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No-Budget 35mm feature


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#1 Sidney King

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Posted 17 December 2005 - 01:16 AM

Hi All,

I've been a lurker for a while on these boards, I just thought you guys might be interested in (and hopefully encouraged by) a production we pulled off last summer: namely, a micro/no-budget 35mm anamorphic feature called "Pearl Diver," shot in 17 days in northern Indiana.

We shot entirely on shortends (5279), ended up with about 270 camera rolls for 60,000 ft. of film. We used a workhorse of a MovieCam Superamerica and anamorphic lenses by Joe Dunton and Co. Did a lot of daytime exteriors, some day-for-night (ended up looking great) and underwater work as well.

This was all accomplished (with a very small, mostly inexperienced crew) under the supervision of a tremendous DP named John Rotan. John put together a trailer for the film I'd invite you to look at; and I hope I'm not bragging if i say the footage is gorgeous (it's his work, not mine):

http://pearldivermov...75/PDTeaser.mp4

or if Mac users have trouble try here:

http://www.rotan.com...pearldiver.html

anyway, I know a lot of us in the indie world struggle for ways to get powerful visuals on a tight budget, I just wanted to say I've been there and it is possible (it does call for some pretty painful cuts in other areas, though).

If any of you are working with producers balking at the cost of shooting 35 or even 16, I'd be happy to talk to them for you and tell them about my experience on the film and how I believe it pays off in the long-run; I would shoot 35 again in a heartbeat, even though we didn't even have what would be considered a proper budget for a DV feature. i'd be happy to tell anyone more about the project, just drop me a line.
best, sidney
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 17 December 2005 - 01:38 AM

Looks nice, especially the shots near water. Can't tell much about the story from the way the trailer is cut though. Is that music from "Road to Perdition"?
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#3 Sidney King

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Posted 17 December 2005 - 03:02 AM

Looks nice, especially the shots near water. Can't tell much about the story from the way the trailer is cut though. Is that music from "Road to Perdition"?

Thanks David. Yes, this trailer features the photogarphy more than story. You can learn more about the story (there's also a more plot-oriented trailer) at www.pearldivermovie.com

And yes, that is music from "Road to Perdition," it actually sounds nothing like the film's original score. From what I understand we're safe using it for non-commercial purposes like this.
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#4 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 17 December 2005 - 12:29 PM

Hi,

> From what I understand we're safe using it for non-commercial purposes like this.

No. You're not.

Phil
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#5 Rod Otaviano

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Posted 17 December 2005 - 01:06 PM

Hi,

> From what I understand we're safe using it for non-commercial purposes like this.

No. You're not.

Phil



I think you're only safe if you intend to show the clips to your friends and relatives.

By the time you post it on the Internet, a public access medium, you need the rights to use his (Thomas Newman) music (even if you're using it for non-commercial purpose).
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#6 Mitch Gross

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Posted 17 December 2005 - 01:40 PM

I know one of the ACs who came out from New York to work on this shoot. She told me about carrying the Super America through cornfields and loading all those little shortends, but said the film was a lot of fun to work on.

Best of luck with it!
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#7 Kevin Zanit

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Posted 17 December 2005 - 04:56 PM

Looks real good.
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#8 David Silverstein

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Posted 17 December 2005 - 05:23 PM

Looks awsome.

Wondering what your budget actually was and howd you get such good day for night shots? Any special secret?
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#9 Sidney King

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Posted 17 December 2005 - 06:30 PM

[quote name='David Silverstein' date='Dec 17 2005, 02:23 PM' post='79930']
Looks awsome.

Wondering what your budget actually was and howd you get such good day for night shots? Any special secret?

Thanks David. We were blessed with good conditions for the day-for-night (nice sunny day, little cloud cover). Not sure of any secrets John has, I believe he underexposed about two-and-a-half stops (all of that footage was also shot with a 90 degree shutter angle), without the 85. I'll see if he can confirm that and if has any more specs on how he shot it.

