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No Budget Newsletter Issue #2
April 3, 2006

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1.  NEW No Budget Film School Classes Scheduled!
2.  Panasonic HVX-200 Camera Update
3.  Spirit Awards & Academy Awards
4.  2006 Sundance Film Festival
5.  Cutting-Edge Workflow Article, Part 1


We're back!  After a busy fall and winter, I'm back with an all-new class, Course 201 - The Science of No Budget Filmmaking, taking place in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 6, 2006 at Raleigh Studios' Chaplin Theater.  

In this class we will go through the production budget line by line and discuss each element from a no-budget perspective.  Topics include: Cast & Casting, Crew, Equipment, Insurance, Locations, Permits, Props/Set Dressing, Vehicles, Makeup/Wardrobe, Camera/Format, Sound, Legal, and Miscellaneous Budget Items.  We will dissect the production of the $50,000 feature True Love, demonstrating the low-budget tricks used--and the mistakes made--showing clips from the film and valuable behind-the-scenes footage, in this comprehensive examination of a no-budget film.

And for you Houston residents, I will be teaching Course 101: The Art of No Budget Filmmaking in Houston on Saturday, May 13, 2006.  This class is a one-of-a-kind introduction to no-budget filmmaking designed for filmmakers at all levels. 

Details and information on how to register are on the website:


Panasonic's new, affordable HD wonder, the HVX-200 is here.  Reports from the field are starting to emerge and the early word is "Awesome!"  My friend Illya Friedman, formerly with Moviola Digital and Wexler, got the opportunity to demo a prototype unit back in December.   Equipped with two 4GB P2 cards, which hold about 10 minutes of footage each in 720p mode, the camera performed admirably, even as a prototype.  Very familiar with Sony's HDV Z1U, Illya thought the HVX was sharper than the Sony camera.  Of course, the HVX is 100Mbps 4:2:2 DVCPRO HD, the same format as the $60,000 Varicam.   Illya was especially impressed with the slow motion features of the HVX.  The camera can be overcranked to 60fps, 48fps, or 32fps.  I was able to witness this capability in all its glory recently at the LAFCPUG's March meeting.  Filmmakers of a recently produced History Channel production brought clips and stories from the front lines.  They used several HVX's (and a Varicam) to capture footage of 1800's era battle scenes, including canon fire.  The HVX footage was impressive and indistinct from the more expensive Varicam.  They also demonstrated the P2 card's capability.  I believe once you've worked with a flash card, you won't want to go back to tape again.  And while I thought you would need an expensive SATA RAID to handle the 100Mbps data rate, these guys got by with a Firewire 800 G-Raid set-up.  They admitted that it was not a great low-light camera, but overall, they considered the HVX a "miracle for the money."  For more on this project, visit:


This year's Spirit Awards, the "Academy Awards of Indie Filmmaking," and the actual Academy Awards, arguably the most coveted award in the arts, were well-represented by no-budget filmmakers, further proof that no-budget filmmaking is one of the most effective ways to break into the industry.  While there were several notable under-$1 million low-budget films nominated for Spirit Awards (Me, You & Everyone We Know, Nine Lives, and Junebug,  for instance), the really interesting films were nominated for the John Cassavetes Award.  These films all have stated budgets under $500,000.  While a 35mm film like Brick--which premiered last year at Sundance and is currently being released by Sony Classics--is edging the top of that parameter, the other four nominees cost significantly less than half a million. Room, ( the feature debut of successful Texas editor and documentary director Kyle Henry, was made for under $100,000.  It premiered in the Frontier Section of the 2005 Sundance Film Festival and then played in Cannes, a huge coup for a no-budget American indie.  Jellysmoke,   ( premiered at last year's Los Angeles Film Festival and won the big-money $50,000 Target Award.  The under-$100,000 The Puffy Chair  ( premiered at the 2005 Sundance and was also nominated for a Someone To Watch Award.  Roadside Attractions will be releasing it theatrically in June. 

