Nano Budget Filmmaking: The New Sustainable Cinema

By Kevin Shah · March 24, 2010


How does one define themselves in the new and constantly updating market? How does one grasp the needs of the audience and provide what they want (as their wants are shifting because of costlier needs)? How does one set themselves above 95% of the content that is available to everyone else and their sister on the internet? How does a film, or series, or show, or company brand themselves in such a way — that first time audiences are retained (and become long-time audiences), and new relationships are built through word-of-mouth and social networking?


With instant availability on a number of devices, and everything on the internet using these three items (Ads, $, Saturation) to carve their head-space in your mind for their hot new thing – there will be in our common future aprofound struggle for cinema as art to survive. Exacerbating the situation is the growing (& willing) mass delusion of giving/getting something for “free” on the internet. Sure, Art (and the creation of it) has always needed benefactors to support the artist (be it a motion picture studio or Van Gogh’s brother), and IMHO truly great art has come out of struggle as well as support. But there has always been (since man began to appreciate creative forms of expression long ago) a historical struggle for art to survive in the marketplace, to become self-sustaining. The future will be no exception.

In this day and age, the cloud of websites available for new forms of thought, expression, and creativity in the medium of film are growing exponentially. The technology has made it so, and above that – the ability to get that little art film out there (and get it seen) will become ever more prevalent as anything becomes possible. And millions of people will get to see these forms of expression that would never have otherwise. This may be obvious – but is it also obvious that the amount of material out there endangers the truly good art films? Shorter, bite-sized attention spans will undoubtedly lead to shockvertising in and around films on an impressive scale, and short films that deserve merit will never be seen for that poster or video thumbnail that ‘made you click’. There is just too much to pick from for the average viewer, and those that would rather be ‘thrilled’ are not the ones we’re trying to build a lasting relationship with. So how do we build a bridge to the ones we want?

With shorter attention spans, and greater amounts of video to choose from and a constant barrage of new things to check out, share, social network about – the question for the interdependent or independent filmmaker alike is: how will your film get seen, how will your artwork float above the deluge of sub-par forms of expression (be it bottom of the barrel YouTube videos or just plain faux-art, hack films emerging everywhere?) So even in a marketplace where everything is available to the masses – we find ourselves asking still: how can our little original passion project rise above everything? … Advertising? Money? Availability? No.


The struggle for any artist is the same as it always has been. And the same aspiration for any real artist (i.e. to continue to deepen and refine their art-form by fully exploring themselves and this experience of life spiritually — through film) will be the same into the future. And ultimately, how cinema that is art will rise to the top of the web world is the same as it has always been, and will forever be: REAL GENUINE QUALITY.

Just because it’s a inexpensive film that you’re going to likely distribute primarily on the internet, doesn’t mean it has to look cheap, feel cheaply made, be presented in this careless way. Just because there wasn’t enough money to pay the actors up-front, doesn’t mean they can’t give you a performance of a lifetime if you work with them (and not try to puppet them around your camera with brick-wall sentences and dialogue that ‘pops off the page’ but bogs down the acting). Just because you have no money – the interdependent filmmaker knows that having no money is no longer any excuse for not making a quality film.

Sabi Pictures co-producer Zak Forsman and I knew this going into White Knuckles as well as Heart of Now. There certainly wasn’t enough money to work with from the very beginning – but we took a budget and stretched it as far as it could go by working together on the journey, and evolving with the changing experience and with our fellow artists. And it was the effort of every individual involved that made the experiment what it was. It’s an interdependent film if its taking us on a deep, worthwhile experience – that is authentic enough to stand out on its own (rise to the top because of its RGQ). It’s interdependent cinema if the filmmakers are taking a bold creative risk in making the film in the first place and despite everything – giving the film their all. Its interdependent cinema if its a passion project for everyone collaboratively and creatively involved, not just the director or producers. Virtually the same definitions could be applied to ‘nano-budget’ filmmaking — it’s not about making films on the cheap, it’s not about making compromises… it’s about achieving RGQ by working in harmony, i.e. interdependently.