Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Reader question: Microbudget films as exposure for writing

Rita writes:

Big fan of the blog. You've no doubt covered this before but is there any article i can reference that manages the expectations of someone who wants to make a microbudget film to get exposure for their writing?

My friend's boyfriend seems to be talking her into spending almost 50k she inherited on a film he would direct based on a play she wrote that is not filmic at all. It's a series of vignettes that sort of tie together at the end and she (and he) seem only vaguely to know what they're doing.

Is there even a market for this kind of stuff? I've seen some pretty lame films of this sort made as vanity projects but it seems to me that making a trailer or short first might make more sense?

This guy has never directed a feature before and there are no named actors in it but I guess since brothers McMullen people have succeeded this way. 50k though? She could produce three plays for that that people might actually SEE. 

A lot to unpack here, based on a lot of x-factors. $50k in some ways is both ridiculously small for a feature budget and also a helluva lot of money for one individual to put into a film on their own. My first piece of advice would be for your friend to not invest more money than they can afford to lose. If $50k represents the entirety of her nest egg, I'd proceed with caution.

Not having read the script, I can only go by your description of it. My gut reaction was that it didn't sound marketable at all, and then I realize you might as well have been describing the V/H/S series of films. My friends Radio Silence did a segment in the first of those and on the strength of that were hired to direct a film called Devil's Due. Another friend of the blog, Gregg Bishop, shot a segment for the third VHS and was then hired to direct the feature version of Siren, a short from the first V/H/S. Gregg, by the way, made his first feature for $15k.

So yes, the right concept with the right execution and the right marketing can open doors.


It has to be the right concept. The Blair Witch Project was a microbudget work of genius. I'm pretty sure it wasn't the first found-footage film ever, but it definitely created an explosion in that genre of film. My concern is that you don't think the idea is filmic and that you don't think the director knows what he's doing. You need a strong hand at the helm for ANY film but it's especially important in a microbudget where corners may have to be cut and the director needs to know his vision inside and out.

My thought would be that if they really are a series of vignettes, is there any reason they can't just shoot ONE of them first as its own short film? At that point, she'll have seen him in action, she'll have seen how well his vision translates to storytelling, and it might give her a better idea of if she should invest in the rest of it.

But concept is king. This can't just be some run of the mill quiet drama. It's gotta be something like BURIED, which takes place entirely in a coffin, or THE UNINVITED, which takes place largely in one location and uses that claustrophobia to the film's advantage, or PRIMER, which is approaches time travel in a completely unique and complex way.

Also, while the writer probably will get some heat for a microbudget breakout success, it's important to note that the director will get a lot MORE heat for these projects. (Though often in these sorts of films, the director IS one of the writers, so from a certain point of view you COULD say the writers get some notice for these kinds of films. So from where I sit, your friend's boyfriend stands to gain a LOT from this arrangement - he gets a film paid for and he gets the lion's share of the heat if it breaks out. She's footing the bill and has to answer to him.

From where I sit, your friend holds all the cards and she's assuming almost all the risk. I'd just make sure she's thought all this through.

1 comment:

  1. This boyfriend is only thinking of himself. The gf and friend both should follow their guts.