Many groundbreaking feature films have been made with no crew. Or with a skeleton crew of just 3 – 5 people.
While doing research for my own one-man-band feature film, I re-discovered many of these unconventionally produced features. Today, I want to spotlight some of these great films.
My hope is this will inspire up and coming filmmakers. Especially those who may be inclined to take an experimental approach to producing their next movie.
It’s pretty amazing that a first time filmmaker today can make a movie with off the shelf tools that can rival the quality of a studio feature.
The films I’ve listed below are just a few examples of what is possible with minimal crew and resources.
Each of these films have defied the odds and found great success, despite (or because of) their limitations. Some have launched careers of iconic directors. Others have been awarded at top tier festivals. And many were made with almost no budget at all.
There are hundreds if not thousands of other examples. But to get you started, here are 9 films you’ll definitely want to check out:
“In Vanda’s Room” – Pedro Costa
Pedro Costa is an internationally acclaimed arthouse director behind brilliant films like Ossos, Colossal Youth, and In Vanda’s Room. He has worked with different crew sizes over his career, but most commonly likes to shoot with a crew of just 3 – 4 people.
With In Vanda’s Room however, he shot the entire film with a crew of one. More impressively, this modest film won the Cannes Film Festival and ultimately reached audiences worldwide. There are few micro-budget success stories as inspiring as this.
“Schizopolis” – Steven Soderbergh
Steven Soderbergh is of course known for his unconventional approach to filmmaking, which I personally relate to very much. He is always experimenting. Whether by pioneering new digital workflows, shooting on iPhones, or in the case of Schizopolois – making an entire feature film with a crew of five people over the course of 9 months.
On this film, every crew member had multiple roles/duties, and the crew was largely supported by friends and relatives. The film was so small that Steven Soderbergh himself even played the lead role. He claimed “There was just nobody I knew that I could make that demand of. Come and work for free for nine months whenever I feel like it in Baton Rouge!”
“Newlyweds” – Ed Burns
Ed Burns has long been known as a trailblazer in indie cinema, having directed numerous feature films like The Brothers McMullen, She’s The One, and Newleyweds. Each film has been produced on a small scope, but none have been quite as small as Newlyweds.
This feature was made on a $9000 budget, and shot with a prosumer Canon 5D MKII. The crew is described as being “documentary-sized” which likely means there were 3 – 5 people on set. Pretty impressive for a film that premiered at Tribeca and went on to receive great critical acclaim.
“Grass” – Hong Sang-soo
Hong Sang-soo is a multi-award winning filmmaker behind over 25 feature films. All of which have been created in his signature minimalistic style. He often improvises his films day-by-day, making changes based on new ideas and inspiration that come up spontaneously.
He is also widely known for always working with a skeleton crew, keeping his productions simple, and working very quickly. The film I’ve highlighted here – Grass – is not necessarily his most well known. But it is one that absolutely deserves a spot on this list. The feature film was shot in just 3 days with a bare bones crew, and still premiered at the prestigious Berlin International Film Festival.
“Following” – Christopher Nolan
We all think of Christopher Nolan today as a powerhouse studio director, but he started with a single micro-budget feature film: Following.
This film is now iconic, and certainly one of the better known titles on this list. But it was made for practically no-budget while shooting on Saturdays over the course of a year. Naturally, it had a very small crew, ranging from 2 – 5 people, depending on the day. The film went on to launch Christopher Nolan’s career, and the rest is history.
“Bad Taste” – Peter Jackson
Peter Jackson’s feature debut (Bad Taste) was produced on a humble $25,000 budget. It was shot in New Zealand on an old 16mm Bolex camera, and originally started as a 20 minute short film. Ultimately though, it evolved into a feature length production as it grew in scope over the course of four years.
Bad Taste was produced entirely with a skeleton crew made up of filmmaking amateurs. It was cobbled together slowly and unconventionally (Jackson even played the lead role himself), but the end result was the ultimate calling card. Look no further than Jackson’s career as a case in point.
“Waking Life” – Richard Linklater
Richard Linklater is no stranger to working with small crews and unconventional tactics. And his brilliant experimental feature Waking Life is certainly no exception.
This film was shot with consumer level digital cameras (Sony TRV 900s) with a crew of only 3 people. The footage was later used as a base for a groundbreaking animation process that created the surreal final product we all know and love. But it all started with a camcorder and a couple of friends.
“El Mariachi” – Robert Rodriguez
Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi is the ultimate example of one-man-band filmmaking. It is also one of the most storied micro-budget feature films of all time.
Famously, this feature was made for just $7000 using money that Rodriguez was paid for taking part in medical experiments. This was also 30 years ago, when there was no digital technology – meaning he had to operate a manual film camera while also directing and producing. If he could do it then, anyone can do it now.
“Creep” – Patrick Brice
Creep was the debut feature of Patrick Brice, which was made in collaboration with producer/writer/actor Mark Duplass. It is recognized as one of the best found footage films in recent years, and was produced with extremely limited means.
In total, there were about 5 crew members working on this feature, some of whom were also the actors. Keeping it small allowed the team to come up with new creative ideas on the fly, and even create multiple versions of the ending. Another great example of how fewer resources can open up greater creative opportunities.
The examples above represent just a handful of the countless DIY / no-crew feature films that have been produced in virtually every genre. It’s no easy feat to accomplish, but it’s entirely possible with the right approach and enough dedication.
What are you thoughts on working this way? Leave a comment below!