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August 15, 2011

Big Low-Budget Movies

Written by Jeff Sobel

 

On the Lennon Bus, we work with some fantastic equipment.  But one of the points that the Lennon Bus tries very hard to impress upon people is that you don’t need much money to bring your ideas to life.  Modern technology provides immense amounts of power per dollar and the tools available to non-professionals are now capable of producing results nearly on the same level as the very expensive equipment big-budget productions rely on.  In fact, one very highly regarded movie director recently quipped, “you can go into the store now and buy a laptop that is faster than the computers they used to make Jurassic Park.”

The director who said that should know; he’s Gareth Edwards, and last year he released his breakthrough movie, “Monsters.”  Monsters is a suspenseful, science-fiction, alien movie shot entirely on location across several countries and incorporates exquisitely integrated computer generated FX (it is, afterall, an alien flick.) Gareth wrote, shot, directed, and created all the FX himself and the total cost of the equipment used to produce the film was about $15,000.  Now, if you haven’t seen Monsters yet you should definitely do so, otherwise you simply have to take my word that the movie appears in every way to have had a budget 100x more than it did.  If you’re a Netflix member you can stream Monsters right now, then hurry back to lennonbus.org.

How is it possible that a movie shot on $15,000 looks like it cost $15 million?  For the most part, expert, creative use of prosumer technology.  Instead of shooting film or high-end HD cameras, which cost $100k and require significant chemical processing, data management, and/or crews to handle, Gareth used the popular Sony PMW-EX3.  The PMW-EX3 happens to be the same camera we use on the Lennon Bus.  It is a high-end but affordable pro-sumer HD camera that a single person can easily handle yet produces and records high-quality images fully able to be processed, composited with computer FX, and still look fantastic when project on the theatre screen.  The main production crew consisted of Gareth handling the camera and 1 other person to capture audio.  Each day while Gareth and his sound person were shooting, his 2 editors were in a nearby hotel room editing the previous day’s shots on a laptop computer running standard video editing software like Avid Media Composer.  If additional hands were needed they asked their extra actors to pitch in (a technique Robert Rodriguez also used when shooting his breakthrough El Mariachi, which was also shot on a famously low budget). After shooting wrapped, Gareth created the movie’s 250 special FX shots on a laptop using common store-bought software. Monsters premiered at 2010’s SXSW, then went on to be shown at dozens of festivals including Cannes, Edinburgh and LAFF during which people like Quentin Tarantino and Peter Jackson fell in love with it.  It was given a limited releas in the US in October of 2010 and won rave reviews; Roger Ebert gave it 3.5 out of 4 stars, Rotten Tomatoes gave it 71%.

When we on the Lennon Bus say, “If you can imagine it, you can create it,” we mean it.  If you are willing to learn the techniques, have the passion and a great idea, there’s nothing stopping you.



Next entry: A Bokeh (BOH-Kay) for You to Behold

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