THE STAKES OF NO STAKES:
FIRST PUBLISHED ON MAY 24, 2010 ON ART FREAK.
I was recently asked to provide some answers about my thoughts on "no-budget" filmmaking from a Masters in Film Studies student in Kolkata India for his dissertation paper. At first, i was a bit reluctant because I'm not sure if, or how I would fit into the discussion. Its a strange term that means many things nowadays, and least of which I would use to discuss any of my own work. But the more I meditated on the subject, the more I realized that the term is complex, multi-facitiated, and can be used to describe a genre, an ideology, an aesthetic, and even a political disposition. Ultimately, my own theory is that a no budget film, is in fact, in essence an anti-commerce type of filmmaking, in which, its heritage is closer to art making, then traditional film craft. I mean to say, that the work isn't opposed of commerce, but that its birth is irreverent to commerce. But clear lines are made between no-budget filmmaking which roots are closer to narrative story telling, then the avant-garde.
So, while you can find the true source of the article here, on interviewer request i reprint here.
1. What does it mean by ‘no-budget film’? (Definition or the concept)
A “no-budget film” can mean many things contextually. I will argue that the term is specific to our generational epoch. The term can refer to actual monies spent on a project, it can refer to a certain methodology in production and possibly, it can refer to a specific anti-industrial ideology of a said project. In this case, “no-budget” is referencing a type of anti-commerce pursuit, different than amateurism, which often implies a dilettante consciousness, working without professional or artistic consequences. To proclaim in the act of making “no-budget” film, all these scenarios can interact with one another, but with that said, one cannot proclaim “no-budget” without a discussion about the obvious production cost. This very tenet will garner a wildly disparate opinion from different fractions of practitioners. If you were to ask me specifically about my take on a “no-budget” work, I might tell you that the idea of a formal, written budget is not a consideration in any sense, with no goal of commerce inherently in the planning. In this way, everything comes out of pocket, not as a hobby but in the same way a painter buys his/her tools or a writer buys a paper and pen. In the same way you would need money for the necessities in one's life, you would also factor in the daily costs of the particular project that one is working on. In this strict sense, it would not be particularly pragmatic to count how much was spent (depending of course, on ones bell shaped responsibility curve), because the work was done in another tradition. The cost is the cost of living, and always relative to ones income and finances.
2. What is the philosophical aspect of these non/anti-industrial films? Marxism, people’s art or Post-modern individual effort / potential role in a democratic state.
The role of these works might be the same as any other form of art, which is at first, non-commercial based. I don't believe in any Marxist connection as this effort would be a very individual undertaking, a single channel type of expression. Also, this type of effort is anti-democratic, in the essence that it is often similar to auteur filmmaking. Again, I am only referring to the construction of the work, not the broader artistic ramifications as they relate to culture. But since I believe the culture at large is not ready to digest or accept these viable forms of art at this time (or ever, because of both quality and personalized obscurity), their existence might signify a political individualism, a self-sabotage of common sense. Because, as we have defined earlier, that the work is not leisurely pursuit, a psychological or spiritual net worth is the immediate consequences, desires and possible metaphysical goals.
3. What Cameras and Edit suits have you used for your films? Why?
I have worked with most mediums and use both Avid (nitris, etc) and FCP Studio. For the more personal smaller work, I tend to use FCP.
4. Unless there have been a DV revolution, do you think that the concept of no-budget had flourished to this extent? The festivals organized all over the world, people making films on their own — could this be real in the era of celluloid too. Please elaborate.
No, although this type of movement isn't without precedent. I will steer clear of the earlier “American Independent” era, although some of those works might have the same aim, they certainly do not have the same monetary considerations. Also, I do want to differentiate between the avant-garde, short works, and feature length works. The birth of no budget cinema is most vital in the context of feature filmmaking. While there were little consideration of budgets in the earlier periods of the Avant-Garde, Free Cinema movements, Pixel-vision, and the birth of the personal video pieces of the late 70's and 80's, what differentiates this time period is that, in reference to no-budget filmmaking, the filmmakers have tools to keep budgets minimal and still produce work which isn't too far away in terms of perceived audience (layman) production value. While in earlier periods, the gap was exceedingly larger, and or fractioning in inflation cost, what one might deem “no-budget” might not fit into the same context nowadays. Of course, phenomenons don't occur in a vacuum, so these seminal earlier periods, including more formal works by filmmakers such as Satyajit Ray and the American Underground, might be the direct lineage of “now generation” filmmakers eager in the vicissitude (or as some may argue, cult) of technology. Also, as in the avant-garde and Underground scenes, (Brakhage, Mekas, etc), the practitioners were still working with film. This limitation alone would have made it impossible to make feature length work without consideration to a considerable budget in most incidences. And in the 80's on, consumer video was worlds apart in perceived quality to the 35mm cinema. Of course this technological resuscitation occurred with the advent of DV. While still being considerably lower resolution than film, (used for clarity, since film is not resolution based) DV had a quality that was acceptable enough and different enough to usher in the promise of a new tool used to expand the cinematic lexicon, outside of the home video (movie). Of course, in the earlier period, these DV productions would be printed to S16 or 35mm for projection in theatrical settings. The resolution issues were consciously used as another layer of storytelling, both in production (portability, inconspicuousness) and in the visual design elements (grain, color, visual space). These factors were mercilessly championed by the Dogma 95 collective both as a marketing ploy and as new era filmmakers willing to try new tools to shake up a form which had been more and more homogenized by the industry of Hollywood storytelling. In later years, filmmakers were using these tools to tell there particular stories, and partake in a craft form that was almost exclusively tailored for a socially connected elite.
5. Will you go to Hollywood if they call you? Why?
Of course. I see myself as a film director first and foremost, a professional who can and does work in industry’s projects. But, my second nature is film-making. If that appetite isn't fulfilled, I go out and make it happen. I've learned to make work for nothing and I've learned to make films that need more substantial budgets, in the same sense that I've learned how to work with professional actors and amateurs. Working in this duality is what drives me, knowing that whatever happens career wise I can always say fuck it and work in a more intimate and constricted medium. This usually affords me the opportunity to really express a specific point of view and vision. Essentially, the farther you get into filmmaking without money, the less organizational compromises you have to make and at the end of the day it becomes purely a single channel pursuit. Of course, this form of isolation causes one to cut other viable creative voices out of the picture, incidentally moving away from an “audience is God abstraction”, running the tricky risk of alienation. Of course, this might be ones motive at the start?
6. How does Digital technology help in organizing screenings?
I can't really answer this because I'm not in the business of curating. I did it before and I would assume that digital tools may cost less and are more accessible in creating impromptu screening opportunities. Again, I tend to think that the DVD and digital file has replaced the communal theatrical experience necessary for film viewing especially in the context of “no-budget” filmmaking which, in my case, is a more personal enterprise; a dark living room and an audience of one, in fact, maybe on an airplane with a laptop and some headphones --- intimate films for intimate viewings. Again, that’s just my perspective.