After completing my micro-budget feature Psychosynthesis last year, I immediately started development on my next feature project. But when the pandemic hit, those plans had to change drastically.
Initially, I intended to take a much more traditional path than I had in the past.
My last two features were both made on minuscule budgets of $12K and $25K, respectively, and although I loved the challenge of working under those constraints I wanted to try something new.
I wanted to see what would come out if I wrote a feature without worrying about the practicalities of budgeting or fundraising. This would be a complete 180 from my usual approach, as I typically write scripts with the intention of shooting them for little to no money.
But I figured that developing something without imposing budgetary limitations would serve two purposes:
- It would allow me to explore new story ideas that wouldn’t be viable on a lower budget.
- It would force me to raise funds through more traditional means and step out of my comfort zone.
With two micro-budget features completed and released, it seemed logical to pursue something on a slightly larger scale. Even if the budget landed at $250K or $500K (still micro by most standards), it would be enough money to make the movie in a more traditional way.
So with that, last year I began developing a larger scale feature film concept that I was very excited about.
But then the pandemic hit… And I had to take a step back and re-assess the plan.
Did pursuing a larger project still make sense? I wasn’t so sure.
There was just too much uncertainty on all fronts. Investors were affected by volatility in the stock market. Production work was grinding to a halt. Film festivals were shutting down and going virtual.
And even as things began to stabilize (to a degree) a few months in, more potential issues arose. Namely the cost of shooting a larger production skyrocketed, as a result of COVID protocols which could run your budget up by 30%.
At a certain point, I decided to shift gears.
While I was still passionate about the film I had been developing, I decided to nix the idea of it being my next feature. This was actually quite liberating.
I decided to continuing working on this larger scale film, but with a longer time horizon. Now, it’s something I hope to shoot 2 – 3 years from now, rather than this year.
In the end, I think this will be a blessing in disguise as it will give me more time to perfect the script, raise the money over a longer period, and hopefully build the perfect team along the way.
And in the meantime, there’s nothing stopping me from bootstrapping another feature – which is exactly what I’m about to do.
There was a point where I considered taking the year off to focus on my business and just wait until the time was right to make that bigger movie… But I’m far too impatient for that.
I love to work and I love to make films, no matter what scale or scope. While many things in my life have changed dramatically over the years, the desire to create films has remained steadfast, and I don’t see that ever changing.
Making films is also the connective tissue between everything I do, from running this blog to educating filmmakers to creating color grading LUTs. It’s all tied together through the anchor of feature filmmaking.
So looking back, I really had no other choice than to make another feature this year. Even if it meant returning to my roots and bootstrapping another DIY project.
But I didn’t want to simply make another micro-budget film using the exact blueprint I’ve used before. Each film is an experiment and an excuse to try new ideas, methodologies, and tactics on set and off.
The last thing I wanted to do is make the same movie all over again, using the exact same creative and technical approach. If I wasn’t going to level up in the budget department, I was going to have to do it in other ways.
In part, this meant rethinking what type of concept I wanted to tackle and how I was going to approach the writing process. But it also meant seeing the production process through a different prism, one that would allow the project to thrive, even while shooting against the backdrop of a pandemic.
Although my last two feature films were very DIY and made with skeleton crews/minimal resources, they still resembled more traditional productions in some respects. Especially Psychosynthesis, which felt (to me at least) more like some of the larger commercial shoots I’ve directed in the past.
Ultimately, I came to an important realization when considering all of this –
If I’m not going to scale up my next feature film, I should scale it down.
I didn’t want to try to emulate the dynamics of a larger production with this next movie. It wouldn’t help my creative process or the final result in any way. If anything, it would just complicate things moving ahead, especially as there is no definitive end in sight for the pandemic.
And if I’ve learned over the years, if you’re going to make a micro-budget feature, you have to go all in.
The best films on this level are often those that take bootstrapping to the next level. They don’t attempt to be something they are not. They lean into the DIY nature of what they are, and by embracing it rather than fighting it, they can yield incredibly unique creative results.
In practical terms on my feature, that means I plan to shoot with an even lower budget than my previous two films, and with an even smaller crew. For all I know, the movie might be made for $1000 with a crew of 3 people… That’s the type of scale I’m looking for.
I will likely DP the project myself – something I’ve done in the past, but not for some time. This will not only allow me to keep the crew smaller, but also to have more control over the visuals, something that I really enjoy.
Even under normal circumstances, it’s always a good idea to go very small when you’re making a micro-budget film. That doesn’t mean the film has to look or feel small, but that it should be produced in a way that isn’t derivative of larger budget productions.
In today’s world, this philosophy is more critical than ever.
By keeping the scope of your project smaller, you can be far more adaptable to whatever gets thrown your way – restrictions, shutdowns, safety protocols, or anything else for that matter.
Something else I’ve done to shake up the process is create a new community for micro-budget feature filmmakers – The Backlot.
It’s a private members group comprised of filmmakers who are making feature films this year (and some who aren’t, but are there as an educational experience).
By creating this community, I not only have the privilege of helping guide many other filmmakers through the process of making their own movies, but in turn I can be held accountable myself.
We’re just at the very beginning right now, but over the coming months I will be sharing more and more about my process, getting feedback from members, and taking part in the activities like all the other filmmakers in the group. It’s already been such a positive creative force and has inspired me to do my best work to ensure I’m giving all the members the best I can offer.
This, combined with a very different approach to the writing and production of the film, will surely make for a unique experience, unlike any other that I’ve had.
And to say I’m very excited to have a new film on the horizon would be an understatement.
With so much uncertainty in the world, having a creative project to work on every day and look forward to is a beautiful thing. Will my next film be the larger production that I thought I’d be tackling this year? Definitely not.
It’s going to be much smaller. Perhaps the smallest thing I’ve ever done in terms of scope. But that’s the whole point.
And if all goes according to plan, no one watching the finished product will ever think about the budget or how the film was made. That’s only for us to know.
What are you doing to bring your next film to life this year? Leave a comment below.