Thursday, 2 December 2010

Factory Filmed

Monsters is released in cinemas across the UK from Friday. I'm looking forward to it - watch this space for the review. The movie has received a lot of positive advance press, mostly focussing on the low-budget and atypical production model: this article from the Guardian is typical. Two actors and a tiny crew took a road trip across Mexico seeking out atmospheric locations and shooting scenes along the way, a lot of the dialogue was improvised, and director Gareth Edwards then edited and post-produced the film, tentacles and all, in After Effects on his laptop. More or less.

Gareth Edwards entered Sci-Fi London's 48 Hour Film Challenge three years ago, seeing it as an opportunity to test out a depth-of-field adaptor he'd just built for his camera. The result was the 2008 winning entry Factory Farmed - which surely must have helped when Gareth was pitching the Monsters concept. Inspired by the 2008 entries including Gareth's, I had a lot of fun making films for this competition in 2009 and 2010 and plan to enter again in future.

Factory Farmed: winner of SFL48 2008

For the benefit of all the journalists who are enthused about Monsters: while I share your excitement about this particular release, indie and low-budget films are not new, and Danny Boyle is not the only respected director who started out using guerilla filmmaking techniques. Also it has always been possible to spend a massive Hollywood budget and end up with a box-office flop. It is true that post production and effects tools have become more accessible - including many freeware applications such as my preferred tool Blender - but it's not really about the tools: a good script, good direction (both theatrical and artistic) good character performances and good editing are as key as ever.

Low budget filmmaking is different though. For example, in a more traditional studio there is a tension between the director and the producer, whose role is basically to persuade the director that he can still achieve his artistic vision with only three elephants instead of six. If the director has always come from the angle of what he or she can achieve without spending anything, then this tension is not needed in the first place and there might not be a need to separate the director/producer roles in the same, rigid way. I suspect the ideal arrangement is for two people with a fairly close relationship of some sort to hold both roles but play to their own individual strengths, and this might be why there are so many successful brother-brother partnerships in cinema.

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