The winner of the Cassavetes Award was the splendid Conventioneers,  ( made for SIGNIFICANTLY less than the $500,000 limit (I'm not supposed to say how little).  This clever romantic drama follows two former Princeton classmates, one a married delegate attending the 2004 Republican National Convention and the other a lefty Democrat planning a big protest during the convention.  Shot on multiple DVX100's against the backdrop of the actual convention in New York City, filmmakers Mora Stephens and Joel Viertel utilized several no-budget techniques--most importantly, working within the framework of available resources--to give their film a kind of verisimilitude and authenticity that would have been nearly impossible for a much larger film to create.  Proving it takes talent and tenacity rather than resources to make a great film, they worked with a crew of seven or less, borrowed locations and equipment, and were even arrested during the shoot (earning big chunks of no-budget street cred with me--you got to get busted before you can call yourself a true no-budget filmmaker!).

The winners of the prestigious Someone To Watch Award were Ian Gamazon and  Neill Dela Llana, the directing team (and entire crew) behind the captivating thriller Cavite.  I reported on this film following their screening at last year's LAFF (archived on my site: No Budget Newsletter #1 Archive).  The budget of this film was reported to be "two very expensive tickets to The Philippines."

It was inspiring to see how this year's Academy Awards were dominated by so many under $10 million films.  Even more inspiring was knowing that several filmmakers got their start with no-budget films.  Bennett Miller, whose dramatic feature debut Capote was nominated for five Oscars, including a nomination for Best Director and a win for Best Actor, got his start with the charming no-budget hit documentary The Cruise, which was shot with a one-man crew (Miller) on a Sony VX-1000.  As reported in the last issue of the No Budget Newsletter (No Budget Newsletter #1 Archive), Craig Brewer's feature prior to his Oscar-winning Hustle & Flow was the $5,000 The Poor And Hungry.  Chris Nolan, whose Batman Begins was nominated for Best Cinematography, got his start with the gritty $12,000 Following, which was a case study in my first class last summer.  Worth mentioning: Ron Judkins, who spoke in my class on the subject of production sound, was nominated for a Best Sound Oscar for War Of The Worlds.  He already has two Oscars back at home.


While many people think that Sundance is no longer a place for the little movie made with love and care but no money, this year's edition proves there's still a place for the no-budget feature in indie filmmaking's Big Show.  One of the more talked about features was Bobcat Goldthwait's Stay,  ( which was made for $70,000 and was picked up for distribution by Roadside Attractions.  (Stephanie Bennett, a guest speaker in my first class was a producer on the film).  The micro-budget In Between Days, ( was shot with a four-man crew on a $3,000 Panasonic DVX100, but that didn't prevent it from winning a Special Jury Prize for Independent Vision.  I saw it on the big screen in the Eccles Theater and it looked amazing.  Another tiny-budget feature was Forgiving The Franklins,  which was shot on the Canon XL2.  Directed, produced, edited and shot by Jay Floyd, this one got buried in the Spectrum section of Sundance, but has been building solid word of mouth since its recent SXSW screenings.  One film that wasn't overlooked was the Grand Jury and Audience Award winner Quinceanera (  Shot with a Sony Cine Alta F900 for $350,000, the film was conceived, written, shot and edited in only 9 months.  Sony Pictures Classics will release Quinceanera in July 2006.


(This article was written by Mark Stolaroff  in 2005 but never published)

I recently attended SMPTE's (The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers) two-day Digital Workflow seminar entitled appropriately enough, "Case Studies From The Edge," held at the Entertainment Technology Center's (ETC) Digital Cinema Laboratory (DCL), a kind of incubator for developing tomorrow's standards in digital cinema.  A part of USC, the ETC is the Switzerland of Digital Cinema, backed by most of the Hollywood studios and a place where everyone--studios, manufacturers, filmmakers--can come together to solve the "problem" of digital cinema. The DCL is housed in the historic Hollywood Pacific Theater, a previously-abandoned movie palace built in 1928 to, significantly, showcase that era's great technological advancement, talkies.  In 1954 it was the home of the world premiere of  Cinerama, the first great wide-screen technology which included multi-track stereo sound.  The building is the ideal place to test digital cinema--the significant technology of this generation--since it presents the challenge of a 51 ft. wide  screen with a 102 ft. throw, in an arena with nearly 1,200 seats on the floor.  The audience of 300 or more, of which over half were SMPTE members, were treated to an awesome display of this technology's capability.

