic and they're like, Oh, what a piece of crap camera that is. And then I just thought there for a second and thought about it. Because I've been a colorist for 10 years. I've done tests on my camera, and I know the image quality I can get out of this camera. But they're but they're biased. And their attitude was remarkable to me. So while they're still talking about like which is the highest resolution which is the best image quality, which is the best camera and blah blah blah blah blah. I've already edited my movie and I'm moving on to my second movie you know I hope that makes sense to you guys. Not to get caught up in that crap. And just because someone else like Oh, that's a horrible camera like well screw you then dude. You know, screw you. I know why you're still talking about that I got a feature made you know because I didn't let that stop me. And that's the thing I've been saying for weeks now. If not months is stopped throwing obstacles in front of yourself. You got to get a good camera you got to get a good image quality is the movie that is the camera that I chose the best image quality in the world. No. Is it 85% of the best image quality I can get for the best bang for the buck? Absolutely. It's going to look fantastic it's going to look better than a DSLR camera and so on and I just wanted to impress upon you guys what what people get caught up in this kind of BS is bullshit. About what people Oh, I need this. I need that you got to strip down what you'd What do you need let's let's strip down what you exactly need to make a movie. You need a camera. You need lenses. You need some lights, you need controllable environments. You need a good audio, you need actors. And the most important thing is you need a story. You know what else what else is there now mind you there's I know there's a ton of other things, y'all you need costumes you need, you need this, you need that you need art direction, you this look, the way we worked with this is whenever we got to a location I looked around, I said okay, that's because everything was lived in. So when you see my edit suite in the movie, I just tweaked a couple things I took, I took a Yoda and a Morpheus out of the way because I didn't want to deal with any, any copyright or you know, trademark issues. And everything else was left, I left the pens the way they were I left the post, it's scattered, because that's my desk. And it's natural, and it's supposed to look that way. And in this kind of movie, I can't stress it enough. And this kind of more realistic indie film, it makes sense. If I was doing a superhero movie, that's $200 million. It's a completely different mindset, guys. But for this kind of movie, you just do what you do. And you just use what you've got. And that's that's my point. You know, with this kind of movie. You have to think about story. And the most important thing is story and performance. And that's what this this process worked for did for me because I was able to focus on performance and story and the story that I'm trying to tell and the performances that I'm trying to get out of my actors and all the technical stuff. I just got the basics down. What are the basics do I know Need any good audio, I need a good image. And I need controllable environments. Well, I've got all that. And then everything else kind of worked its way out, work this way through. And I'm saying this because I don't want you guys to get stuck on not being able to move forward because I don't have this or I don't have that. Now the title of this podcast is, you know, you become a better filmmaker, when you have no budget, where you do because you're focusing on what really matters. You're focusing on the story, you're focusing on the actors where you are, you should be. Now again, it depends on the kind of story you're trying to tell. If you're trying to tell a horror story, or you know, you're making a horror movie, and you have blood and guts, and, you know, monsters and all this kind of stuff. Well, those are things you need to have. In order to tell your story properly. We were trying to tell a dramedy, so we needed a story, we needed actors, we need to call it a controllable environment, and all the other stuff that I was telling you, and that's it, tell the story we're trying to tell. So whatever that story might be, if you're trying to tell an action movie, there's going to be other AV other things that you're going to have to go through to get that told, because believe me, I've done action movies, and I know you need prop guns you need. If you're going to do stunts, you got to figure out how you're going to do stunts safely. If not hire a stunt person to be a stunt coordinator and stunt people to do it properly. Depending on the kind of VFX you might need. And then all everything starts getting more and more complicated. And for my first feature, I didn't want to get that complicated. I wanted to get it right down to the core, the stripped down naked, filmmaker, Nate just being completely make it just story, a good camera, some good audio, some good actors, some nice environments, and let's make a movie. It's exactly what we did. We shot the movie in around eight days, believe it or not, and I've been editing, I've edited this movie probably about two weeks, because we shot what we needed. And because I'm an editor, I shot what I needed to get done. Now don't think this was all a walk in the park. There were problems along the way, as there always is. in production, you figure things out, as you go along. You're like, oh, that didn't work out. Well, what could I have done better here? Oh, that's there are technical issues that we had to work around. And, you know, and things that we figured out along the way. And honestly, the other big thing i can i can suggest to you guys is in the in the tradition of Chris Nolan. Don't shoot your first movie, all in a row. Sometimes, this is the first time in my entire career. I have not shot in a row. We shot this over six weeks. But