Posts Tagged ‘performance’

Lessons Learned From No-Budget Filmmaking

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Last night marked the end of production for my latest short film If Only. I think everyone is relieved that we have finally wrapped. This particular project was plagued with delays and some unexpected problems, but I feel confident that we will make a solid film with high production values.

I have made several short films over the years and I have learned a lot about no-budget independent filmmaking. So, for those who also share my passio, allow me to pass on a few lessons that will hopefully help you in your endeavors.

Don’t let the lack of money prohibit you from getting out and making films. If you have something to say, then say it. But also remember that low-budget

  1. Low budget doesn’t mean low production value. The fact that you have little or no money doesn’t autmatically mean that your film will look horrible. But you have to study the ins and outs of cinematography. Ask questions. Practice your craft. Learn by watching what others are doing. Solid execution will give the impression that you spent more than you actually did.
  2. Surround yourself with knowledgeable people. In 2004 I wanted to produce a short comedy. However, I was just getting back into production full-time and I didn’t know too many local filmmakers. So I decided to take on every behind-the-scenes role myself. I was the writer, director, producer, editor, cinematographer… I did everything, and as a result the quality of the film suffered. When you make it a goal to direct your film, recruit others to work in key positions. For example, having a talented DP on set to light the scene and run the camera will give you much-needed time to rehearse and direct your actors. It’s easy to get caught up in the technical details and neglect the performances from your talent, unless you have others working with you on set.
  3. Things will not go as planned. This is true of even the biggest Hollywood blockbuster, but even more so on low-budget short films. Expect the unexpected. A location will not be available when you need it to be available. An actor will have to reschedule at the last minute because of a conflict with his or her day job. You will get rained out. The police will tell you to shut the whole thing down. You will be forced to eliminate certain camera set-ups (or perhaps entire scenes) due to uncontrollable circumstances. That’s just the way it goes.
  4. Always have a plan “B.” This point is a direct result of point #3. When things go wrong, you need to have a contingency plan in place. If it rains and you have to be outside, how can you re-work the story to incorporate the rain? When the owner of a location needs to pull the plug on you for some unforeseen reason, what can you do to complete the scene? A good producer will help you think through these potential problems before they even happen, so it’s important to go over these issues in pre-production.
  5. Maintain a comfortable pace while in production. When everyone is getting paid thousands (or even millions) of dollars to be involved with a movie, you can afford to work everyone for 16 hours a day, six days a week. However, when you’re on a low-budget short and everyone is working for free, it’s important to remember that they are doing you a tremendous favor by being involved with your film. Pad out the shooting schedule so it isn’t too demanding. At the same time, be up front with those involved and remind them that filmmaking is a time intensive process. You can’t shoot a five-minute film in thirty minutes. Be respectful of their time, and be honest about expectations.

In my experiences as an independent filmmaker living in Birmingham, I have met a lot of gracious, wonderful people who are eager to see the production industry thrive in this region. And I’m certain that in your own film projects, you will be just as fortunate. Be professional, prepared, courteous, and respectful, and people will want to work with you again and again.

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What I’m Watching: ‘Melinda and Melinda’

Monday, April 6th, 2009

Melinda & MelindaHow one goes through life depends entirely on his or her perspective. One individual might see the tragedy inherent in a specific event, and yet someone else might perceive the same event to be a positive. Is the event itself tragic or comic, or does it depend solely upon your point of view?


This philosophical merry-go-round is the foundation for Woody Allen’s 2004 film, Melinda and Melinda. The film opens at a restaurant where four friends are in the middle of a conversation about life and relationships. Two of the friends are playwrights. One friend says that life is inherently tragic, but the other claims that life is inherently comic. A third friend sets the plot in motion when he asks the two playwrights to listen to a story and then comment on whether the tale is best viewed as a tragedy or comedy.

From that point, the film follows two parallel stories, centering on Melinda, a young woman trying to get her life back together after a series of bad relationships and self-destructive behavior. One story follows a dramatic interpretation, and one follows the conventions of a romantic comedy.

Commentary: The Premise

The premise of following parallel stories is engaging, although cliched and formulaic. This movie would not seem quite so original had it been produced as a stand-alone tragedy or comedy. But because both story arcs are shown side by side, the film is much more interesting. I think most people enjoy contemplating how life’s course can be set in one direction or another by events outside their control. It’s fun to imagine what if? scenarios, thinking how things could have been different, if only…

Commentary: The Dialogue

The dialogue in the film is a number of things – snappy, clever, poetic, and philosophical. Allen allows his characters to speak what many of us only think. The danger of doing so, however, is that a lot of the dialogue is too on-the-nose and expository. It doesn’t ring true for real life. Characters (Melinda especially) engage in reflective and introspective monologues that are often tedious. At times it feels more like a stage play than a film, but perhaps that’s the intent, considering that we are seeing this story through the eyes of two playwrights.

Commentary: The Comedic Interpretation

Of the two “Melinda” stories, the light-hearted, comedic tale is much more interesting, due to the talents of the actors on screen. Will Ferrell plays Hobie, a struggling actor married to an up-and-coming director played by Amanda Peet. Ferrell’s Hobie is charming and innocent, and he falls for Melinda (played by Radha Mitchell) when he realizes his marriage is going nowhere. Peet is equally likeable as the ambitious work-aholic filmmaker, striving to lock in the extra money to get her first feature into production. The dynamic between Ferrell and Mitchell is fun to watch, and the dialogue between the two rings truer than the dramatic counterpart of the film.

Commentary: The Dramatic Interpretation

The weaker of the two stories is the dramatic interpretation. Here, the characters are far less interesting, the dialogue far too stilted, and the acting too melodramatic. Aside from Mitchell’s performance, the ensemble around her was flat, stiff, and too over-the-top. Mitchell’s portrayal as the emotionally disturbed and suicidal Melinda really carried this portion of the film.

Final Thoughts

Overall, Melinda and Melinda explores some very human themes in very conventional ways, but presents them in a unique way.

5 1/2 out of 10

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