Saturday, January 25, 2020

Making a Low-Budget, DIY Film Part 2: Identifying What You've Got

With the script for Unknown Number finished, it now got stuffed in to the digital drawer for the next six years. What made me pull it out again and decide to produce it?

As is usually the case with this kind of thing, it's difficult to pinpoint exactly what made me pull the script out again and decide that this was the time to film it. Sometimes something just sparks your imagination and you think of an old script but have new ideas about what you could do with it.

To return to something I said in my previous post, what I find often sparks this renewed interest in an idea is when resources become available that make it possible to film it. In this case, it was the realization that I could get access to an office location very much like the one needed for the script.

This gets back to my point that when you're working with no budget on an entirely DIY production, you really have to start with the resources that you have access to and go from there. For example, in this script, the office we'd originally written for included an elevator, and the opening and closing shots would involve the main character in the elevator as the doors open or close.

This new office that I got access to had no elevator. In the end, this is a minor detail that was easily worked around by simply adapting the action of the opening and closing scenes of the script. If I had insisted on only making the movie on condition that I'd been able to find an office with exactly the kind of layout we needed, then the script would still be fitting unfilmed.

At the end of the day, these kinds of minor re-adjustments to your script can be made without compromising the overall vision of the project. And, as I mentioned before, by having to work around these limitations, they can often lead to new inspiration.

Securing the location was the major hurdle I had to clear in order to begin thinking seriously about producing Unknown Number. And I emphasize producing. When you're a DIY filmmaker, you're not only a director, but often also a producer (and about a dozen other roles). In my case, I'm also an actor (something I'll get into more detail about in a later post). As a producer, you have to wear a different hat, and go in to the process with a clear-eyed view of what you can do, rather than what you'd like to do. We've all heard the stories about directors fighting for their vision against the penny-pinching cost-saving demands of the front office. When you're a DIY filmmaker, you have to have these arguments with yourself. How much (or little) can I spend without completely compromising the quality and purpose of my project?

These are questions that you have to reconcile for yourself as a filmmaker. Making DIY, micro-budget movies forces you to think creatively and realistically about these decisions. After securing my location, for instance, I grappled with the issue of hiring crew, and the challenges that that presented (another subject for a future post).

Leaving all of these practical matters aside, there is still the question of "why now?" What made me want to return to this idea and produce this script at this point in time?

That's harder to answer, but I will attempt to do so in my next post.

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