you know, two days here one day there, you know, all that kind of stuff based around the actor schedule that we had. And it was so wonderful to shoot that way. Because I could just shoot, look at bring it back, look at the footage, check things, see how things were going, Oh, I want to tweak this boom. And then you have time to think about other avenues of the story. And we made some big story changes. as we were going through this, Jillian, I like, oh, why don't we have this character, do this at the end, because now that makes just so much more sense. But if we would have been shooting in a row and scheduled all of it out, it wouldn't have been able to be done. But because we had that kind of freedom, that kind of free flowing freedom to do things in made the movie better. Again, it's this kind of story, this kind of budget, this kind of this kind of film that I'm talking about. Again, this doesn't work on bigger movies, more complex stories, more complex productions with action and horror and other things like that, you know, or, you know, big locales, or you've got helicopter drone shots, and you know, all these kind of different things. This kind of movie, it works perfectly. It's a comedy drama, and it's a drama, it's a drama it and they work perfectly for the kind of movie where we were attempting to make so you know, another another big story. You know, a lot of a lot of things. I've had a few of the tribe members contact me and asked me about because they heard I was they saw behind the scenes footage of the Blackmagic camera was using the like, Hey, what do you How are you dealing with a crop factor. And for those who don't understand what the crop factor is, when you have a 35 millimeter lens, and you put it on a camera that's not a full frame, super 35 frame, meaning that the chip is not the full size that it should be. You get a crop factor so means that if you have a 14 and a 14 millimeter lens, it really turns into more like a 24 to 30 millimeter lens, so you lose a lot of what the lens has to offer. So the Blackmagic Cinema Camera at the 2.5k has a crop factor and there is and it happens with many cameras DSLRs and so on until you start getting into the higher end cameras which are all super 35 or higher. And I just I just told them like Look, I don't know what it's supposed to Look like, I just grabbed the camera, put the lens on and what I get on that lens I get, and let's move on, and not bitch about what I don't have and just enjoy what I do Av. And that's something that I think is a great motto for filmmaking stop complaining about things you don't have, oh, I don't have this, I don't have enough money, I don't have the right stars, I don't have to just do with what you have. Don't complain about what you don't have. And you'll get far there's so much farther, so much faster. Look, guys, if you made if you and I know a lot of filmmakers out there, but let's say I repeat this process five times in the next two years, which is my goal, we'll see what happens. But I'm going to try to repeat this process a handful of times each time getting a little bit more ambitious, a little bit bigger. So while I'm I'm not waiting around for people, I'm not waiting around for the right camera, by the way. And by the way, just so everybody knows, I had access to full read packages, full area Alexa packages offered to me for free, that I could have this entire shoot. But I decided not I didn't want to deal with it. Because when you bring those guys on these, those kind of cameras are pigs, they're big, they're bulky, I wouldn't have been able to do the jority of the stuff that I did, because of their size, weight and infrastructure that is needed to make them work properly. Don't get me wrong, they're much better cameras and the camera I had. But they didn't fit the storytelling process that I had and the crew that I had, by the way, I'll tell you about the crew. I had one camera guy slash gaffer who had some lights, I had some lights. When I say lights, not a lot of lights, we're talking about LED lights, you know, 1k tops on anything. I have some five hundreds and a little a couple of little, you know, $25 LED newer lights that kind of mean a bat bounce things off. And so I had Austin, who was just amazing on this project. Who's my second camera and gaff. When I say gaff he plugged stuff in. Not to take away from that. But he moved lights, and he plugged stuff in, which are awesome. But he also ran camera for me, and is an IXP very experienced cinematographer. We had one guy running audio our boom guy, which was we had three guys on the entire show on and off. But all they did was hold the boom and run the task cam, which was my equipment. So they basically just came held the boom, hit record, and and rode the levels a little bit on that little Tascam no mixer. Okay. And what else who else do we have? We had Julie who was our actress, slash producer slash craft service slash slate, I'm going to do an entire montage of her running, doing our slates because it's hilarious. It was on an iPad. And I will talk all about that process later. We had let me see who else do we have. On occasion, we might have had one extra hand you know, just kind of like running around moving things, I think on one day or two of those eight days. And that's it, guys. That's it. That was my entire crew making. This is Meg, the actors did their own makeup, they came to set with us, like three or four different sets of their own clothes to, for me to choose from to see what's going to work for the movie. And that was it guys, everyone really just gathered together and we made a movie. And it was wonderful. We could move quickly. It was you know, it was just it was just great. We had a wonderful time. Everybody was fed, well fed the entire time. We didn't have spinning wheels of death. By the way, an industry term of spinning wheels of death means pizza. Don't ever bring pizza out for for onset, maybe once on a shoot. Maybe if you get into trouble, but don't