Five Things I Hate About Microbudget Movies

As much as I like the uber-low budget movie world, there are some things that just get under my skin, and burrow deep. We all want to create professional products, even if we have little (or no) money to spend. Some of the pitfalls of cheap production could be avoided if we just take a little more time and effort to prepare, plan and polish. The following are some things that I see over and over that get me every time, mostly because they are based on conscious choices and not lack of knowledge.

Hand Held Shooting
I don't know what "filmmakers" have against tripods, but it's a disturbing trend. It annoys me to no end that people refuse to stabilize their camera, then hide behind the words "documentary-style". The literal nausea level really creeps up when more shake and/or zooming is added to an already obnoxious technique. For every Law & Order and Children of Men where this works, there has to be zillions (yes, zillions) of projects that would be better served not using a hand held camera for their entire shoot. Mix it up, please!

Tinny Sound
I cringe every time I hear actors that sound like they have buckets over their heads. Sometimes this is due to a location with poor sound properties (hardwood floors, lots of flat surfaces, metal), but many times it's just because the guy shooting is using the mic built into the camera. If you absolutely cannot get an external mic to put near the talent (even a cheap one is better than nothing), then shoot wide and stick the camera in the talent's face. Horrible audio makes everyone look bad, and no one wants to ride the volume when watching your movie. Would you?

Terrible Acting
You'd be surprised how many talented actors are out there hungry for work. They will do anything (including work for free) to pad their resume, so use them. Casting friends and family may work for awhile, but like cheap sound, will be a mark against you. If you are afraid of hurting feelings, then don't be a director. Even in the low budget realm, this is a business of rejection, and your movie is destined to suck if you can't get quality actors involved. Hold auditions and good people will show up. Great performances can lift your film to a whole new level, and will inspire you to be a better filmmaker.

Over Zealous Story Elements
It's common for people to emulate what they love, but often they have no business doing it. Action movies are very popular in the mainstream, but that doesn't mean they're easy to make. I can't count how many small budgeted action movies I've come across that don't know action. If you have no idea how to stage a fight or shootout, please don't. Write what you know, or bring someone in who can teach you. You will save yourself money and embarrassment if you admit you're in over your head and do something different.

Lack of Availability
One of the most frustrating things I've come across is discovering a movie I have no possible way of seeing. It's wonderful to hear about a film that does great at a festival, but tragic when it isn't distributed in any form. If it's only going to be available on the obscure fest circuit, what's the point? If no DVD is coming, why torture me? Release a version on the internet so those of us not living in city "worthy" of your movie can see it, okay? Even if you can't make money this way, it's better to let others appreciate your work and build a name for yourself, then to let your hard work gather dust in a drawer somewhere.

Alright, enough steam-blowing. Tomorrow I'll return to normal with positive karma about films and filmmaking. Sometimes you just gotta get these things off of your chest, you know?


Anonymous said…
Nice post! We're posting about it on CamcorderInfo in a bit.
Scott Eggleston said…
Thanks for the mention! You guys always bring lots of traffic here.
Hal Weaver said…
Amen. Good post and something every micro/indie filmmaker should take to heart. I too am tired of watching films that try to hide behind the "it's so bad it's suppose to be good" approach. What are five things that you like about microbudget movies?

Gregory Conley said…
A random one that I always try and get out there to young filmmakers...

If you're going to be firing guns, use practical effects. CGI gunfire on a low budget completely takes me out of a movie. You don't need to show the gun going off. Before PM Entertainment became PM Entertainment they used to fire condoms full of blood at the actors. It was cheap and created a gnarly looking wound.

I'm using an example from twenty years ago here. There are surely other methods.

Ohhh, and please don't use the stock sound effects that people have heard in video games and the like. There's a good way to take someone out of your movie.
iafilm said…
"Hold auditions and good people will show up."
This inspired me to step outside my usual network and advertise auditions, bracing myself to cope with the flood of hungry actors. Notices on the walls at a drama school and on the internet discussion boards of the local indie scene and the LARPers. Well! only about 4 responses and zero end result from that! Our cast and crew all came via our own network eg our email newsletter and work colleagues getting the word out to their students and rellies. Mr Film Flap, if you can read this, do tell us what strange and wonderful place you live in with all these surplus talented actors floating around - I wanna go there to make a movie!
Avindair said…
I know this is an old post, but I just had to say add my two cents.

I agree with your comments, but with a serious caveat: How, in many cases, will micro budget filmmakers learn the skills necessary to make a movie if not by getting out there and trying and failing? For many -- myself included -- there is an element of adventure in each production. Pushing ourselves is part and parcel of the process. We understand that we may not succeed, but we take something new from each production.

Where I wholeheartedly agree, though, are on these two points:

1. Actors

Tiny films live and die on good performances. Don't cast a buddy because he's the "funniest guy in the room" and be surprised when he sucks the life off of the screen in your project.

Advertising for actors is simple, and you'll be amazed by the quality of performer you'll get on screen if you just let them know about your project.

2. Sound

Get a good sound guy. I will add one important caveat here, though: "Good" doesn't just mean "competent"; it means "professional" and "good to work with". I and other micro budget filmmakers in my neck of the woods have had nightmarish experiences with audiophiles who happen to think their fetish means they're the best sound people with which to work on a production. Trust me; you do not want that on your set. As with actors, advertise, interview, and trust your gut.

Just wanted to add my two cents.