“If you’re interested in making a movie, go make one. But make it cheap. Make it dirt cheap. Refuse to spend any money and see how much you can do with your creativity.” That’s a direct quote from Robert Rodriguez, the filmmaker who made his first movie, “El Mariachi,” for a meager $7,000. “It’s such a big production when you make a big production out of it. Don’t. You can have a lot of fun, and do a lot of cool stuff, just in your backyard with a few toys.” Like most creatively eager film students, Rodriguez was desperate to make movies. But he didn’t wait for the money to come to him. Using the resources at hand, he made his cinematic imprint by spending as little as possible in the process, carving his own path. He’s not alone.
Christopher Nolan, Kevin Smith, Richard Linklater, Peter Jackson, James Gunn and Edgar Wright all came from humble beginnings as well, propelling themselves through their distinct backgrounds to make their respective cinematic debuts — with some of their films, including Smith’s “Clerks” and Linklater’s “Slacker,” continuing to be amongst their most defining, inspiring work. Money isn’t always readily available. For the right filmmakers, however, creativity is a currency which isn’t near bankrupt. And sometimes, embracing limitations distinguishes a good filmmaker from a great one, and those early experiences can impart some important lessons. That’s the basis behind “Lessons For The No-Budget Feature,” the newest video from Vimeo’s Andrew Saladino of The Royal Ocean Film Society.
Compiling advice from the filmmakers listed above, the suggestions are straightforward: Sometimes, it’s best to be practical. Use natural lighting. Shoot in B&W, if it’s cheaper. If guns are going to “give away your budget,” in a sense, maybe it’s better to use a rubber hammer instead? These lessons can be gleaned from Nolan’s “Following.” Don’t take your audience out of the film if it’s avoidable. Sometimes, you have to let your limitations guide your story, and take stock of what’s available. Smith’s aforementioned “Clerks” had access to a convenience store, but only at night. Therefore, he changed his script accordingly, providing an interesting look into a world often left unseen on the big screen. But oftentimes, the best films don’t merely show us locations. They invite us into a world, which is exactly what Linklater did with “Slacker.” The mythic one-time nature of Austin, Texas of the early ’90s provided a very specific culture and time that wasn’t seen before. Everyone is in a unique, specific world, and there’s a good chance you can show it if you have the right perspective and mindset.
But more than that, it helps to be frugal and to not take yourself too seriously. Both “El Mariachi” and Jackson’s “Bad Taste” played with genres and traveled down unconventional paths. That’s a risk, but in those cases, it paid off, namely because they understood that their movies weren’t nearly high art. Jackson especially knew he wasn’t directing an earth-shattering work of genius, but that’s something a lot of early filmmakers fall victim to. These lessons may not lead you to make your own “The Lord Of The Rings” or “Boyhood,” but this is a pretty good guidebook for anyone making their first foray into the industry.