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No Budget Newsletter Issue #1
July 31, 2005

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1.  What is this??
2.  No Budget Film School Updates
3.  LAFF Report
4.  "Hustle & Flow"
5.  PSA Competition


Welcome to the first issue of the No Budget Newsletter, a periodic publication of the No Budget Film School (  You are receiving this because you either a.) subscribed to it from our website; b) attended a class of the No Budget Film School; c.) expressed interest in the No Budget Film School; or d.) are an acquaintance of mine and I thought you might want to read this.  I plan to use the Newsletter to pass on information, news, events, tips, etc. regarding no-budget filmmaking, and to provide updates regarding classes available from the No Budget Film School.  If you have suggestions or comments, please feel free to email them to me at  If you wish to unsubscribe, just reply to this email with UNSUBSCRIBE in the subject.  Also, please feel free to forward this email to friends and associates. 

Thank you,

Mark Stolaroff, Founder, No Budget Film School


The No Budget Film School just hosted its inaugural class, Course 101 - The Art of No Budget Filmmaking, at Raleigh Studios on Saturday July 9, 2005.  On Monday July 11th I started work on a feature film shooting in Santa Clarita and now find myself in the throes of film production life, in other words, I barely have time to think of anything else for the next several weeks.  I am, however, on my few days off, planning my next class in Los Angeles, Course 201 - The Science of No Budget Filmmaking, a class many students expressed interest in taking.  I don't have a date yet for this class, but as soon as I schedule it, I will pass it along to subscribers.  I am also planning to take the show on the road and will announce those dates and locations as soon as I have them.  Thank you to all who attended the first class. It was an incredible joy to have the opportunity to share my knowledge of  no-budget filmmaking with all of you.  For more information on future classes, please visit:

3.  LAFF 2005 REPORT

The Los Angeles Film Festival wrapped up last month following a series of exciting screenings, events, and forums.  Yours truly attended as many of these events as I could as a passholder in order to stay abreast of developments in the independent filmmaking scene and also to see some interesting movies.  This year's festival was well-represented by NO-budget films and here is the lowdown of the several I saw:

CAVITE  I mentioned this little gem several times in my class.  A classic no-budgeter (the reported budget was "two expensive plane tickets") shot with a two man crew:  the Co-Director/Camera Operator/Co-Editor/Co-Writer Neill dela Llana, and the Co-Director/Co-Editor/Co-Writer/Sound Mixer/Actor Ian Gamazon.  That's right, one guy shot the movie and the other guy starred in it (and ran the sound).  The title refers to Cavite City, a city outside of Manila, Philippines.  The majority of the film takes place in a series of slums in this area of the country and it is eye-opening.  To my knowledge, this part of the world hasn't really been captured in a feature film before.  Without giving too much away (you should see it!), the story is a kind of political thriller, very timely and very provocative.  Many ideas I stressed in my class are in evidence here.  Read their Production Notes ( and see just how they Embraced Their Limitations.  They also chose to own their equipment, buying a Panasonic DVX100 24p camera with a credit card to shoot the film and then selling it to purchase their editing system to edit it.    Cavite premiered at Rotterdam and SXSW and will surely be playing many festivals in the coming months. 

JELLYSMOKE  The feature filmmaking debut of director Mark Banning, this absorbing drama won the coveted Target Filmmaker Award which comes with an unrestricted cash prize of $50,000, one of the largest monetary awards in North America (who says no-budget filmmaking doesn't pay!).   Clearly made on a low budget, the 16mm feature was presented on video (like nearly all the films I saw) in a clearly roughcut form.  In fact, this was probably the roughest cut of a film I have ever seen at a major festival (edits weren't refined, sound was mostly production tracks and needed a lot of post work, the quality of the look was very diminished, etc).  The film winning the Target Award proves at least one thing I stress in my classes:  Production Value is overrated; good stories and good performances will always trump production value.  While visually stylish at times, the strength of the film comes from the filmmaker's ability to take us inside the mind of a man suffering from bipolar depression.  The two lead performances from Michael Ealy and Andre Royo (from HBO's The Wire) were terrific.

TRONA One of my favorite films from the festival was Trona, an odd, absurdist, but at times absolutely hilarious feature from CalArts student David Fenster (who also wrote, produced, shot and edited the film).  Made for something like $4,000 with a 3-man crew of classmates and starring another friend from school (the pitch-perfect David Nordstrom), Fenster demonstrates that he is a filmmaker to watch out for in the future.  The Panasonic DVX100 effectively captures the panoramic landscape of the Mojave Desert and even allowed Fenster to steal shots on a commercial airliner.