Budget-wise I'm afraid I can't share exact amounts, I can say it was shot with the SAG Limited Exhibition Agreement, which restricts total production budget (including post costs, in our case finishing to several answer prints with a Dolby license) for under 200K.
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#10 Landon D. Parks

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Posted 23 December 2005 - 03:57 AM

$200,000 is hardly a shoe-string, no budget movie, even in 35mm. Now if you gave a more exactl number, like $25,000.00 or something, I can see your statement being true.

PS) If your affriad to tell because you think it might scare of distribution: #1: If the film is good, it's good. No matter how much it cost. Same if it's bad though too, I'm affird. #2: Budget has little to do with a studio's interest in a film, if it's good. #3: You will at some point be telling to the studio how much the budget was, so it's not gonna remain a secret passed the bargaining table. And yes, the will want proof of what you actually spent (aka: No making up fake #'s to raise the budget).

Edited by Landon D. Parks, 23 December 2005 - 04:00 AM.

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#11 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 23 December 2005 - 12:47 PM

$200,000 is hardly a shoe-string, no budget movie, even in 35mm. Now if you gave a more exactl number, like $25,000.00 or something, I can see your statement being true.

PS) If your affriad to tell because you think it might scare of distribution: #1: If the film is good, it's good. No matter how much it cost. Same if it's bad though too, I'm affird. #2: Budget has little to do with a studio's interest in a film, if it's good. #3: You will at some point be telling to the studio how much the budget was, so it's not gonna remain a secret passed the bargaining table. And yes, the will want proof of what you actually spent (aka: No making up fake #'s to raise the budget).


You really shouldn't speak as if from experience, Landon. It is standard operating procedure for independent productions to not reveal their true budget because this could affect how much is offered by a distributor. There's no law saying that a production has to reveal their accounting to a distributor before a sale is made -- if that were true, then every distributor would just offer %10 over costs. It's quite common to ask a distributor to make an offer if they want to buy something, and not reveal the true budget to them. Anyway, what they pay is not based on production costs, but on market potential.

And $200,000 is considered to be very low in budget for a 35mm production. In fact, it's generally very rare to see any 35mm production made for less than $100,000, since it can cost around $60,000 in stock, processing, and telecine just to shoot in 35mm. If you ever hear of a 35mm feature made for less than $100,000, it's because they got incredible deals of stock & processing. Also, once you go below $100,000 but are still shooting in 35mm, it's unlikely you are paying the crew, actors, etc. -- normal production costs.

There's a reason why the IFP Spirit Awards has a special category for features made for less than $500,000...

The cheapest features I've ever shot was one $100,000 feature made in Super-16, one $100,000 feature made in 24P HD, and one $170,000 feature made in 35mm. I also did one $45,000 feature in 35mm (my first) but that was because the director had deferred lab costs, crew costs, camera rental costs, etc. as part of a co-production deal between a lab and a camera rental house.

$200,000 seems like a lot of money to make a 35mm movie, but it isn't, not when you actually have to pay for basic things (film stock, camera, lab work, crew, food, editing, etc.)

Just do some basic math: 3-week shoot, let's say 80,000' of 35mm raw stock, processing, telecine, 3 weeks of camera & grip & electric rentals, 3 weeks of crew and actor salary, food, insurance, transportation, fuel, office costs... and that doesn't even cover post-production. It adds up fast.

Edited by David Mullen, 23 December 2005 - 12:54 PM.

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#12 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 23 December 2005 - 08:13 PM

Hi,

And a three week movie will be... of sub-television-movie standard, let's face it.

Phil
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#13 Max Jacoby

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Posted 23 December 2005 - 08:27 PM

Not necessarily.

Have you seen 'George Washington' for instance?
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#14 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 23 December 2005 - 08:28 PM

Well, I shot "Twin Falls Idaho" and "Jackpot" in 3 weeks... I got a Spirit award nomination for the photography of "Twin Falls Idaho" in 2000 and "Jackpot" won the Cassevettes award (best feature made for under $500,000) at the Spirit Awards in 2002. That movie was only shot in 15 days.

But I tend to feel that it becomes harder and harder to shoot a movie artistically the shorter the schedule becomes, because it starts to be about pounding out six to ten pages of script per day. The majority of 3-week features tend to be crappy genre movies for straight-to-DVD and cable TV, women-in-prison flicks and whatnot.