do it. It slows people down. It gets them all heavy and lethargic and don't and they don't get they don't work as well. And it's just cheap. It's just like God, everyone had good meals, very affordable for the production and very tasty for for the crew. Everybody was there. Love being there, was happy to be there. worked there eight to 10 hour days, very relaxed. I don't think we work past think one day we work 12 hours because it was the longest day of the shoot because we had a day and a night shoot. And that was it guys, you don't need a lot of money to make a movie. Now mind you don't forget I have 20 years of experience. I have a pool a full post facility meaning that I have my Mac and color grading system and things like that that I've built up over the years but that's something that I've built up over the years. And if you were going to start to and also I also learned how to do it over the last 10 years so I'm holding a lot of hats in this move. I'm actually going to have to change my name, you'll have to look for some of my aliases in the credits, because it's going to be ridiculous how many times my name and Julie's name will show up in the screen in the credits in the in the credits. We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. So, but, but that's what I've been able to do with my resources, these are my resources. These are my connections, my people that I've been able to build up relationships with, over the years. So you need to do the same for your movie for what you're trying to do. You know, you have to pull the relationships that you have, and use the resources that you have, if someone would have told me that they're going to make a movie with in a Mexican town action movie, where there's going to be explosion, a car chase with a with a school bus, and all sorts of craziness, blood squirts, but I mean, blood hits, all done with no visual effects. I would go You're nuts. You're absolutely nuts. You'll never be able to do this. Where are you going to get all this stuff. But that is exactly what mariachi was. That's what Robert Rodriguez said, Why because that's what Robert Rodriguez had access to. That was his list of stuff that he could use. And I know out there you I know you guys out there have resources that you might not even think you have. But you just have to check and see who you who will help you. And one thing I did learn on this process, guys, when you say you're going to go make a movie, you'll be amazed at how many people come out to want to be a part of it, and want to help. You've no idea. It was really interesting, I actually turned people away, that wanted to help on the movie. Because I it was it was remarkable. I could not believe how many people want to jump on, you have the same capability of doing what Robert did, what I did what Kevin Smith did with clerks, he had this video store, and he had a convenience store. And he's like, I'm gonna go make a movie. And that's what he did. He came in, that's what he had access to. And he made a movie called clerks. And that's, that's that was his list of stuff. So you've got to come up with a list that you have to go make your movie, also have a quick tip for all the film students out there who are actually going to a film school, who are going to a local community college, or a big big university or any of the big film schools out there. If I were you, this is what I would do, I would be borrowing all the equipment I could get for free from the school every weekend. And I would make a feature film over the course of a year. And you write it out and don't tell anybody you're making a feature. Just tell people, you're making scenes for something, because the second you tell them it's a feature school is going to hear about it. And they're gonna say, No, no, no, we can't let you do that. But you're like, No, no, every weekend, I'm just going out there and testing scenes, and so on and so forth. And then you just let your inner circle of the actors and things like that, know that you're making a feature a feature film, but that's what you should do. And you'd be foolish, if you don't, because I'll probably be the most you'll get out of that film school experience. And you should, because you're paying for it have access to all of their equipment. Okay, so go out and write a script, around locations and things that you have, and then rent out and get out there take out or borrow all the equipment you can from the school you're going to, and don't get caught up in the crap of I don't have this or I don't have that. That's what's gonna, that's when that if you keep doing that, guys, you're gonna wake up tomorrow and you're going to be 60 fucking five, and you're not going to be you would have said, Man, I wish I would have done this. Or wish I would have done that. You can't let that time go by guys. It took me 20 years plus years, to be right where I am right now talking to you guys with a feature film that to be honest with you, I'm very proud of. It's extremely funny and extremely touching in my opinion. But I'm proud of it and and it's in my hard drives as we speak right now. And it's taking me 20 odd years to get here. And I don't want that for you guys. I want you guys to be able to do it quicker than I did. That's why I do indie film hustle to help you guys get there. So you will become a better filmmaker when you have no budget. And I think I really really think at the beginning of your careers or at the first time you're going to try to make a feature film. You should do like Mark duplass says make $1,000 feature film, make a $2,000 feature film and and then grow from there. And then the next movie you make you make another two $1,000 movie, another $5,000 feature, and then you go from there, because you're going to learn so much from each time you make it. By the time you get to your third, fourth, fifth or sixth feature, you're going to be a pro. And then that's when the money comes in. Because I guarantee you when you start producing