THE ROOST Another winner from the festival, but in an entirely different way, was 80's horror throwback The Roost from director Ti West.  Featuring actor/director Tom Noonan in a hilarious turn as the host of a cheesy B&W late-night TV show and produced by Habit and Wendigo director Larry Fessenden, West's 16mm homage to genre films like Nightwing was picked up by Showtime in a "mid-six-figure" deal and will be released theatrically in the fall by Vitagraph Films.  Despite some amazing CGI effects that suggest the contrary, this film was made for peanuts, with the director and producers pulling favors all over the place. 

SOUTHBOUNDERS A kind of romantic comedy meets National Geographic nature doc, the $30,000 Southbounders is set on the Appalachian Trail, the 2,170 mile footpath that spans from Georgia to Maine, or as the title suggests, from Maine to Georgia.  First time director Ben Wagner knew the territory well, having hiked the entire trail himself.  He took those specific experiences and wrote the script around them, casting a female in the lead to give the audience an outsider's sensibility to the experience.   Because of the remote terrain, Wagner shot with the Panasonic DVX100 and a lot of batteries, making the DVX100 the camera of choice for no-budget filmmakers at this festival and also Sundance earlier this year.

Some LOW-budget films worth pointing out:

JUNEBUG  Straight from its successful premiere at this year's Sundance Film Festival, where it was picked up by Sony Pictures Classics, Phil Morrison's $600,000 Super16mm comedy/drama is tonally perfect.  Set in Morrison's home state of North Carolina, the film centers on the uncertain homecoming of golden boy George as he introduces his family to Madeleine, his sophisticated new wife, who is trying to secure a local artist for her Chicago art gallery.  The writing and performances, and Morrison's assured directing make this a winner. 

NINE LIVES  The new feature from director Rodrigo Garcia, Nine Lives is the story of nine women's lives told in nine separate but somewhat interconnected chapters.  Each chapter is a single take, with no edits, averaging ten minutes a piece.  While that conceit seems like just a stunt, it actually proves to be an extremely effective way to tell the stories, allowing each story to unfold and putting more than  the usual emphasis on performance to convey the drama, which the veteran cast is more than qualified to do.  The Super 16mm film took 18 days to shoot (one day to rehearse and one day to shoot each chapter) and was made for around $500,000.  Hats off to 5-time Oscar nominated actress Glenn Close-this is the third indie film I've seen her in this year, (Heights and The Chumscrubber were the other two).

THE APE  Actor James Franco is taking all that Spiderman money and putting it to good use, by financing and directing challenging independent films.  The first of several, The Ape is based on a play he developed at his long-time LA acting school/theatre company, Playhouse West, and features many performers from his classes and plays, including standout Brian Lally as the titular Ape.  The Ape was shot for a few hundred thousand dollars with the Panasonic SDX 900 by Clerks DP David Klein, who also  produced, and was edited by Clerks producer and Kevin Smith partner, Scott Mosier.

SIR! NO SIR!  A powerful and important documentary about the little-know GI anti-war movement during Vietnam, David Zeiger's Sir! No Sir! was a rousing success at its world premiere festival screening.  Members of the movement who were interviewed in the film were on hand to accept a standing ovation and speak in person about their experiences. Without saying a word about the current war in Iraq, the film makes a powerful statement about governments sending their citizens to fight for dubious reasons.


Last weekend marked the successful release of Craig Brewer's excellent Hustle & Flow, a $3 million feature financed by director John Singleton.  What many don't realize is that Hustle & Flow is not Craig's first feature (as I've seen reported several times); it is actually his third.  His first film, a $30,000 16mm feature was abandoned.  His second feature, the little seen and as yet unreleased on home video The Poor and Hungry is a wonderfully gritty drama set in Memphis (where Hustle & Flow was set).  Made for just $5,000 (most of which went to food) and shot on Digital 8 with a two-man crew, The Poor and Hungry is a perfect case-study for no-budget filmmaking, both in its execution and in the resulting influence it had on Craig's career.  While it didn't get theatrical distribution, it was a strong enough piece to convince veteran producers Stephanie Allain and John Singleton to put their butts on the line to get Hustle & Flow made.


I received an email the other day about a PSA contest similar to one held last year for the 2004 Presidential election.  The ACLU's Stand Up For Freedom Contest offers filmmakers the chance to flex their skills by asking them to submit 30 second PSA's (Public Service Announcements) on one of the following topics:  the USA Patriot Act, Racial Justice, or Censorship.  I'm not trying to push a political agenda with my newsletter.  It's just that the $5,000 prize for best PSA could go a long way toward making a great No-Budget feature!  For more information:

As promised, my next issue of the No Budget Newsletter will feature a story I wrote for Film Festival Reporter on cutting edge digital workflows.  The issue hasn't hit newsstands yet, so you'll get a chance to read it first!  Now go make your movie!

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