Korean cult director Chan Wook Park (Old Boy, Thirst) shot Night Fishing entirely on his iPhone. The set for Lars Von Trier’s unfinished America trilogy was nothing more than a warehouse demarcated with masking tape. While these guys are indie directors, they can command budgets beyond the necessity of iPhones and vacant warehouses. So why are they relying on backyard solutions? Well, because sometimes style speaks louder than budget.
Now before I digress too far, this isn’t a column about indie style so much as it is about budget restraints. But I do want to point out that a cheap movie doesn’t have to be an ugly movie or a poorly constructed movie (however, a quick trip down MST3K lane will show you that is a constant threat for budding auteurs). A limited budget balanced with a day job can definitely be a major obstacle, but it can also be used to your advantage if well wielded. If the whole enterprise sounds daunting, the good news is that there is a thriving online community dedicated to helping you make the best out of what you have.
For most backyard auteurs even the most mundane special FX can be a daunting, if not a completely overwhelming task. Something as simple and easily overlooked as a clean tracking shot can become a financial challenge when considering the $2,000 it’ll cost you for a steadicam. So what’s a wannabe Kubrick to do? Well, might I humbly suggest you Google that shit.
There exists a thriving online community for DIY directors offering a wealth of ingenuity and simple solutions for any conceivable predicament. I know it may seem an obvious solution, but it can be easy to overlook the forest for the trees when it comes to dealing with the high costs of filmmaking. Don’t stress about how to find the $2,000 for that steadicam when there is a $14 solution right here: http://14dollarstabilizer.org .Having trouble figuring out how to get those interior and exterior car shots? Here’s a quick tutorial: http://www.angelfire.com/movies/nobudgetsfx/carrigs.html. Even the more advanced special FX can be had on a budget: http://www.indymogul.com/backyardfx.
On the other hand, as directors like Chan Wook Park, Lars von Trier and even Michael Bay have already noticed, there is a certain mystique to be had with a homemade touch. Really, the only purpose of Hollywood using the shaky handheld look is to recapture some verisimilitude lost with overindulgent special FX. And it’s hard to ignore how many films are being shot on digital cameras just to capture that indie look. Forsaking the polished Hollywood style is worth a certain amount of street cred to the right snobby, Dogme 95-loving, festival-dwelling audience.
Even the very making of indie films has become documentary gold. Jump on Netflix right now and check out Zombie Girl: The Movie about 12-year-old Emily Hagins making her directorial debut. And don’t forget the cult favorite American Movie, which tracks eccentric filmmaker Mark Borchardt in his attempt to make his dream film.
Filmmaking and movie-going are becoming increasingly democratic activities. Digital streaming services like Vuduu, Netflix and Zune are giving audiences more chances to vote and the groundswell of independent films is the result. So there’s no shame if your film looks a little cheap as long as it’s well made. If a bunch of kids with too much time on their hands and a strong disregard for personal well being can make it big with something like Jackass there’s hope for anyone.
Film Column By David Feltman