Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Building a Better Reputation for the Ultra-Low Budget

The Ultra-Low Budget film suffers from a bad reputation. As independent filmmakers, we need to change this reputation.

I make Ultra-Low Budget films because they make creative and business sense to my company, especially in this recessionary period. I can choose to make a film instead of praying someone else will make it for me. There's a lot of power in that thinking and doing and we need to exercise that power wisely for everyone involved.

Lower budgets allow me to make dramas, a genre that is a hard sell. They allow me to hire incredible new talent that the larger budgets can't afford to invest in. And they allow me to build a library of product that my company can own forever. We have all heard the saying: Content is king!

So I am building content. But I'm not building just any old product. I am vetting my projects and making sure the script and talent are strong and that the project fits the Ultra-Low Budget business model. I can't make a $20 million film on an Ultra-Low Budget. And if my talent sucks then the film will suck.

Ultra-Low Budgets allow me to make good films in a timely manner. If I sat around and waited for all my larger budget projects to be funded, I would be waiting a long time and I would have no product to show for it and I wouldn't be learning how to be a better producer.

I agree that Ultra-Low Budgets are not for everyone. Many investors do not see the upside of backing small films with no-name talent. How does one make money from a film without box office magnets? It's called making great films and expending energy in marketing and selling them. We can do this. We just need to do it with some smart thinking and doing.

I challenge that the skeptics of the Ultra-Low Budget films are not investing in the right filmmakers. You could have the best script in the world but if the producer and director are clueless then there's typically no hope.

We filmmakers need to have more discretion with which projects we back. We need to ensure the scripts, the direction and the acting are strong -- even when there is no money. And it is possible. I know there are incredibly talented people out there who can make magic with $200k. We just need to pair them with the right producers.

Ultra-Low Budget films can be good and they can perform. We need to be diligent about making sure we create the best quality product that can then be sold to buyers and entertain an audience. It can be done. We just need to do it and do it right.


Wilderness Films said...

Absolutely. Ultra-low has an undeserved reputation for being shoddy, but it doesn't have to be that way. It can be good, at any budget level. Our small production company always has three projects in active development: one we can make for under $200,000, one we can make for under $1 million, and one co-production that’s a lot bigger. As you say, if you want to learn to produce, you have to get good movies made in a timely manner, not wait around. Our strategy is to not let more than 3 days pass without taking an action that moves each one forward. It’s a been a great way to get results. And we're constantly learning.

Anonymous said...

Excellent topic - thank you!

Quality is based on criteria. If an ultra-low-budget strives to meet the criteria of a Hollywood studio film, it will incontrovertibly fail, regardless of talent.

Ultra-low films are often "shoddy" because they usually strive to emulate something they can never be: a bigger budget genre film.

The best ultra-low films don't mask their limitations, they embrace them and even feature them. A fun analogy: Molly Ringwald's dress in PRETTY IN PINK. Rather than make a couture dress, she made a somewhat awkward, but very sweet and original dress!

James said...

ULB films do work... Take a look at films like Saw or Paranormal Activity. They were made out of nothing

Jeff Steele said...

@Jane You are abosolutely correct. There are extremely professional and efficient ultra-low-budget producers out there that are just as effective as any high-budget indie producer.

In fact, probably even more so because you generally can’t throw money at problems to make them go away. I have not been addressing this demographic because I’ve been laying a lot of foundation in these posts. I plan to raise the level of discussion into more nuanced topics that you’ll find more relavent to your skillset.

Paramount has jumped on the $1m band wagon, and other studios will follow. As I said in this post, $250k is the new $2.5m, so if you already have that infrastructure (and relationships), then you’re ahead of the curve and this is a good time for you: there is a great convergence of accessible technology, distribution, and production values, coupled with lower cast costs, that will all work to your benefit.
- Jeff Steele

Frank Casanova said...

Jane...I'm a bit late coming to the party with this reply, but let me say I cheer you on with this rallying cry! My company is trying to do exactly what so many other small producers are also attempting. We all are confident we can make good movies on a nickel, BUT it's the shifting sands of distribution that determines whether these efforts are a business or a hobby. As one of my colleagues has said, "Everything is possible...Nothing works!"

Stan Gill said...


Just found your blog via Jeff Steele's Film Closings.

"We need to be diligent about making sure we create the best quality product that can then be sold to buyers and entertain an audience. It can be done. We just need to do it and do it right."

Great quote. You hit the nail on the head for us indie producers.