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The Microbudget Conversation

We're Only Talking a Few Thousand Dollars by John Yost

The Microbudget Conversation: What Is Your End Goal?

As the editor of this column it is my job to choose the contributors, shape the voice, and move the column in a forward direction. The last post really struck up a good conversation, and it is now clear that my decision to move the blog in a new direction would be a welcome change. This does not mean, however, that we will stop talking with micro-budget filmmakers on timely topics and take the time to check in on their latest projects. Despite what some people feel, one of the functions of this column is to help contributing filmmakers get the word out about their latest endeavors, fundraising, and upcoming releases. This is not a thinly veiled attempt at advertising — this is just good form. I will be working hard to add new voices like genre, documentary, and perspectives of industry professionals, as well as more diary entries from filmmakers in different stages of production and distribution. These new topics and subjects will hopefully spark a large amount of chatter that I hope to put back into the conversation as well. So if you have something you just have to say…write it up and email it my way.

In an effort to close this season and move into the New Year, I’d like to take a moment to look back, reflect, and give my opinion. Think of this as a “Letter from the Editor” post.


This has been the year of the honest, transparent filmmaker. The large majority of contributors I’ve met talk about being honest about your limitations and how to use them to your advantage. The real debate in my mind is, will this last? Will we continue to be more open about fundraising? Will we search our hearts for what we really want as a filmmaker and move towards that? Will we work harder to make content that truly reflects who we are as opposed to what festivals and foreign markets like? Will we be brave enough to forge a new industry that relies on community, honesty, and hard work to carry us through tough times?

One small, but perfect example of the present state of our industry is the phobia of admitting budget numbers. It usually leads to forgiveness of the quality and praise for “how much you’ve done for so little” or, in some cases, “I can’t believe they made that piece of shit for 10 million dollars…I could have made 20 films with that budget!” Now, I tend to agree with the folks who say budget shouldn’t be a factor — if the film is great, who cares how much it costs? I think the real fear comes from the old assumption, “…if it’s free, folks will see it as worth nothing.” This is a byproduct of consumer culture, and without it everyone would live modest lives within his or her means…in other words, it’s a shitty saying. When your whole industry is based on fiction, which is the opposite of honesty, you tend to get a large number of people who are terrified of one another, their judgments, and their inevitable rejection. This is just plain human nature. However, honesty in this arena is surfacing and being embraced by the ever growing populous of people that are tired of being lied to about how good something isn’t…just look at the Occupy movement. Or, a recent win for honesty and commerce: Louis C.K.

Cynicism, and the need to classify everything.

I recently picked up the album, The Year of Hibernation by Youth Lagoon and was blown away. I’m a huge fan of music that seems to come right from the heart of a person and this one was exceptional — the first album in a long time that created a physical, emotional response in me, and because I found it on my own, I was scared to read the reviews. When I found it on Pitchfork’s top 50 albums at number 50 I was pumped…until I read the blurb that came with it. It proceeded to say, “Yeah…great album…if you’re not a cynic…and if you are, you’ll ignore or be embarrassed by the artist’s honesty. But on the other hand, it’s a pretty solid record and you should never underestimate the power of Emo.” That small album summary literally contained every shitty aspect of creative, consumer, and human culture contained within its walls.

For some folks, creative endeavors seem to somehow tie in very closely with winning at life, or monetary success. In many ways, cynicism and snark is their only weapon and shield against the simple fact that they are not as interesting, talented, or good looking as someone else. We all do it…it’s one of the building blocks of behavior in a capitalistic society. Oh, and that Emo thing is totally human nature…if we can’t classify it, we lose our minds. But just because I get it…doesn’t mean I’m happy about it.

My point. We are doomed to make the same films, the same work, the same music, and the same mistakes if we can’t learn to stop cynically categorizing the entire fucking planet. These two things can singlehandedly suck all the fun, joy, and life out of creating if we allow them to. We should take each new opportunity as an adventure, and each film as a way to be open, honest, and push the boundaries of what people have classified as “far enough.”

What is your end goal?

There has been a bit of a two party system on this conversation when it comes to the role of micro-budget in a filmmaker’s career. The two encampments seem to be:

A) Micro-budget is a wonderful stepping-stone to a larger film, or bigger budget.
B) Micro-budget is a great place to refine a method, style, and career — a place where freedom reigns.

I tend to come down on the B side. I’m about to go into production on feature number four…and while I’ve learned many lessons over the course of the last three, I’ve gotten to really experiment, which for me is the best part about filmmaking. I feel that A-siders tend to use the “all of your eggs in one basket” approach; What happens when your film sucks at the end of the day and your entire career was riding on it?

OR, what happens if it kicks ass thanks to some minor miracle, or amazing collaborators and now you’re being pushed into a $5 million feature film with some big-name actor? Are you up to the challenge? Are you here to evolve your experience and career? Or are you simply here to make Hollywood films for money? I’m not saying you can’t have an authentic voice AND the money…I just don’t think the number of auteurs who are discovered after their first film is incredibly high.

Many also argue that side B leads to a large hum of mediocrity, making it more difficult for those breakouts and geniuses to be heard over the drone of crap. With things being exponentially easier by the year to make a film with complete freedom comes with it the natural selection process that is the studio and indie systems. Kickstarter, in many ways, is almost acting as that new filter to see if your film is even worth the effort. Not only are we crowdsourcing our funding, but we’re doing invaluable pre-filming research on the efficacy of our stories and our exhibition plans for the project. These tools were once held by studio executives and indie film producers as ways to get films made or bury them before they got started.

Someone really should check the filter on Hollywood…

Some of us simply want to exist. We see these new tools and rejoice in the fact that we can make that honest film in our basement or bedroom. Not all of us want careers in the industry, films in Sundance, or scripts waiting at home to be green-lit. As we move forward, I urge everyone to think about your end goal and think of why you truly make films. Not being cynical, I believe that most of us just love to create something that moves us, or teaches others to love, or connects us closer than our world allows as of late.

This column, so far, is just scratching the surface, and I hope to really go beyond just the mechanics of story telling and filmmaking in the coming year. We are making work with so many elements, and so dependent on collaboration, that to focus on just one thing would do any good conversation on the topic a disservice. We’ll see you back here in 2012 with some new formatting, new topics, and new directions.  I hope to really step it into high gear and hear from all parties…so contact me any time at the email below.

Happy Holidays to you and yours, and good luck on all of your creative endeavors…micro or not.


We’d never turn down the chance to hear from you, especially microbudget fans and filmmakers. To become part of the conversation please send us your thoughts, responses, and questions.
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