Thousand Dollar Feature

"Project to be named later"

In 2008, DigiTribe Productions will set out to make a new feature length film. This time, we are planning on slashing our budget to the bone and document the process every step of the way as we set out to show YOU how we make a quality feature film on a ONE THOUSAND DOLLAR budget.

Watch us struggle to make the best feature film we can for $1000.00. Armed with only our Vision, Planning, Determination ... and ten $100 dollar bills...

...our success is a victory for every indie out there.

   |   Project Manifesto   |   Budget Sheet   |   Forums   |  Audition Info   |  


So yesterday evening I was visited by the one... the only JVS, and we set out to catch up on a little editing - seeing as I've recently lagged a bit behind. I am happy to say that 10 hours and a couple of bourbons later, we had completed a pretty major sequence, and now... today we have officially 1 hour of assembled movie.

Thats kinda rad.

Now, when I say, assembled... I mean that in the most minimal way possible of course. The transitions are rough, the image qualities are raw, the audio has not even been touched. But ... its a step in the process.

So... here is to having an hour of movie, and being a little closer today than yesterday.

Film as Cheesesteak


The experience of The $1,000 Feature can be summed up by a guy named Mike and a boatload of Philly Cheesesteaks.

Mike is a guy who makes things happen. He’s been part of the Digitribe crew and extended family since, well, the beginning. He’s good people. For this project, Mike has offered to do battle with the demon of Craft Services, and we have graciously ceded the task. See, when trying to stretch $1,000 into a movie, feeding people is a concern. A big one. Run some quick match calculations. I’ll wait.

“Let’s see. McDonald’s for 15 people is about $100 a day. Times ten days of shooting. Equals…… bugger.”

The math is never great, but Mike is working to make it tolerable. At our last several production meetings, he’s stormed in near the end of things with plastic grocery sacks and a wild look in his eye, like Ben Gunn sprung loose from the Food Lion. “I’ve found a way to feed ten people on $30,” he’ll say one week. “Fifteen people, $20,” he’ll say the next. I’m afraid of where this trend might be leading.

"25 people for $1."

"30 people for a net profit of 25 cents."

"39 people by sacrificing the 40th."

It was as I noshed on his latest concoction – super filling, super good cheesesteaks for some mere fraction of actual money – that it dawned on me. This is as good as it gets, baby.

We might be insane for taking on such a daunting challenge as making this film on ten Ben Franklins, but I couldn’t be more excited by what I’m seeing out of our crew. This is homespun, hand-crafted movie making. In past films, the answer to every problem was inevitably money. More lights, more equipment, more, more, more. In this film, we’re discovering new ways to answer every question and solve every riddle. You should hear Jason’s theory on lighting streets at night.

Actually, you can. We’re on the very edge of opening our workshop up to a slew of new guests as we (at last) enter auditions. I’m thrilled and anxious to finally select the actors that will bring these characters I love to life. But really, I just can’t wait to bring some new people into our big, potluck family. In order for this film and this challenge to be a success, we’re going to need our cast and extended crew to bring the same kind of energy and excitement that the rest of our team will. We’re all volunteers (for $1,000, nobody is getting paid), doing it for the love of it and the belief that we can discover something special if we all throw our hands in the dirt and dig this monster out.

We’ve stacked the odds against us, and now we get to thumb our nose back at them. We’re making a movie. That never stops being cool.

If you want to get involved as an actor, crew member, or just as a website observer, sign up for an account here on the site and drop us a line. The forums are open, and we’re always around.

Filmmaking is hard

We are getting closer to wrapping up pre-production on the $1000 Feature Film. Over the last several weeks we have been struggling mostly with locations and props - spending our weekly production meetings tracking down various set options that were appropriate and free. (For a glimpse into this process as it relates to props, check out Andy's recent blog post.) We are finally close to closing that door, which means we are closer to an actual plan of how we are going to shoot this thing.

Next, its time to lock down a tentative shooting schedule, and start to staff up. We're looking for crew help of all types. If you are local to Atlanta, willing to work hard and show up day after day ... leave us a comment. Also, be on the lookout in the coming days for an official announcement regarding Open Call Auditions this month!
More soon.

Locations: The Reason We Invented Green Screen

I'm more of a "classical" George Lucas fan. Classic Lucas gave us Indiana Jones and Star Wars and the wackiness of THX-1138. Modern Lucas gave us midichlorians, whiny Vader, and Indy vs. Aliens. I consider my position to be one of considerable strength.

One quirk I've consistently given Lucas hell for, though, is one I'm reconsidering. I never understood, and actually outright loathed, his obsession with creating these digital, video-game locations to put his actors into. It's difficult to drag out a proper performance, it overwhelms the story, and, worst of all, it just doesn't look or feel real.

After a few weeks of working on locations for the $1000 Feature Film, I'm definitely not saying I want to paint every wall in the DigiCave green, throw some actors up against them, and who-gives-a-shit if they can't act, they'll act poorly in an awesome location. I'm not ready to say all of that... but I get it.

