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What Are You Willing to Forgive (If Anything) When It Comes to No-Budget/Lo-Budget Films?

What Are You Willing to Forgive (If Anything) When It Comes to No-Budget/Lo-Budget Films?

An oldie but goodie that generated some healthy discussion when I first posted it on this site a few years ago. Our readership has grown quite a bit since then, so it’s worthy of a repost, if only to see what kind of conversation it sparks today.

It’s called independent filmmaking folks, where money is limited, and budgets are anywhere from zero- to low-budget; so whenever I’m screening an indie feature, I’ll readily admit that I tend to be more forgiving. I don’t expect that every single aspect of production will be top notch. I understand that when you’re working with a very limited budget, some things will likely suffer; and, as an indie filmmaker, you’ll have to make adjustments and compromises. 

Not that all indie films are made equal. First of all, you’d have to define what exactly an indie film is – a conversation the film community (both indie and mainstream) have been having for years now. But to simplify, you could say that I’m much tougher on films that cost many millions of dollars, usually with top notch talent both in front of and behind the camera, and resources seemingly in near-abundance, than I am when it comes to *smaller* films – especially those in that sub-$500,000 category; and even more-so with those that are made with 5-figure budgets or less.

For example, I made a feature-length film in 2003 (my first and only feature) for $5,000! Does its lack of a budget show? Of course it does! But when we (my business partners and I) 4-walled a theater here in NYC for 3 days, in which to screen the film for paying audiences (who were not all friends and family, I might add), the only reactions I got from audiences were on how authentic and real the film’s portrayal of a relationship between a man and a woman was, with some even asking if the actors were a couple in real life. There was really no mention of the film’s obviously low production values.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that there weren’t those who thought the film was a piece of shit. I’m pretty sure there were. They just didn’t say anything to me directly, which is perfectly ok.

But the point I’m making is that, some folks were willing to overlook certain inadequacies and instead allowed themselves to be taken in by what they felt were the film’s strengths, which they remembered the most. Or, to put it another way, for some, the film’s strengths overshadowed its weaknesses, enough for them to appreciate the experience.

Do we expect every film to deliver fully, with each and every individual aspect working perfectly in unison, resulting in a rich, memorable, resounding cinematic experience? Of course we do! But how often does that happen, even with expensive Hollywood studio movies, let alone with those made within the resource-limited world of what we call independent filmmaking?

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that one is inferior to the other, but to consider how we watch those budget-challenged films, remembering the many obstacles the filmmakers had to overcome in order to see their films through completion. 

So, the question is, what, if anything, are you willing to forgive, for lack of a better word, when it comes to watching no- to low-budget indie films? The popular saying is that nothing else really matters but the story. Is that true for you? If everything else is sub-par, but there’s an interesting story that hooks you, would that be enough to carry you through the entire film? If the acting is weak, but the cinematography is sublime; or if the sound is poor, but the acting is strong; etc, etc…

Or are you one of those who refuses to grade on a curve, and who looks at every single film, whether studio or indie, through the same lens, and judges them exactly the same way, no matter how expensive or how cheaply-made they were made?

After all, there are no-budget/lo-budget films that have impressed in all categories. But like I said, not all indies are created equal.

Discuss…

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