World Cinema: How to survive budget cuts, international style

With filmmakers everywhere suffering from budget cuts, our latest World Cinema column provides some handy tips for cash-strapped directors...

Filming with budget cuts

Cuts. More cuts. France is on strike again. Demonstrations. It’s pretty depressing right now out there. And if it’s bad for us, think what it must be for those poor struggling Hollywood filmmakers!

The Spider-Man reboot is a prime example, which has had its budget cut from Spider-Man 3’s bloated $258 million to a paltry $80 million. How will they even feed themselves on set?!  Maybe there will no longer be a choice between the salmon and the crab?

But take heart, and don’t despair, as filmmakers have for years been creative and, indeed, crafty at squeezing maximum product out of budgets that, to be honest, probably couldn’t even pay for a port-a-loo in Hollywood…

Shoot on location

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Can’t afford to build expensive sets? Why bother? The world will provide. This has long been a staple of independent filmmaking, used to exquisite effect in such films as City Of God. In fact, some films go even further. The flat of a main character in Chungking Express is, in fact, cinematographer Christopher Doyle’s own humble abode. Now, that is cutting corners in a stylish manner.

However, it’s not all urban chic that rewards those budget conscious folk out there. Mother Nature has seen fit to provide the world with some stunning natural locations. Try watching The Motorcycle Diaries without immediately wanting to quit your job and go backpacking over there!

Use ‘non-professional’ actors

That’s you and me, to you and me. Film star salaries are outrageous. Much better (and cheaper) to get some nobody in and make them feel grateful for getting to be in a film. Plus, then you can call it a piece of honest art which reflects true values in society.

However, once again, it is a tactic which often produces brilliance. Recent efforts which have benefited from this casting technique include Gomorrah, which features a real-life crime boss and some dude they found in a bar with a tracheotomy scar, and Flanders, winner of the 2006 Grand Prix at Cannes, which cast non-professionals to highlight the brutality of an unnamed Middle Eastern war.

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Use child actors

Even better than the one above, as you could probably pay children in sweets and they’d be pleased. Sometimes they can even act too, which is surely an added bonus for the filmmakers.

Let The Right One In gained a lot of its power from the towering central performances of Lina Leandersson and Kare Hedebrant, while Italian neo-realist classic, The Bicycle Thieves, would have been half as upsetting if it wasn’t for Enzo Staiola’s uncomprehending naivety and cries of “Papa?”

Or, even better yet, combine this and the above and you’ll hopefully end up with something like The Class, Palme d’Or winner and Oscar nominated to boot.

Improvise

Writing a script is a long and costly process, and then you have to deal with the writer’s constant moaning and complaining that you’re not being true to ‘his/her vision’ Blah blah blah. Much better to skip that and make up the whole damn thing on the day.

Hong Kong art-house fave, Wong Kar Wai, is a particular fan of this process, despite being originally trained as a scriptwriter himself. However, this did lead to his opus, 2046, taking five years to complete, and actually not saving a whole lot of money.

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In fact, it’s probably fair to say that Hollywood directors such as Steven Soderbergh and Robert Altman have been much more successful at using this technique to more impressive effect than many low-budget directors. Oops.

Only use handheld cameras

Everyone knows that handheld is cool these days, so why waste time and effort on getting hold of fancy equipment for stabilising a shot? In fact, handheld has been cool for a long time, and not just for action films.

Coming from a documentary tradition known as Direct Cinema, spearheaded by the great Michel Brault, this then led to Cinema Verite, and the trend was popularised by the 1960s French New Wave of Godard and Coutard, among others.

French New Wave techniques were then stolen by everyone else, especially those boys of New Hollywood (Coppola, Scorsese, et al). It has since been taken up by the recently successful Mexican directors, including Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro González Iñárritu, proving that handheld may be cheap, but it’s extremely enduring and effective.

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Some sort of combination of all of the above

Also known as the film movement Dogme 95, alist of rules which included several of the above, plus others, such as no credit for the director, the movement wanted directors to go back to a ‘vow of chastity’, which would, no doubt, free their work of negative ego and prove that films could go back to traditional values and not rely on Hollywood spectacle to drive them.

In fact, it produced one decent film (Festen) and then a seemingly endless pile of rubbish. Damn you, Lars Von Trier!

 

‘Special’ Effects

Finally, we come to this. No guide to saving money is complete without a mention of those films that have champagne dreams, but a beer budget. I salute you, man-in-suit

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In Cinemas

London Film Festival

This is currently on, so if you can make it and/or buy tickets to anything, then I implore you to. It runs until the 28th October and among the many World Cinema treats are Cold Water Of The Sea, Bi, Don’t Be Afraid, and Just Another Love Story.

For venues, please check the BFI website here.

Africa United

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Finally, out this week, after seemingly months of hype, is Africa United, a road trip without any cars. After ending up in Congo rather than at the World Cup, Fabrice and his companions decide to walk across Africa. Encountering a continent of colour, this is an upbeat look at a place many regard as desperate, and may do much to break stereotypes, even if it is not the completely truthful or unflinching look at life that many were expecting or, indeed, hoped for.

It probably won’t win much critical acclaim, but it seems like it’s a World Cinema effort that you can take pretty much anyone to and they’ll most likely enjoy it, and sometimes that is when cinema is at its most powerful and effective.