And we’re back — with another movie! Okay, I really wanted this one to be done, as in fully edited with mixed sound, full-on color correction, and hell, can we get some closing credits?? It’s more than a couple years old, which in some spheres is excuse enough to lay it to rest (never mind Coffee and Cigarettes).
Still, I asked myself, “How do I get around the fact that…”
- I can no longer access the original footage since it’s on a dead hard drive?
- It would take me considerable time and resources to get this movie anywhere near where it should be?
- I have no desire to either retrieve the wayward footage, since I’ve moved on to other projects, or to pretend this isn’t a super-low-budget, mega-DIY film?
What to do? How about we call it a rough cut! Or, here are some other options.
Call It a Dogme95 Film
I could indeed say it’s “Dogme95 influenced.” This would actually be true, insofar as we set out to do a film with available lighting, no external soundtrack, no director credit, etc. We totally broke the Vow of Chastity, though. So, let’s try something else.
Call It a Director’s Cut
My work of genius! My darling! My progeny! Okay that won’t work. Plus we’re yelling.
This might work. Here’s what I would tell someone who just happens to be using a
DVX-100B (mind you, a camera that’s no longer manufactured), miniDV tapes, and one’s own resources to shoot a zero-dollar short, specifically this film.
- Find talented friends who love acting and are good improvisers. Empower them to come up with most of the story after you provide an outline and general direction.
- Make liberal use of craigslist when you can. In this case, we scored free firewood. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to create a huge, blazing source of light. We had to:
- Use another source, in this case, flashlights. This created a wonderfully odd mixture of a flickering, orange glow and a static blue light source that lit only half the actors’ faces. Flashlights worked pretty well for the “running on the beach” scenes, though.
- If you film on the beach, get a lot of wild ocean sound. When you’re prepping the final cut you’ll want to make use of this to avoid weird sound jumps.
- Back up your footage often — even if you’re just experimenting with a lo-fi film.
Here it is, then: a quirky little film that explores the genre “thriller” and answers the question: how well can you really know someone after four months?
Happy 4 Months – Rough Cut from Maria Breaux on Vimeo.
You may be lucky—you may be one of the 8% of Americans who’ll actually make it through all of their 2014 resolutions. Cinemulatto wishes you the best of luck! I made a few of my own resolutions in January, so since the first quarter of 2014 is behind us, time to check in.
How are you doing with yours? Here’s where I am:
- Write and produce six original shorts around a theme. I’ve already downsized this to five shorts instead of six (let’s hear it for stretch goals). Still, production for one short is complete, editing is underway, and I’m in the middle of production for the second short. In the spirit of Zero Dollar Shorts, I might set an offshoot goal to post all of my undistributed films online for free. Please leave a comment if you’d like to see this happen.
- Complete five feature scripts (four rewrites and one new one). I think I’m on track with this one. One of the five screenplays has been submitted to a staged reading competition and the second is in review with a reader. It can happen!
- Find a mentor. I came to a conclusion: I don’t want a mentor. I want a mentee. To this end, I now have two aspiring actors who’ve decided to take my guidance and work toward roles in indie films. What better way to organize and solidify what I believe I’ve learned from 25+ combined years of drama and film experience? And what better way to force myself to know what the hell I’m talking about, and to make myself fill the gaps in knowledge I know I need to fill?
- Hold four “movie retreats”. I’ve done one retreat so far. Three to go.
- Get out more. I’m not doing so hot on this one, but I have been doing a healthy amount of socializing while I film, making this goal two-fold: also become known as someone who has a mellow film set, who’s there primarily to build community, have fun, and be creative. A passion should never be work.
I’ll do another check-in after June. I encourage you to do the same. Onward!
I made my last feature, Mother Country, in the summer of 2010. My goals were to:
- Travel across country to show the main character’s development from lower-class, impressionable young man to quasi-indie-hipster hanging out in Silverlake.
- Create an African-American character who, although being stuck in several predicaments, essentially gets his way, i.e., avoid a “struggle” narrative.
- Spend less than $100,000.
- Make something worthwhile with good friends, and connect with new and old friends along the way.
We met all these goals and lived to tell a few great stories. It was an incredibly taxing journey. I knew I was setting us all up for a huge challenge. I also knew that if I could do this, subsequent film projects would be easy. Or, easier.
After the dust settled I assigned myself another challenge: get to the point of being able to write, direct, produce, shoot, and edit my own films, starting with a few micro-budgeted shorts. Microcinema is nothing new. Still, I aimed for zero dollars, nothing, zilch, or as close to this as possible. I dubbed them Zero Dollar Shorts. The rules:
- Use available lighting
- Use only equipment that was already owned
- Work with family and friends, for both cast and crew
- Either create scripts through improvisation or improvise the movie completely
- Feed everyone by potluck
So, between 2010 and 2013 I shot six shorts under the above conditions. The camera: a DVX100B (with one exception), which is no longer manufactured. Here are some of the ways we got around spending money on each film. Some of them we used across films. Disclosure: I always spend money on post-production sound. I’m deaf in one ear, sound has never been my strong suit, and it’s one of the most important aspects of a film; I always hire a professional. Therefore, saving money and aiming for “zero” happens in development, pre-production, and production.
- Untitled “family movie”: After growing tired of a mundane life with two mothers, a young girl runs away from home. This was the first in the bunch and the edit is currently in progress. Best things we did to save money: Used only non-permit locations and casted my daughter as the lead.
- Happy 4 Months: How well can you know someone after four months? This was filmed at the beach using an illegal bonfire as a lighting source. Currently being edited. Best thing we did to save money: tapped craigslist for free firewood and used flashlights from our home emergency kit. Very different color temperatures, yes, but we made it work.
- The Black Americans: Two young men hit Venice Beach looking for something to do with only five dollars. To be edited. Inspired by Jarmusch, Cassavetes, and Pull My Daisy, we set out to make a black indie Beat film. Best things we did to save money: filmed in locations until we got kicked out, did lots of scenes in a car, and unwittingly incorporated the homeless man who asked what we were doing with that unopened bottle of wine (which I think we got for three bucks).
- Hookup: a mumblecore-inspired sex comedy. The sound mix on this is currently being completed. Best thing we did to save money: filmed in my home (which we also did for most of the family movie).
- Solitude for Beginners: An unemployed businessman gets held up at gunpoint, but turns the situation to his favor. Edit in progress. Best things we did to save money: tipped the bartender 20 bucks to let us film at Jack’s Bar. Consider this a Twenty Dollar Short.
- In Memoria: In the future, a woman escapes from a totalitarian state, but is followed into the woods by a strange woman bent on bringing her back. I cannot tell a lie: we spent some money on this one. My DVX100B finally gave out, so this was the first short filmed using the Canon 7D, which I purchased in November of 2012. We also spent money on props and costumes, which totaled about a hundred bucks. Things we did to save money: filmed in a remote part of a regional park (okay, so we spent 6 bucks on parking), had my daughter run sound (which she’d learned by then since she prefers it to acting), and bought one of the costumes in a thrift store.
What are some ways you’ve made films, done dirt-cheap?