Finding locations is hard work. You start with words on a page, a loose description of a building or a field or a towering spire of obsidian rock. Most of the time, these words do not correspond to any real life spot, but rather one the writer dreamed up out of the mulch pile in his or her mind. Sometimes, as was the case with many of the 1KF's locations, the spot is some dimly remembered set from the writer's childhood, something that may or may not even remain in existence. In either case, it's now the crew's duty to take these vague specifics and translate them into an actual real-world location. To do this, they simply have to find the 20 or 30 perfect spots, narrowed down from every physical location on the surface of the earth.

OK, fine, budgetary considerations will quickly eliminate used car dealerships in Finland. But at some invisible point, they're on the table. Everything is on the table. At the first pass, maybe you'll stick to your ideals and demand that there simply IS a late 19th century log cabin with moss growing off the north face, surrounded by poplar trees and at the edge of a glassy lake. And, dammit, you're going to find this cabin 10 minutes from your house. After a few weeks of searching, though, it's possible your standards will be lowered to that filmmaking binary: INT. or EXT.

"We need an Oval Office for the President's big speech."

"My brother's friend has a rug with an eagle on it in his room."

"Take some pictures."

But even if you survive these dark urges and find the perfect, pristine, exact location, the one that popped off the page and nestled snugly into the realy real world, just for you... there is still a lot of work to do.

- What dates is this location available?
- At what TIMES on those dates is the location available?
- What are your lighting conditions?
- Are there plugs nearby for additional lights?
- Do they work?
- Will you explode your crew trying to make them work?
- What about sound?
- If the light thing didn't work out, will you have loud, cranky generators running?
- Is there an airport, oh, five minutes away?
- Is traffic going to be starting and stopping your shoot?
- Who owns the place?
- Who will care when you fuck up the furniture?
- Will you need insurance to secure the location?
- Will the cops come and arrest you if you shoot without permission?
- Will they care you're making an entire feature film for only $1000, or will they expect a packet of hush money?

And so on. Any of these, and hundreds more, are potential dealbreakers and absolutely must be sorted out before you can move a location into the "found" pile. And even once you finally have, you must repeat the process for each and every spot in your modest-budget movie.

So there's some stress involved.

I'll update again as the process continues. Stay tuned.

Building Bones

Developing a shot list from a screenplay is a little like plotting your newborn baby's path to the presidency. One minute ago, there was infinite choice -- two minutes ago, this thing was just an idea -- and now all possibility must be stripped away until there's only one plan, the plan that will become the movie.

As the writer, the process is humbling. I typed out the scenes imagining how a great master with an unlimited budget might shoot it. Now, reality has checked in. Perhaps I won't be able to shoot the Army of the Deep emerging from their aquatic caves to slaughter their gill-deprived cousins. At least not for $1,000.

(For the record, there is no Army of the Deep in the $1KF... or is there?)

As the director, however, I've had an enormous amount of fun. I feel very fortunate, as I've been able to watch this movie again and again in my head. I've probably seen the $1KF 40 times and we haven't even shot a frame of footage yet. To structure out a scene, I lock my brain into Tivo mode -- stopping, rewinding, skipping ahead. Every time I see a new shot, I log it and move on. I can do Tivo one better, though. If I decide I don't like the framing of the shot, I get to re-shoot it on the spot. If only editing was this easy.

Which, of course, leads me to the point of the entire process. It's my job to be sure that we capture all of the pieces our editor is going to need to build the movie I want to make. One method is to shoot every scene from a set of standard angles: Put the actors in place. Shoot a wide. Shoot a medium. Shoot a close-up of actor A. Shoot a close-up of actor B. Move on to the next scene. Repeat.

That approach will make you a movie, but it probably won't make you a good one. It's the directors job -- shit, duty -- to put his or her stamp on every scene so that the edit can't help but reflect that director's plan.

For example: Two characters are arguing in a bedroom. One possible shot list looks like this:

Shot A: Close on Harry
Shot B: Close on Sally
Shot C: Wide on both Harry and Sally

You'll get the point across, but you'd better hope the dialogue sings because there's nothing else going on here. Instead of relying on the old standbys, why not analyze the scene further? Who has the power here? What are the issues? Are there objects in the room that have significance? Each answer will inform your shot choices. If there is a moment in the argument where it's nearly at an end, consider shooting the actors in the same frame, close. When the argument is at its peak, consider throwing a barrier (like the bed, perhaps) between them. If you get it right, you might even snare some of that "symbolism" I've heard so much about.

As it stands today, the screenplay is 99 pages, leading to a shot list of 17 pages. And that's just the beginning. We've already started a script breakdown, and now we'll identify key sequences that need to make the transition to storyboards. The realities of our locations will change the shot list and the 'boards, as will any script revisions that happen between now and the first day of principle photography.

It's just the first step, but it makes all the difference. Especially if you want your kid to be president.

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