You don’t need millions on top of millions to make a film. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Ingenuity, resourcefulness, dedication and creativity are all facets for crafting films with economic budgets. Money saved often allows for inventive alternatives of means to finance, casting, scripts and locations and certainly makes for an inspiring production story.
Moon | Duncan Jones (2009) – $5 million
Growing up with an 8mm film camera in one hand and father David Bowie in the other paved the creative life for writer/director of ‘Moon’ Duncan Jones. Have you seen ‘Moon’? You should. An independent sci-fi drama starring the likes of Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey shot in 33 days. To save costs on locations, the set of the spaceship was built in a warehouse and made use of miniatures to depict the moon. In the near future, an astronaut closes his three-year mission mining Helium 3 on the moon, as his health deteriorates, he meets a fresher version of himself who declares he has been assigned the same contract.
Garden State | Zach Braff (2004) – $2.5 million
Scrubs man Zach Braff, wrote, directed and starred in cult hit Garden State. This independent feature focused on a depressed man returning to his hometown for the funeral of his mother. It’s a sweet and funny coming of age tale that observes human relationships. Garden State made over $26 million at the box office, inspiring indie filmmakers of this generation. Braff’s next film was crowd funded on Kickstarter, the filmmaker stating that they didn’t have ‘Oprah Winfrey money’ and that he wasn’t willing to surrender his creative license.
Eagle vs Shark | Taika Waititi (2007) – $1.35 Million
Taika Waititi should have a country named after him for creating such an eccentrically beautiful dark comedy. The script was developed at Sundance and then sold, while the New Zealand film commission footed the budget. Waititi adopted a ‘this is my low budget film and I can do what I want’ attitude, weaving animated scenes within the narrative. This economic attitude produced a sweeter, more individual feel, adding to the films original style. Waititi also stated that keeping a film out of any studio or financial system allows the artist’s involved to concentrate on making a story.
Rocky | John G. Avildsen (1976) – $1.1 million
Stallone wanted to sell Rocky under the condition that he would play the lead. The distributors had a different idea, offering considerable amounts of money to influence him otherwise. Turning down the opportunity to replace his $40 car, Stallone fought for the role, exclaiming he would jump of a roof if he ended up with compensation over creativity. Hands shook, a deal signed, Stallone would act. The budget was dramatically slashed in half from $2 million to one, adopting the handy-cam technique. The fight scene required multiple extras that the budget could not include, therefore, the small amount of extras hired moved around for each shot of the crowd to elude the idea of a massive audience. Rocky went on to make $220 million at the box office.
Monsters | Gareth Edwards (2010) – $500,000
“You can’t make a monster movie for $15,000!” Six years after a probe crash, half of Mexico in quarantine, a photojournalist and his boss’ daughter attempt to safely return to America. Written, directed, shot, edited and special effects done by Gareth Edwards, who connected a Sony camera with Nikkon prime lenses to make his own specialised shooting equipment. Two main cast and four crew in a van travelling around Mexico to shoot the film, Edwards’ handing people $50 on the street to say a line on camera. This budget only allows for half the blood and monsters, focusing rather on the characters. The slightest hint of danger creates a large sense of fear, showcasing the intelligence that goes with an economical budget. Gareth Edwards’ next film was Godzilla.
Mad Max | George Miller (1979) – $350,000/$400,000
Mel Gibson doesn’t just know what women want, he also knows how to land a role in a low budget classic. Walking into the audition with a beat up face from a bar fight the night before, the casting agents saw something in Gibson and he was cast in the titular Max. The film had a 12-week shoot around Melbourne and, as a major persuader for cast and crew to join the team, writer/director George Miller offered slabs of beer as trade for creative labour. To continue this guerilla style, biker gangs were actual local gangs employed on the film to cut costs. To stay within the fine lines of the art department budget, the art director confessed to stealing a percentage of props to dress the shots authentically. Inspired by a 1970s oil crisis that turned motorists violent, Mad Max is the story of dystopia and one man’s loss of faith with the justice system.
Clerks | Kevin Smith (1994) – $27,575
23 year old director Kevin Smith sold his comic collection to contribute to the tiny budget of Clerks. Feeling frustrated at film school (one can undoubtedly relate) Smith quit and spent his saved tuition on his first feature. Including casting his family and friends as characters, the picture was shot at the convenience store where the director worked nights. With a 6-man crew, armed with a student discount for ‘studying’ how to roast a suckling pig, this picture was shot over 21 days, no break, 10:30PM – 5:30AM. Clerks made $3 million at the box office.
The Castle | Rob Sitch (1997) – $20,000
Conceived and written in two weeks, The Castle was made for an extraordinarily low budget. Two writers ‘who decided to have a go at film’ pulled their money together instead of relying on outsourcing finances. A ten-day shoot, five days in postproduction, including additional production work, meant this film was completed after merely five weeks. Rich with token Australian attributes and humorous dialogue, The Castle, even though created cheaply, warms your heart. It made $10 million at the box office and was then bought by Miramax Films for $6 million.
Paranormal Activity | Oren Peli (2007) – $15,000
First time director Oren Peli crafted a simple premise on an extremely economic budget. No name actors, bereft of music or sound design, packed with terrifying cuts and visual effects, yet a chillingly shocking horror about the monsters under your bed. Shot in the director’s own house, Peli’s guerrilla-style filmmaking allowed for a more traditional approach, creating a classical narrative like early ghost movies. Made on an effectively small budget with clever marketing, this film received $7 million at the box office in its first weekend on screen alone.
Primer | Shane Carruth (2004) – $7,000
Shane Carruth – a self taught writer, director actor, composer, editor, producer and the brains behind Primer. With a year spent on developing the script, five weeks used on set and two days for post-production, this picture startled the Sundance audience regarding particularly the creative challenge of a microscopic budget. A qualified Engineer, math and science intellect, Carruth applied natural light as much as possible, but also made use of Wallmart fluorescent lights. Primer is the story of four friends who invent a time travel machine, and explore the ethical effects of their invention.