Though I am not a SMPTE  member and don't consider myself a "tech-head," my background as a former principal with IFC's Next Wave Films had given me experience with digital cinema and digital workflow.  I was in charge of overseeing the post production on all the films in which we invested finishing funds and after 1999 or so, all of these films were digital and each presented a new and unique workflow challenge.  Up until the time of Next Wave's closing in late 2002, I was pretty well immersed in these issues--at least at the low-budget end of the spectrum--and had a working knowledge of the then state-of-the-art of the technology.  Well, like the Virginia Slims, "you've come a long way, Baby!" 

Friday night's program offered a first-of-its-kind screening of Steven Soderberg's recent hit film, Oceans 12, with alternating 35mm  and digital reels.  Each projector was state-of-the-art, as was the post workflow for the film, which represented the first implementation of a 4K Digital Intermediate (DI), something Larry Blake, Soderberg's technological partner-in-crime, passed off as "not that big of a deal."  Regardless, the screening was impressive, demonstrating just how far digital cinema has come in the last few years.  Though the first reel, which was digital, looked great, I quickly forgot about all of that, as I settled in to Soderberg's intentionally complex caper story, (perhaps demonstrating the ultimate significance of all these advancements in technology).  I only again recalled what we were all there for when I noticed the nearly seamless real break switch to 35mm. The guy in front of me was constantly looking back to see which projector was in use. Really the only way to tell they were projecting 35mm was when you saw the inevitable little pops and scratches that a film print, even an "answer print quality" print, accumulates from handling.  Much like the LP's in my music collection, the quality of the reproduction is very good, but they deteriorate a little bit every time you play them. The couple of comments I heard around me when it was over were along the lines of "the 35 print looked dirty".  I should note that the digital projector used at the ETC is one of the new 2K DLP projectors just recently made available commercially, the Christy CP2000, with a resolution of 2048 x 1080 (2K) and a contrast ratio of 2000:1.  If you've seen Star Wars or one of the other features screened digitally in theaters in the last couple of years you've probably seen it on a 1.3K projector (1280 x 1024) with a 1000:1 contrast ratio.  More on Oceans 12 later in the article.

Following an early breakfast, Saturday  morning's program started off with a spirited case study of Michael Mann's Collateral, which featured a panel of thousands, including Editor Paul Rubell, DP Paul Cameron, and post production guru/Associate Producer Bryan Carroll.  In trying to capture a true representation of Los Angeles at night, the boundary-pushing Mann used three different types of cameras, each with their own workflow-35mm, Sony F900 24p HD, and Thompson's new Viper HD.  Those who survived to tell the tale (the panelists) depicted a world that was not so much held up for example, as in, this is how you want to do it, but rather one that suggested that the rules have not been developed yet, not even by those at the top of their craft.  Working for a maniacal genius, these talented and experienced people needed to think on their feet, improvise, and be prepared to fail once in a while.  Even manufacturers like Thomson, Panavision, and Sony were run ragged in the pursuit of perfection, as they were frequently asked to modify their equipment.  An entire army was enlisted to manage the equivalent of 1 million feet of film, (an additional 300,000 feet was used in the 6 months of testing).  Some departments, like editorial, were working 24/7 throughout the shoot.

(Part 2 of this article will be included in the next issue of the No Budget Newsletter, and comprises information on "Dust To Glory," "Oceans Twelve," "Finding Neverland," and "Shark Tale.")

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