A Breakup Letter to No-Budget Filmmaking

A Breakup Letter to No-Budget Filmmaking

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FILMMAKER: Ross Ozarka

STORY: Breaking Up With No-Budget Filmmaking & Finding a More Empowering Way to Make Films

Dear No-Budget Filmmaking,

I'm leaving you, and it's all your fault.

For ten years, you've been setting me up for failure with your backwards way of life:

  • Your director is also the caterer.

  • Your lead actor disappears halfway through.

  • Your movies are shot and edited on your cousin's iPhone.

How can I grow as a filmmaker with your bad habits holding me back?

I can almost hear what you'd say about this: “Baby, you need me!”

I can see why you'd think that: I have no money, no network, and I've never even set foot on a real movie set. You might think that I couldn't be a filmmaker if I didn't have you.

Now that we've spent some time apart, I can say this: I'm free.

I know how we’d talk about the modern classics we were going make together, how our films would screen at Sundance, how their sheer brilliance would shine through the scant production value to catch the eye of a StudioCanal rep. But let’s admit it: that was all a fantasy.

I've met new people, and they've showed me techniques that satisfy me in ways you never could, like:

Recording dialogue before the shoot.

I never understood why you'd make such a big deal out of location sound. Remember that time we jacked those lavaliers into the actor's cell phones? The quality was awful.

I learned this new technique, and I don't know why it never occurred to me before—get the actors in a dry and low-echo room, and record all their dialogue at once.

Oh. My. God.

It was so nice to have no on-set distractions. To able to concentrate on the actors, and not c-stands. For the first time, I could direct. Really direct. It felt amazing.

No more retakes for passing planes and trucks. No more performances ruined by a fridge. Now I only need a microphone for room tone and foley.

Actually, that's not entirely true. I have a confession to make. I've been...

Filming movies without actors or locations.

The endless casting calls on Craigslist, chasing permits from the local film office, begging cafe owners to film for an afternoon... and scheduling all that together was a nightmare. Why were you into that?!

That's why I prefer to make my movies without actors or locations.

With the power of editing and shot composition, I can tell any story I want with a toothbrush and a bar of soap.
— M̶a̶c̶G̶y̶v̶e̶r̶ Ross Ozarka

Sock puppets, Barbie dolls, my own drawings... I can puppeteer anything into an actor; one who's always available for reshoots, one who can do as many takes as necessary. As long as it can move in time with my pre-recorded dialogue, it can act.

And no, the story doesn't suffer at all. With the power of editing and shot composition, I can tell any story I want with a toothbrush and a bar of soap.

With actors so small, I don't need locations. I can draw backdrops on cardboard and light them with colored gels.

It looks pretty good, and for the first time, I have complete control of the mise-en-scene. I never even thought about mise-en-scene when I was with you!

Far from being limited, I have more storytelling tools now than I ever had with you.

No-Budget Filmmaking, I have a confession to make...

I've been doing this for the past three years. In fact, I've already made a feature!

Please don't be jealous.

I know how we'd talk about the modern classics we were going make together, how our films would screen at Sundance, how their sheer brilliance would shine through the scant production value to catch the eye of a StudioCanal rep. But let's admit it: that was all a fantasy.

I need to make films with someone who can solve the problems of filmmaking in new ways. Someone who will let me tell the stories I want to tell. You just weren't cutting it. With you, I could never make a film set in 16th Century Spain. But that's what I've been able to do.

Let me introduce you to my film. It's named “Oops, I Murdered the Person the Person I Like Likes.” You can watch it here, and use the coupon code OOPSBUCK to get $1 USD off the ticket price.

Yes, I'm distributing it online, foregoing festivals entirely.

Will that work? I wish I could tell you the best practices for promoting a film online, but I've never done that before.

All I know is I would love to find a way to distribute my films with no need for a Festival Programmer's approval. Maybe I'll write you again once I've figured it out.

Goodbye, No-Budget Filmmaking. I will think of you when I re-read the chapter of my life called “mistakes.”

-Ross Ozarka


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