(directed by Robert Rodriguez)
The first low-budget feature film I remember hearing of was Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi back in 1992. It was a pretty dreadful film, but I was completely inspired by the stories that swirled around it (many of them just good PR no doubt) of how Rodriguez sold his own blood to raise the $7 000 that the film cost to make.
(directed by Richard Linklater)
What really inspired me about Richard Linklater’s Slacker was the meandering plotline. It challenged everything I thought I knew about film storytelling. There were no lead characters and the camera would follow someone for a while and just then peel off and follow someone else. Having grown up on a diet of Hollywood studio movies, I found this extremely liberating. It had a budget of $23 000.
(directed by Kevin Smith)
In 1994 Miramax released Kevin Smith’s grunge comedy Clerks, a grainy black and white movie about a couple of slackers working in a convenience store. The film cost $27 000 and was shot in the store where the director worked in real life. It really opened my eyes to the possibility of just getting it done, using whatever one had at one’s disposal.
The Blair Witch Project
(directed by Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick)
In 1999 The Blair Witch Project revealed to me the extraordinary possibilities of telling compelling stories without using any of the usual filmmaking gear or aesthetics. No grips, no dollies, no establishing shots, just a handheld video camera. Ironically, although the film was designed to look incredibly cheap, it actually cost $60 000 to make. Which I guess is still nothing, compared to the $250-million it earned.
(directed by Shane Carruth)
Lastly, there’s Primer, which I consider one of the best sci-fi films I’ve ever seen. It was made for just $7 000 back in 2004. It tells the story of two engineers who accidentally build a time machine in their garage and use it to travel back in time, creating all sorts of fascinating paradoxes and philosophical conundrums. Primer is proof that what really matters are the ideas behind the film, not the budget.