Thursday, July 2, 2009

John Gaspard on Low-Budget Filmmaking

Here's an excerpt from an on-line interview I did recently.

You're the author and co-author of several books, most notably Digital Filmmaking 101. Tell us about them. What inspires you to write?

JOHN GASPARD: We wrote Digital Filmmaking 101 originally as a series of notes to ourselves, to remind us of the steps we took to make a feature for very little money. We later expanded those notes into a complete book to provide beginning filmmakers with the tools they would need to make a feature for what most Hollywood films spend on coffee and rolls.

My second book, Fast, Cheap and Under Control: Lessons Learned From the Greatest Low-Budget Movie of All Time, was designed to help keep new filmmakers from re-inventing the wheel every time they go out to make a feature. There is a wealth of knowledge in the low-budget movies that have come before ours, and it's a foolish filmmaker who doesn't heed those lessons. In the book I talked to both old-school low-budget filmmakers (like Roger Corman) and people from the current generation (Swingers, The Blair Witch Project, Open Water, etc.).

The latest book, Fast, Cheap and Written that Way: Top Screenwriters on Writing for Low-Budget Movies, does just what the title suggests. I spoke to over twenty top screenwriters who had previously worked on low-budget films and got their secrets on how to write for a tiny budget. Interviewees included George Romero, Tom DiCillo, Stuart Gordon, Bob Clark and Kenneth Lonnergan, among others.

Your films were made on very low budgets. Grown Men cost under $13,000. How did you manage this?

JOHN GASPARD: Well, as soon as you realize that you won't be paying anyone, that cuts your costs significantly. Second, you should write the script to conform to locations and props that you can get for free. Third, you should shoot as quickly as you can -- 12 to 15 pages of script a day is not uncommon.

The main reason to make a movie for such little money is not just to save money -- it's also to help you maintain control of the movie. Without backers breathing down your neck, you can make the movie you want at the pace you want. You may never see that money again -- a high percentage of low-budget movies never see the light of day, let along turn a profit -- but the satisfaction of making the movie YOU wanted to make greatly outweighs the cost.

Do you have any advice for the amateur filmmakers reading this?

JOHN GASPARD: See as many movies as you can -- low-budget independent films, Hollywood films, classic movies from the Golden Era. You can learn something valuable from every movie you watch, so the more you see the more you learn.

Read scripts to learn how to write one. And I mean real scripts, not transcriptions of finished movies. Learn what the words look like on the page and how that gets translated into images on the screen.

And, most important, don't ever try to fund your movie with credit cards. Don't believe what you read about other filmmakers doing this -- it flat out doesn't work.

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