THE ERA OF MICROBUDGET

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Or How Producers Are Seeking Alternatives to Financing Their Work

 

by Aloisio Raulino

It’s not today’s news that movies, or any audiovisual product, made with low costs exist. They’ve always been there. Be it by the initiative of a tenacious producer, a courageous director able to raise a project from scratch, or an actor with an idea that will eventually leave the drawing board – albeit with much difficulty and effort. The audiovisual world is full of movies, TV series, advertising work for brands that are not so well-known, or work done for the corporate universe that, in a way or another, never were able to fully raise their total budget or the budget they wanted. But they were made nevertheless. It’s useless to enumerate the examples, but absolutely necessary to realize that, at the margin of a supposedly powerful industry, with almost unlimited access, and way above what happens in the so-called independent circuit, there is a universe which is rich in creativity, daring, obstinacy, seek, and why not, business?

“A movie, or an audiovisual product, is a business indeed, as any other”, says Cao Quintas, a Brazilian independent producer responsible for two of Brazilian Cinema’s greatest hits, the films for Monica’s Gang, Bonds, and its sequel. “We had a great difficulty in financing the project, and we’re talking Monica, a super well-known product, with a very high return investment”, he says. What Quintas means, in the end, is that, unfortunately, despite surviving of cycles, Brazilian Cinema has never been able of forming and structuring an industry per se. “An industry does not depend on public money, or government investment”, he states. “It has a cycle of its own.” Therefore it has been way more visible, from some years now, to see filmmakers, producers and content creators as a whole financing their work themselves, in many cases because they simply do not have the access and facility of great production companies, of a team and/or crew that already know the stone path, or have many contacts in the corporate/business world. “This is a movement which has been growing a lot”, says producer and executive producer Junior Perini, a partner for Sincronia Filmes in some the company’s ongoing projects (see previous post), “even though we all know that being an entrepreneur in Brazil is not easy”.     

In the past, this kind of project was limited to documentaries, because this genre is undoubtedly cheaper and way easier to do than a fiction production.  All a documentary director needs(ed) was a camera, a good sound equipment, while he himself would go out to work making interviews, capturing images, shooting everything in loco, so he could edit a coherent and non-manichaeist product. This still happens, but with the access to the digital format, which in a way or another made things cheaper, and the handling of the apparatus, the reach of these productions is boundless. And this has mirroring a movement that has been going on with fiction production, with advertising – through digital marketing, specific for social media, usually done with cell phones, without costly budgets –, and with every project that in a way or another utilizes moving images. “The enormity of productions made using cell phones is gigantic”, says Sincronia Filmes producer Janaina Zambotti. “Nowadays a lot of professionals have mastered this technique which has created another language, and this is just the tip of the iceberg in relation to the infinite possibilities of the digital format. There are even film directors making movies using mobiles, such as the case with Tangerine (2015), an independent flick shot entirely using an iPhone 5S. I don’t need to mention that our documentary The Social Technology had 70% of its images captured with a mobile, using a filming software installed in the device. This made the costs very low, besides having facilitated the resolution of problems of technical and operational order that we had on set”, she says.    

 

Tangerine (2015), the independent film that was entirely shot with an iPhone.

 

“What in fact we are seeing nowadays”, continues Junior Perini, “is a movement which is similar to the one that happened in American Cinema in the 1970s – when there was this boom in independent productions, sometimes of micro-budgets, made by filmmakers coming from the underground or off-Hollywood studio system. Down here, in a certain way, we have our studio system, which would be the one dominated by big production companies, by studios with branches in other countries and by television networks that invest in a cinema department – even though a small one – to make their productions. Today, (television network) Band has this department, (television network) SBT has this department, not to mention Globo Filmes and/or production companies of small and medium size. Whomever is out of this circuit is invariably in the micro-budget era. This brings up some problems, and some advantages, I think: first off, the technical aspect is compromised, which leads to the second (problem), the quality goes down a bit, which makes the exhibitor/distributor not wanting your project, since he demands a little bit more of quality. At the same time, many of those works show off a creativity, a fresh air, and a youthful spirit that you do not see in more conventional and expensive productions”, he says.   

 

“Many of those works show off a creativity, a fresh air,

and a youthful spirit that you do not see in more conventional and expensive productions.” 

 

Curiously, at the same time that there was this increase in self-financing works, there were also the appearance of platforms, channels, and means of divulging equally alternative which broke the rules by which these works  – be it films, advertising content, institutionals or videos – are shown, sold, and consumed by the audience. “Impossible not to mention YouTube, Vimeo, Rumble, the streaming platforms, the Mubis and Houlus around there”, says Cao Quintas. “This has transformed the way we interact with these works of art. Today we watch movies, productions overall, on micro screens (like the mobile; tablets), and this for generations behind was something almost unimaginable. Imagine watching 2001 – A Space Odyssey on the screen of your smartphone. This creates a totally different relation with the movie – for good and for bad.”

And this, also, mirrors the formation of new professionals for this market. Together with the new means of production and distribution, schools, universities and technical courses had to modify and adapt. “Today, the youngster who decides to enter this TV, advertising or cinema market needs to be connected, wired in many different things”, continues Perini. “You can not be specific or expert in just one area – the same guy who works with sound is the same one who produces, directs, writes, or is in journalism for social media et al. This has provoked the appearance of a new professional, the one who is adaptable to the environment, because he knows that, if he doesn’t do it, he will be expelled from it”, he says. In other words, what both Perini and Quincas mean is that, today, millionaire budgets, expensive and complicated proposals, are no more an average standard quality idea, despite big brands, gigantic production companies and vehicles still use them – the most important thing, nevertheless, and this is a rule for everyone, still is creativity, talent, adaptability, it is knowing that, even on a small budget, you can still make a lot. No money in the world can buy this knowledge.     

 

Aloisio Raulino is a retired journalist and an enthusiast of the arts.