I'm always on the lookout for information about low budget movies. Since I still plan to start shooting my microbudget monstrosity next summer, I can only learn from those who have done it before, even if their 'low' budgets are far more than I will ever hope to spend. Learning from others could not only teach me, but save me a few bucks along the way.
That's when I found out Bill Cunningham was getting interviewed by one Gregory Conley from the direct-to-video blog, Your Video Store Shelf. Greg does regular podcasts with filmmakers in this arena, interviewing them about current films and past experiences. It's a great podcast, full of anecdotes and information about an industry that makes money, despite the typical ridicule it receives.
These are the movies with no theatrical release that smother your local Blockbuster and Hollywood Video. They are the knock-offs, the rip-offs, and the cash-ins. They look similar to recent films out in the theater, complete with familiar sounding names and cloned box art. For every Transformers there is a Transmorphers. Even if the films are dissimilar, you wouldn't know it by looking at the box.
Many of these are sold to foreign markets, looking for copies of American fare. Some feature big name actors, but most are B-listers looking for a paycheck. Sometimes they sport decent budgets, but more often than not, you are looking at a million dollars or less. When shot on digital video, they move into microbudget land--our land.
The bottom line is that most of these "movies" are just terrible. From what I gather from Greg's interviews, they are cranked out on insane deadlines under less-than-perfect conditions, with many being tailored (often at the script stage) to a specific buyer's wants. One director was (thankfully) bothered by the fact that one purchaser for Blockbuster wanted to see kids getting killed, so that's what the distributor provided. Yikes.
Besides the little tricks of the trade that are mentioned (like blood filled condoms fired from a shotgun instead of using squibs), the obvious fact is that even bad content makes money. The video store shelves are lined with lots and lots of crap. Why can't we make equally bad material and make a living? Why can't we make good material and make a living? Why can't the web be our 'video store shelf'?
For an eye-opening listen, check out some of Greg's podcasts. His most recent one is with director Leigh Scott (Transmorphers), and is a good interview. Scott is one guy who wants to eventually get out of the dreck market and be a real filmmaker. I wish the best of luck to him. And to us.