Six Benefits of Microbudget Filmmaking - And How To Succeed!
COW Library : : Gex Williams : Six Benefits of Microbudget Filmmaking - And How To Succeed!
What’s better - a $120 million dollar budget or a $12,000? Most people will tell you $120 million, but we disagree. There's a long list of $120 million flops -- many of which you can name off the top of your head. We suspect that, in some cases anyway, the freedom that those budgets offered became part of the problem.
Instead, Ctrl+Alt+Dance, our $12,000 movie, showed for a single night in about 50 cities across the world, grossing around $50,000 total. This sleeper hit has premiered on every (inhabited) continent, has a following in almost every major city, and has been translated into 9 different languages by volunteers who loved the movie, and wanted to extend its reach.
We believe part of the reason that that Ctrl+Alt+Dance has inspired such passion among its audience reveals the BENEFITS of microbudget filmmaking. Sure, there were plenty of limitations, but as we worked our way through each obstacle, we laid a stronger foundation for its success.
Here, then, are Six Benefits of Microbudget Filmmaking.
1) IT CREATES LIMITATIONS BUT STOKES CREATIVITY
Contrary to what some may say, we found that limitations actually increase creative juices. A limited budget creates challenges to overcome, but it also breeds ingenuity.
For example, when writing the script for Ctrl+Alt+Dance we didn’t waste time imagining what the set would look like. We only used locations we already knew existed. Allowing our brains to develop the story using known locations helped keep the focus on the characters and plot development. We didn’t wrestle with a starry night laser fight on the second moon of Saturn, because as cool as that may be, it wasn’t in the budget.
A still from Ctrl+Alt+Dance, a romantic comedy about Colin, a risk-averse computer tech, who falls for happy-go-lucky jazz dancer Jillian but is in danger of losing it all when a disgruntled hacker threatens to expose a hidden secret. Click image for full sized view. Note: title graphic background is also a still from Ctrl+Alt+Dance.
2) IT HELPS YOUR AUDIENCE GET BEHIND YOU
If you are making your first film you probably don’t have that much of a fan base. You need to build one from the ground up. People love to root for an underdog. Show people you care about them in a way a big budget film never can.
Large budget films need millions of people to see their films in order to not flop. As a result they tend to broadcast in an attempt to please everybody, most likely making the substance of the film pretty shallow. With a micro-budget film you have the luxury of going deep and really appealing to a particular sect of people. This is a huge advantage. Own it!
Know your niche audience and be true to them. Indiegogo and Kickstarter are great tools to both fund your project and figure out if your big idea has a big audience, but market research is a must! Below are a few things that helped us.
Figure out where your audience hangs out. Check group numbers and activity on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumbler, YouTube, Blogs etc. This step is important, don’t waste your time trying to reach people on the wrong platform.
Quantify your audience. We made a database of every Facebook group and page related to our niche market, and include relevant data like number of members, likes, and points of contact. Always keep looking! We found this map after finishing our theatrical distribution, it would have saved us a lot of work if we knew it existed at the beginning of our project.
SwingMap.com, a dynamic map to assist traveling Lindy Hoppers find dancing while they're out and about. This is a zoom in on North America, but the whole world is represented.
Make conservative sales projections. Add up all the people who would be interested in your movie, hint: add up all the Facebook group members, and multiply it by a conservative conversion rate in order to estimate revenue from your project.
Gauge interest. Contact niche celebrities, bloggers, and Facebook group admins. Talk to them about your idea, and be open to feedback about how you can be true to your audience and create a movie they will love. If your niche doesn’t like or feels misrepresented by your movie, your conversion rate will be zero! If you utilize advanced feedback from your audience you will have a whole bunch of people who will be excited about your film.
And build on the shoulders of giants! Check out this article on crowd source fundraising from Tim Ferriss. It helped us a bunch in developing a plan for reaching our audience.
Remember: if you want your film to be seen far and wide you need to treat it like the business it is.
3) IT PAVES THE WAY FOR YOUR NEXT PROJECT
Two key things will be significant for your second film. One: your fan base needs to carry over. Two: investors need to have confidence in you.
