Read an article today on NY Press called No Whiners Allowed. It profiles three ‘low budget’ independent filmmakers from NYC: Lena Dunham, Ry Russo-Young, Daryl Wein. The thesis is that now is a ‘crisis time’ for independent filmmakers, and those profiled all deserve violins for having to work in vintage stores and babysit and make films for tens of thousands of dollars.
But times are not bad at all. In fact, we are on the cusp of a new renaissance, brought forth by milestone advances in HDSLR technology within the last few years. It is now possible to make great-looking and sounding films for two or three thousand dollars. Any self-professed struggling artist making them for more than that amount is a charlatan.
Those featured in the article are not filmmakers– they are confidence men and women, hucksters, politicians. Their works cannot stand on their own merit; they require curve grading, which they gain through deception. Breaking Upwards, Daryl Wein’s film, is unwatchable. Yet its budget was $15,000, which by the industry’s outdated standards, is considered ‘micro-budget’. So it is heralded as a triumph of shoestring creativity. Every terrible shot, edit, line reading, even script problem is written off as nature of the beast due to lack of funds. This is the ruse and life force of the untalented artist.
RED cameras do not compose your shots for you. Rode NTG-3’s do not filter out bad dialogue. An expensive knife does not prevent you from slicing your fingers off. But for those with light wallets and marginal skill, it is comforting to believe that the only reason their shit stinks is that they can’t afford ‘top of the line’ equipment. So they spend their time not on honing their craft but on leeching funds from others– tens, hundreds, even thousands of thousands– and then create art of no value with it. Which they could have done with a rock and some sidewalk.
I saw a Kickstarter donation page the other day where a filmmaker was looking for $20,000 to cover post-production costs: sound mixing, music, color correction. Intrigued, I took a look at his trailer. All of his shots were terrible composed. The acting was bad. The dialogue worse. He should have asked for that amount of money to pay a talented person to remake the film. You can’t ‘color grade’ a turd.
Jean Cocteau once said, “Film will only become art when its materials are as inexpensive as pencil and paper.” Well we are closer to his utopian vision of a leveled playing field than ever before. For those with talent, this is exciting. For those without, it is frightening. Filmmakers such as those mentioned in the NY Press article should be cowering under their beds. Their fifteen minutes are just about up.