Nano-Budget vs Micro-Budget
Rick Caplan | June 6, 2020
Rick Caplan | June 6, 2020
Films already have several applied classifications to help viewers find movies that they’ll enjoy. Ratings and genres are the two main taxonomies. When it comes to budgets, however, there are too few buckets.
A filmmaker friend posted about a producer looking for a micro-budget script that could be produced for about $250,000. That all checks out, but it made me think about another friend’s first feature, produced for $241 (not a typo – $241), or Kevin Smith’s Clerks produced for $27,575. Should these movies be lumped in with others that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars? What about Christopher Nolan’s Following, said to have been shot for around $6,000?
A film’s budget should never serve as an excuse for any story deficiencies, but it is useful in calibrating the audience’s expectations when it comes to production values and scale. Fans of low-to-no budget cinema incorporate budget awareness into the experience of watching the film. Just like one of the all-time great Mr Show sketches, “The Story of the Story of Everest,” what goes into the production of an indie film can make for a compelling underdog tale.
Budgetary awareness is a touchy subject. As filmmakers, we want the work to stand on its own and to succeed or fail based on the merits of the final product. Twenty years ago, the mere act of completing a feature film was enough of a triumph to earn an audience. With technological advancements over the last two decades and a saturated indie film marketplace, it’s simply not enough. The democratization of film production, which indie filmmakers all benefit from, is also the main impediment for an indie movie’s success.
As filmmakers, it’s natural to want some kind of acknowledgment of what went into the production of a movie with modest resources behind it, but no one wants to sandbag a movie for an audience and have to contextualize its limitations in order to get eyes on it. How, then, can that balance be achieved?
I try to go into a movie without any prior knowledge. This includes not watching the trailer at all or stopping the trailer about a third of the way through so as not to spoil the entire plot (why do trailers do this?). While watching a movie, there are telltale signs that indicate the budget range it falls within, but I only look up that information after seeing the film. It’s an imperfect strategy, but it allows the film to succeed or fail on its own and allows for me to incorporate the filmmakers’ resources into my final evaluation.
I am defining nano-budget films as movies produced for $10,000 or less. The most famous nano-budget film of all time, El Mariachi, was shot for $7,000. Some classify the micro-budget range to be $1,000,000 and below. Others would argue $500,000 is the cutoff. For the purposes of discussion on this site, let’s set the ceiling at $500,000.
It doesn’t matter what you’re able to make your movie for. If it has a solid story and a few compelling performances, it has the ability to resonate with an audience. How to connect the movie with the right audience, however, is a conversation for another day.