“THE BUDGET IS THE AESTHETIC”
Great post by Ted Hope today, a reprint of the Good Machine “No-Budget Commandments” back from the early days of his and James Schamus’s production company. Go to Ted’s blog to read the full list, but in re-reading them I remembered the deep thinking we all did back then as to what a “no-budget movie” could and should be. There was a feeling that no-budget movies had to be deliberate in their representational strategies, uniting their budgets and artistic visions to produce works that wouldn’t strive for “production value” but instead would make their relative poverty an enabler of a greater cinematic imagination.
Here are two of the commandments:
4. Choose an aesthetic that will capitalize on the lack of money (i.e. period anachronisms, monochromatic color schemes, etc.). Invest meaning in everyday commonplace things – make an orange a totemic object John Ford would be proud of.
5. Don’t over strive. Don’t try to show how much production value you have (you don’t have it, so you’ll either fail or unbalance your film). A film that people say is “well produced” usually means that the story didn’t have much going for it. Keep the story aligned with the budget.
Artistic inspirations during this time were varied, from, of course, the films of John Cassavetes to also mid-period Orson Welles, the films of Raoul Ruiz, Edgar Ulmer’s Detour, Jack Smith, Andy Warhol, Robert Frank, Shirley Clarke, the latter-day grindhouse of Frank Henenlotter, Barbara Loden, the No Wave cinema of Beth and Scott B, Amos Poe, and Eric Mitchell, and many more. In many of the early films of the late ’80s independent renaissance, pictures like The Living End, Swoon, Poison (all, significantly, part of a New Queer Cinema movement that was quite smart about the above issues) and Laws of Gravity, you could see this playful and sometimes defiant relationship to what would be considered “good production values” in a mainstream context.
In his blog post, Ted comments that one commandment seems to have been left off the list: “The budget is the aesthetic.” Indeed, if there’s one thought that’s carried with me from that time it’s this one. That was the phrase we repeated over and over again. But with regards to the list as a while, I’m not sure I was ever formally given a copy of it. I say that because Ted and his partner James Schamus executive produced the first film Robin O’Hara and I produced, Tom Noonan’s What Happened Was…, and we definitely broke rule number 6 (“Don’t limit yourself to too few locations – it’s a dead give away of lack of dollars. I like the number eight.”)