Many first time filmmakers work hard to raise half a million dollars to shoot their first film. By doing this they inadvertently shoot themselves in the foot. As a first time filmmaker, chances are you don’t have the following to make a profit on a half million dollar film. You burn your investors and nobody wants to work with you again.
With a micro-budget film you only need to please a handful of people for your film to make a profit. If you turn a profit on a micro-budget film, investors will have the confidence to give you more for the second go around, and your core audience base will hopefully have increased enough to support a higher budget film.
The premiere of Ctl+Alt+Dance in Rochester, NY
4) IT GIVES YOU THE CONFIDENCE TO MAKE BIGGER FILMS
Ctrl+Alt+Dance premiered on every inhabited continent and has been translated into eight different languages (for free). It’s pretty cool to watch your film in Korean, Spanish, Chinese, German, French, Hungarian, Russian, Ukrainian, or whatever. We feel awesome about this movie. It kicks ass.
People enjoyed our film because we worked super hard to make something they care about. Sure, some snobs will tear down your movie because of its limited budget.
But who cares what the snobs think? You’ve got a dedicated following of people who want you to make another movie. Investors will be much more likely to put money into your second project when you tell them your first project made 100% return on investment, even if you only make $15,000 on a $7,000 film. A high ROI on your last project will turn an investor’s head.
5) IT HELPS YOU GROW THICK SKIN
This really applies to any sized project. However, you feel it way more personally on a micro-budget level.
If you're doing something worthwhile most likely someone won’t like you. Don’t try to please everybody. We had plenty of people hate on us for whatever personal reasons. Brush it off and draw inspiration from all the people who appreciate what you are trying to create for them.
If you ever feel down after reading a message board post by some random person with nothing better to do than criticize your efforts, please draw inspiration from this meme.
6) IT LETS YOU GET CREATIVE WITH DISTRIBUTION
So you’ve engaged your audience, raised (and most likely spent) your micro-budget, and wrapped up post. Now what?
Distribution is changing so rapidly that is hard to find relevant advice. Advice from filmmakers of even just a few years ago is often irrelevant. Third party or self-distribution? Theatrical or online? Netflix or create space?
This is where your previous efforts and lessons learned come full circle. Once again you can be honest about your limitations and see opportunities to get creative and utilize the market research you have already done.
For example if you are distributing your film with little or no money you probably cannot pay a third party distributer or afford to four-wall a bunch of theaters around the world. But if you have done your research and found out where your audience is then you can crowd source your theatrical release with little or no financial risk.
Similarly, if most of your audience is international then burning and shipping DVDs makes no sense when you can deliver digital content for free via the internet. Try to create a winning situation for fans and it will in turn benefit the film.
Some great tools we discovered for distribution are tilt.com and vhx.tv. We used Tilt to crowd source a worldwide premiere event and we used VHX to deliver content directly to fans all across the world.
If you need some inspiration, check out our Tilt page. We’ve left it live so that others can copy what we’ve done. You can also check out how VHX integrates directly with your website on our film page, click “Watch Movie” in the upper right.
THE BENEFITS OF MICROBUDGET FILMMAKING
In summary, think twice before taking out a huge loan or mortgaging the house. If you can make a successful micro-budget film it will pave the way for you to create bigger and better projects. It’s way more positive to watch your career grow from the ground up than to pick up the pieces after an epic failure.
Making and distributing an independent film is hard, really hard, but being creative and learning to live with limitations can help you see returns for your sweat equity.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Gex Williams’ career in film started with Lego blocks. At a young age he used stop-motion animation to make short videos for his family and friends. This eventually developed into using real people and the rest is history. He graduated from the College of Media Communications at Asbury University with a double bachelors in Film Production and Cinema Performance. Gex has worked on multiple professional film projects and served as the Producer and Artistic Director of SAC Family Theater in Lexington, KY. Gex’s enthusiasm for Lindy Hop and his entrepreneurial spirit has overflowed into the film from day one.
Although Brian Crone’s educational background is in engineering, his passion for film started at a young age when he produced skate and karate videos with his brothers and sisters. With a knack for problem solving, organization, and entrepreneurialism Brian was swept back into the film world after completing an M.S. in environmental engineering by his childhood friend Gex Williams. Brian is a true Jack-of-all-trades and is just as at home writing a script as he is meeting with investors.
Brian Crone & Gex Williams