movies that actually make money and we can talk about how we're going to make money later. But let's just get it in the cab first guys, let's get a movie made, then we're going to worry about how we're going to market it and sell it because you guys are going to go on the same adventure I am on how to sell this movie, when it's all said and done. But this is about making the movie not marketing the movie. So I'm gonna leave a link in the description. By the way, the show notes are at indie film hustle.com Ford slash zero 92. Now, I'm going to leave that in the show notes I'm going to leave a link to Mark duplass is the Writer Director, Mark duplass is South by Southwest keynote speech about how he made his movie, his first feature for $1,000. And his entire philosophy. It's like the Bible of how to make really small indie films to start. And he is huge now making millions of dollars a year, doing whatever the hell he wants to do. Whatever the hell he wants to do it, and making a wonderful living and just playing with his friends and having a good time. But it all started with one little movie called puffy chair, and I'm gonna leave links to to the trailer for puffy chair and all that stuff. But I want you guys to listen to it. It's about an hour long. You've got to listen to this keynote. It will change your life. You have to listen to it. indie film, hustle, calm, forward slash zero 92 So I hope this episode helped you guys out a bit I will continue to give you updates on indie on on this as Meg. Of course, if you want to just follow us head over to this is mag comm [email protected] forward slash This is Meg film, if you want to like our page and keep updated on what we're doing on this is Meg. And if you do, if you do sign up for our Facebook page, you're gonna start seeing some of my advertising techniques that I'm going to be using to get the word out on this is Meg. So just for morbid curiosity, if you guys want to see how I'm going to market this, this little puppy might be a good idea to check that out. Now I also want to talk about indie film syndicate and the membership site that is growing very fast. And to all my indie film syndicate. Members, thank you so much for signing on. And I know a lot of people have been getting great amount of value from all the courses and things we're doing and been very patient with my micro budget masterclass, which is all about this as Meg because I've been busy doing the editing on this is Meg. So we are going to be coming up with a bunch of tutorials because like I said, what I just talked about in this episode was a scratch on the surface of what I learned over the course of the last couple months. And I really want to really break it down for you guys and explain to you what and how I did every step of the way. The problems we face the things I did wrong, the things that did right. And all the things that went went along with this crazy ride up up until the point where I'm at right now which is post. So Oh by the way, I'm also editing this whole movie on DaVinci Resolve. And I know a lot of you guys out there, use DaVinci Resolve because it's a free editing system that you can download from Blackmagic Design comm if you guys don't have this program, download it guys, you can color there, but also you can edit and the new editing system there is pretty remarkable. I've edited this entire feature film on it. And it's been wonderful. It's been really, really wonderful so far, I'm gonna go into deep detail about how I edited what my workflow was, and so on in the in the syndicate. So that's an indie film syndicate comm and check that out, guys. So before I go, guys, I'm just going to give you this parting word of advice. Don't let anything stop you from making your feature film. Make a list of what you have around you. Right around that. I will go into detail in the syndicate on how we were able to write the entire movie in less than three weeks with with his very structured story, but how to high improv improv element to it, but extremely structured and a lot of scenes were written out in full and being able to put it all together. But you got to write that list out guys. What do you have the house you live in the car you own? Your friend's house? Does one of your friends work somewhere where you can shoot at night? Anything you can do just look around you and what you have access to what friends of yours has a camera where Why don't you buy your you know what do you need to buy your own camera by yourself a Blackmagic Pocket camera. And by the way Blackmagic pays me no money. I they're not a sponsor at all. I just really liked their products. I like any company that gives the power to the people. That's why I was a big, big supporter of Final Cut Pro when it first came out, not so much now. But when it first came out, it completely revolutionized the business because before then avid, cost 1000 1000s of dollars. And you could do the same thing on a Final Cut, bro. So what do you have access to just make that list up guys and it's I'm telling you right around that list, you'll get your first movie done by the end of the year. And I want you guys to reach out to me and tell me, Alex, I'm just starting my movie, I'm going to start crowdfunding it. I'm going to make my movie, make it for 1000 bucks, make a 2000 I make a $5,000 movie, and go and let me know how it goes Guys, please email me, message me. And let me know what the process is for you guys how it's going along. And I'll give you any tips and help I can give you along the way. Without question because I'm here for you guys. I really want you guys to succeed. And it's my goal in life to help as many indie filmmakers and artists out there, make their art. Because like I've said before, it's your responsibility to get your art out into the world because you have no idea how we'll change somebody else's life. So keep that hustle going. Keep that dream alive and I'll talk to you soon.

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