The Opposite of The Blockbuster: The Microbudget

My debut film Detour took over 5 years to make and release. While that may seem like a relatively short amount of time for an independent film to come to fruition, it certainly doesn’t feel that way for the filmmaker. During the process—much of which involved waiting—I decided to make another film: The Mirror. Shot on a budget of little-to-nothing, The Mirror is partly a reaction against the Hollywood system and partly an homage to it. It is very much the opposite of the Hollywood tent-pole: it is a film that filmmakers can go out and make themselves if they have the desire to do so.

The Mirror Poster William DickersonI intentionally shot the film on consumer devices like the iPhone, the GoPro, the Canon 7D, and a variety of laptop cameras. I wanted it to stylistically replicate how a movie might look if the majority of people out there set out to make a movie. It’s rough around the edges, it’s handmade, but as a result, it’s relevant to the way people currently see the world. They see the world through their computers, through their iPhones, through their iPads. Have you been to a concert recently? More spectators watch the concert through the filter of an iPhone or iPad, recording video, than are watching the actual live concert with their own two eyes. Isn’t that strange? It strikes me as strange. At this pace (and we might actually be there now), the slick, polished fare that is produced from Hollywood will become less and less familiar to the way we perceive filmed entertainment. It is becoming foreign, antiquated, and therefore less relevant.

Just like the silents before the talkies, classical actors before method actors, black and white before color, the palette upon which visual information is being mixed, matched and applied is changing. The consumer has adapted. And so must the studios.

With the exception of one scene in The Mirror, we limited ourselves to shooting and recording sound on devices that just about anyone can get his or her hands on. When I was a kid, I would take my grandfather’s camcorder, gather my friends and go out and shoot a movie. It was exactly the same type of thing Spielberg did with his Super 8 camera when he was a kid. With The Mirror, I wanted to tap into that childhood idealism; I wanted the film to feel like, yeah, I love making movies, so let’s go out and make one. That’s why filmmakers get into the business, to make magic. However, it’s often the case that the magic gets lost when the business aspect moves to the forefront of the filmmaking process. As artists, it’s important that we do not let this happen, that we hold on to that magic, and harness it on screen.

DETOUR-Hollywood-FrontCoverWhile some of these developments in the industry are clearly discouraging to those of us who love making movies, I strongly feel that we are at the beginning of another revolution in film, a microbudget revolution. The Mirror is a movie within a movie. A movie I made while making another movie. And within that movie are many other movies, because that is the nature of reflection. Today, reflection is becoming more and more our everyday reality: we’re watching our lives through a lens, through a small screen that posts our lives onto other screens.

What is more real? That which happens before our very own eyes or something that happens on a screen. Is there really a difference anymore? This is what microbudgets are beginning to pick up on, in their content and techniques, and it is something that old school Hollywood is not taking into account. Filmmakers are no longer the handful of A-Listers the studios hire to direct their ten tent-pole movies every summer. We are all filmmakers now, and along with that distinction comes freedom, power and control. We can all make, and ultimately release, a movie.

Which leads me to the question: what are you waiting for?

William Dickerson

William Dickerson

William Dickerson is an award-winning writer and director based in LA. His debut feature film "Detour" came out in 2013. His latest book, "DETOUR: Hollywood: How To Direct a Microbudget Film (or any film, for that matter)" is available now. Catch him on Twitter at @WDFilmmaker.

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