Type to search

A&E Film Fest Student Life

Filmmakers reveal secrets to low-budget genre filmmaking


What does it take to make a low-budget genre film?

A group of filmmakers and producers tackled this topic at a panel moderated by film professor Michael Chaney today at the Gutstein Gallery. Before they could give an answer, they had to establish what a “low-budget” film is – a $25,000 or $75,000 film? What about $500,000 film?

The answer was yes.

“Anything less than a million is considered low-budget,” said independent producer Monnie Wills.

Odds are that students won’t run off to Hollywood and land a $3 or $4 million motion picture deal in the next year, said Chaney, but it’s reasonable for a filmmaker to raise $25,000, $50,000 and make a decent film.

“Some great title films have been made with credit cards,” producer Bonnie Forbes points out.

“Some great title films have been made with credit cards,” producer Bonnie Forbes, Brett Forbes’ mother, points out.

Since recent graduates might not have the resources to make impressive action and science-fiction scenes, they have to stick to things they do have access to, such as the diversity of people surrounding them.

“Students have access to a multitude of things that professionals have to spend hours upon hours researching,” said filmmaker Marcus Dunstan.

Students have the sets production companies spend thousands of dollars creating and perfecting; it just happens to be their own apartment, or a friend’s. They also have the key to low-budget genre films – authenticity.

“I think the strength and power is the authenticity,” said Wills. “People will rally to you if you’re being authentic and you’re being honest.”

Students don’t need all the flashy effects other films use to attract their audience. Producer Brett Forbes pointed out the trailer to low-budget “What Lola Wants” has the same merit as “Captain America,” just in a different way. All it takes is an authentic story.

“The authenticity to a low-budget film is critical,” said filmmaker Robert Orr. “If you don’t have it, your film fails because that’s what you’re selling.”

Chaney encouraged students to find and use their own voice instead of striving to be like the popular ones out there because they have a voice that’s unique and hasn’t been heard.

Even though the panel had mostly stayed on the topic of low-budget horror films, they made the point that other genres work just as well, using “Made in China,” a comedy that won best narrative feature at the South by Southwest Film Conference and Festival, as an example.

“You’re not pigeon-holed into one genre,” said Wills, who produced the film.

The panel also mentioned several things they found successful in their low-budget film experiences, including using the trailer as a pitch and shooting it for investors.

“It’s not marketing too early; it’s knowing what it’s about,” said Orr.

Students watch a clip from a film adaption of the book, "Scary Short Stories to Tell in the Dark."

Students watch a clip from a film adaption of the book, “Scary Short Stories to Tell in the Dark.”

They showed trailers and clips to films that they’d worked on, including “The Hunted,” “What Lola Wants” and “Scary Short Stories to Tell in the Dark” and encouraged students to get a start on their career in school.

“You haven’t seen anything here that you cannot begin today. The resources, everyone in this room has access to on this marvelous campus,” said Dunstan. “You can reach beyond your wildest hopes; you have the access to it.”

“Start now.”