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Why Micro-Budget Feature Films?

Why Micro-Budget Feature Films in Scotland?

Most independent film-makers will know the famous Coppola quote about the fat girl from Ohio. It’s become an almost biblical text for aspiring film-makers. But while certainly prophetic – it was 25 years ago, and to be fair said by one of the very greats reflecting on a fast dwindling Hollywood career- his vision has really only been possible to achieve in the way he’s suggesting very recently – and really that is NOW!

Here is the quote for those not familiar:

“To me, the great hope is that now these little 8mm video recorders and stuff have come out, and some people who normally wouldn’t make movies are going to be making them. And you know, suddenly, one day some little fat girl in Ohio is going to be the new Mozart, you know, and make a beautiful film with her father’s little camcorder. And for once, the so-called professionalism about movies will be destroyed, forever. And it will really become an art form. That’s my opinion.”

What is probably a more pertinent and prescient quote, and one that partly directly relates to us (emerging film-makers based in Scotland, NI and the North of England) is again from Francis Ford Coppola:

“There were too many of us, we had access to too much equipment, too much money, and little by little we went insane.”

He said this in reference to the troubled production of Apocalypse Now.

Tartan Features is not a cool name – although the people behind it obviously are very coolwink emoticon as are all our friends and the people who like our page – and you! The name is part made in a reference to Tartan Shorts, a long lost scheme for making short films in Scotland, around the early to mid 2000s. Many great shorts were made and many people – directors, writers, actors, producers and crew got a great foot up the industry ladder. It no longer exists but the ghost of it lingers heavily. And this is what we want to change – and we hope you will join us in banishing this ghost.

It may come as a very large surprise that the budgets for Tartan Shorts 10 minute films were around £50-60K.


—A quick detour—–

The film-making landscape in 2001 was very different in Scotland. If you wanted to create a high-quality looking short on a low budget your two options were really 16mm, or Digi-Beta (which still looked cheap). And obviously 16mm was very expensive.

As you all know, in the late 2000s a technological tsunami occurred. Red, 5D, FinalCut7, Magic Bullett etc. Everyone is constantly told tools are a small part of creating a film -story, acting blah.blah. But the reality is that film-making amongst the independent community -because of technology had stepped up a very, very large gear. The cheap access to equipment led to a new interest in film-making – a lot of interest which via corporations seeing a market to exploit led to cheaper equipment and resources. Nearly everything you need to know can be learned from youtube tutorials, blogs and online workshops. This is something that has never occurred before except in art and music – the combination of a desire to have your voice heard equally and affordable technology. Punk Rock, Hip Hop and Dance music wiped the musical slate clean and the same thing is happening in the film world.

This is now punk rock cinema.

And what does that mean for us?

Well, the ghost of Tartan Shorts still looms heavily. Very few people, if any want to just make short films. They want to make features if your serious. People want to make features because they enjoy watching features. The reality of shorts is the only people who enjoy watching shorts are other film-makers and associates.

You must make a feature film.

Don’t wait to be given permission or funding. You now have the tools at your disposal that can produce shorts on a technical level that is equal to what established film-makers had 10 year ago for literally a few pounds daily hire. You don’t need a Red Dragon – a Canon 550D will produce something that looks vastly superior to what your contemporaries had in 2003. And ‘vastly’ here really means a big difference. (TF will happily lend anyone a 550 for free if they want to shoot a feature)

——now, detour over——–

The video 8 cameras Coppola mentioned from 1991 just didn’t cut it for audiences. The stories may have been there but the technical quality was still a vast brick wall. Now you DO have the means of producing something that a general audience can at least accept. Admittedly it will be light years removed from the quality of a Marvel film but an audience will accept it and it WILL help you.

This is all really just a long way of saying that the skills of new film-makers in 2016, in the majority are greater than those in 2001. There are better tools and far, far greater resources for learning available. There are more film-makers, and what is stopping people making films is a false impression that they need validation from an industry. You are the industry.

So why are you still making shorts? A short film is not the 7” equivalent of a record album. The skills required in making a feature film are very different from making a short. It should no longer be seen as a ‘look what I can do’ calling card and use it to get funding for a feature. Make a micro-budget feature and use that as a more accurate calling card for a bigger feature.

Being able to tell a story over 90 minutes that captivates an audience is very different from telling one in 10 minutes. Like-wise being able to maintain a performance for actors and directors over a sustained length of time is a far better indication of talent than doing this in a compressed time such as that available in a short.

Yes, you can make good shorts by putting all your resources into one scene that could fit into a feature. But that’s not the same as showing someone a feature you have made. A feature breaks the barrier between what you can do and what you say you can do.

That is scary for some and liberating for others. It’s the same as the ‘I can only make this film with an Arri Alexa shooting raw’. It’s an excuse for fear of failure. Grab a 7D.

Write a feature to the resources you have available to you. Refine a script so it can work in locations you can access simply. Use what equipment you have available to you. Now, you may not create the best feature ever made as your first film but what you will learn will be invaluable. Use your first micro-budget feature as your training ground, make your mistakes then and when the time comes for you to make a larger film you will be guaranteed it will be better than if that was your first feature. You will have the experience and you will have a feature film to your name.

Also, don’t be fooled into believing that if you have to self fund your feature that it’s just a vanity project. There have recently been very low budget features made in Scotland (as in very low 5 figure sums) that have made 6 figure sums. This is true. Not every film will be good and not every film will sell. At the end of the day film investors invest because they want to make money (mostly), if you believe in yourself and your film by investing you can make money. If it’s money you want to make, experience is equally valid. As is just making a film for the sake, or fun of it.

The micro-budget feature film is not new, far from it. We just believe it sh

ould be an accepted part of the Scottish film industry. This does not seem to be happening on any great scale so until it does we’re going to push the idea as much as we can. You don’t necessarily have to have people working for free, which is something we will be discussing at a later date. It’s not how cheap you can make a film but how good you can make it under your restrictions.

The micro budget feature film should be the missing link in the Scottish film industry. Everyone should benefit from it – cast, crew, directors and most importantly the industry itself. It should be a breeding ground for new talent and an important stepping stone in all areas, not just writers and directors.

Go out, make your feature film. Don’t stick to the established rules of you having to make shorts as a basis for demonstrating your skills. Cut out the middle guy and jump straight in with both feet. It’s a fantastic training ground, you have so many resources and skills that with a little clever thinking you can be the fat girl from Ohio.

Francis knew what he was talking about. American Zoetrope, his company went from a micro-budget indie production company to a full blown Hollywood Studio. He blew it but the all the principle components of indie film-making were in the DNA of his Hollywood films. As he said while reflecting “There were too many of us, we had access to too much equipment, too much money, and little by little we went insane.”. I think he was meaning that he wanted to be the fat little girl.

You have the perfect opportunity with just a few small resources to go out and create a fantastic film.

To re-iterate. Of course there is a place for shorts, they are fantastic learning grounds but feature films are what people want to make. Fight against the myth that you have to keep on making shorts to show your worth. Scale back, write a story that accommodates your budget and just make your feature. You will learn more than you can ever imagine, you will demonstrate that you can make a feature and the inevitable mistakes can be made on these films rather than your big dream project – the one funders will allow you to make off the back of your amazing micro-budget feature.

It won’t be El Mariachi but you will make something of value that can dramatically boost your career, and those who worked on your film.

You don’t have to ask permission to become part of an industry. All you need to do is go out and make your own. You have all the means at your disposal you just need to take that step.

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