Edited by David Mullen, 23 December 2005 - 08:31 PM.

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#15 Sidney King

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Posted 24 December 2005 - 01:57 AM

Yes, a three-week shoot is not that unusual for American indies, even very successful ones (recent examples include "Junebug" and "The Squid and the Whale"). Sure, it can be a brutal three weeks, but there are a lot of great-looking features I consider well above the made-for-TV standard that were produced on that kind of schedule (along with the types of productions David mentioned!)

And I absolutely agree, whenever you're talking dollar amounts anywhere near the neighborhood of 200K, that is a lot of money. But in industry terms (among distributors/sales reps, etc...) it is still called a "no-budget" feature (which makes you wonder which other industries consider 200K "no-budget...")

The world of film budgets is a nebulous one, especially on the low end of the totem pole. Very often when you hear figures attached to what a small film "cost," you're hearing some version of the production budget (it was "shot for" $xxx), excluding any post costs, which on a low-budget feature can easily match or exceed the production budget. These "budgets" may or may not include SAG deferments, which can be huge. And occasionally (if you're lucky) distributors help with certain delivery-related costs, making things even murkier (do you consider deliverables and deferments part of a film's budget or not?).

You're best off taking those figures with a grain of salt, sometimes they're inflated by the producers, sometimes they're thrown around by the distributors as a marketing/promotional device ("see what these resourceful kids did with only $50,000!" and of course by the time they deliver a professionally-mixed, fully-insured and licensed 35mm release print, you're looking at that cost several times over). Either way you will have a hard time getting most independent producers to talk frankly and specifically about their budgets, for good reason (just as you will have a hard time getting specifics on the terms of a film sale).

As David mentioned, it's pretty standard not to disclose it (and you're often contractually bound not to with the film's investors)

Edited by Sidney King, 24 December 2005 - 02:02 AM.

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#16 fstop

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Posted 24 December 2005 - 01:52 PM

Not necessarily.

Have you seen 'George Washington' for instance?


Jaws 2 was also shot in three weeks, and that turned out fine. Interesting to note though that the director, Jeannot Szwarc, was very well known for surviving breakneck shedules in television.
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#17 Paul Bruening

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Posted 26 December 2005 - 06:27 AM

Hey Landon,

There are countless ways production eats money. Food alone can burn up thousands. A crew member can go through $30.00 a day in food, softdrinks and cookies. Multiply that times about twenty cast, crew and PAs. Then multiply that times a thirty day shoot...

Then you have to keep vehicles gassed up and pay mileage to your day players...

Then you have to bunk people somewhere...

There's gear rental...

Globes blow, wire frays, crew menbers bang the front end of your vehicles against the curb and screw up the alignment...

Duct tape is $8.00 a roll. A thirty day shoot can burn up a roll a day...

It just goes on and on and on.....
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#18 Mitch Gross

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Posted 26 December 2005 - 10:08 PM

Jaws 2 was also shot in three weeks, and that turned out fine. Interesting to note though that the director, Jeannot Szwarc, was very well known for surviving breakneck shedules in television.



Seriously? I had no idea. Anywhere I can read about that? Considering all the production delays that I know the others in the series suffered, I'm amazed that this one was done so quickly.
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#19 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 26 December 2005 - 11:54 PM

Seriously? I had no idea. Anywhere I can read about that? Considering all the production delays that I know the others in the series suffered, I'm amazed that this one was done so quickly.


I don't think that is correct. I just re-read the "American Cinematographer" article on the movie (April 1978), and DP Michael Butler mentions something like a five-month shoot for the movie (he even states that it was difficult to match shots taken nearly six months apart).

The article begins by mentioning that the production spent a month shooting in Martha's Vineyard and then moved to Pensacola, Florida for the next four months of shooting.

It also mentions that the production stopped briefly to switch directors -- I assume that Schwartz replaced someone, not the other way around.
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#20 Micah Fernandez

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Posted 27 December 2005 - 04:28 AM

Where I live (the Philippines), it's quite common for indie features to go for less than $30,000. In capable hands, 200k could go really far.
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