When it comes time to make a movie, there is usually a pretty specific way of doing things. Most filmmakers are taught the absolutely essential components that go into creating a large project like a feature film. Money, large crews, expensive equipment etc. I’ve seen people pump $35,000+ dollars into a single short film, with a crews of up to anywhere between 25 and 50+. Many times movies do validate their large crews and budgets, but, in my opinion, more often than not it is incredibly excessive, especially for young, indie filmmakers who have no money.
I want to talk about a movie that has been a massive inspiration for me over the last year or so since I discovered it. It’s called “Monsters.” It was an indie hit in 2010, and was made by filmmaker Gareth Edwards as his first feature film. It is about an American photographer in Mexico who is tasked by his boss back home to escort his twenty something daughter back to the USA. The kicker is that six years prior there was an alien attack, and there is a large ‘infected zone’ separating the two countries. A missed ferry ride forces the duo to get home through this infected zone.
The movie has everything a sci-fi fan asks for. Destroyed cities and towns, jeeps being lifted 100 feet in the air, and towering, petrifying aliens causing havoc for the young couple. What blew my mind was that he made this movie with a budget of $15,000, and a crew of 5 people. How? He bought all the equipment himself (where most of the budget went), including sound equipment, and for three weeks he drove around Mexico with his two actors and crew. They would ask the locals if they knew of any post-apocalyptic looking places, and then they would find one and shoot a scene. Gareth Edwards acted as director, director of photography and camera operator. He would use Mexican locals as the supporting cast. They weren’t actors, but that fact was successfully masked by the strong language barrier when trying to communicate with the Americans. When shooting was finished, the director spent six months at his computer using over the counter visual effects software to create the aliens, and all other VFX components. Because of “Monsters,” Gareth Edwards was handed the directing reigns to the $160 Million Godzilla reboot.
I love this story because even from the first day I stepped foot on a film set, I never understood why there were so many people and so much stuff lying around. Eventually I learned why, and for a while believed in it, and then ultimately found myself retreating back to my original sensibilities. I like to keep things very simple: Write a great story, and capture it on camera. I’m not saying it’s acceptable for your movie to look bad, it isn’t. What I’m attempting to say is that if you’ve got a great idea for a film, it can probably be done for a lot less than you’ve been taught. You might not have an assistant director, three camera assistants, grips, gaffers, a lighting team etc, you might not be able to hire casting directors or colour correctors, but let’s be honest, if that’s your focus as a broke filmmaker, you’re doing it wrong.
I went to an event where Oliver Stone spoke recently, and one of the things he said really stuck. In speaking about how the film industry is now saturated with great “looking” films. He made a point to say “you aren’t going to impress anybody with your technique anymore, you impress them with your vision”. If you’ve got an idea, write it down, find a way to make it work. Ultimately you just need to aim a lens at a subject. If you’re worried you won’t raise the $250,000 needed for your debut indie feature, please watch “Monsters”, and never use that excuse again.
Latest posts by Greg Melanson (see all)
- Greg: If there is one thing I truly believe with all of my heart, it’s that a path exists - August 22, 2014
- Greg: I Want To Talk About Monsters - July 18, 2014
- Greg: I don’t put the fate of my success in the hands of anybody but myself - June 20, 2014