Filmmaking Lessons Learned

  • Realism is not imitating the world objectively – it is using the world as a canvas for the art of cinema.
  • And it’s a great and often necessary style for low budget filmmaking!
  • Representing culture realistically requires the insight of the culture itself. (Nanook of the North)
  • “The task of cinema or any other art form is not to translate hidden messages of the unconscious soul into art but to experiment with the effects contemporary technical devices have on nerves, minds, or souls.” (Maya Deren)
  • Editing is the process in which reality is filtered into the filmic world – in essence, editing allows seemingly unrelated images to be combined into something meaningful, either with a narrative or emotional impact or both. This is a concept originating from soviet film (Kinoglaz)
  • The audience is prepared to accept the reality presented to them as long as it is consistent. (The Blair Witch Project)
  • In the end, it is the story that matters more than the quality of work – and any story can be made with little more than a camera and pennies.
  • One personal thing I have discovered – making a documentary or found footage film is often the best way to incorporate realism into a film while lowering its budget (often to almost nothing; this is what I was able to do this summer)

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Low Budget Production

I ended up working on the first part of the production aspect of my research in Santa Cruz, California, where I recorded footage at a retreat center in the mountains. It was a process reminiscent of the cinéma vérité style, where everything I shot was spontaneous – just my camera watching the world go by. In this style, the story develops in the editing room, where I have been developing a documentary style short film about discovering the relationship between mind and body, and between science and mysticism, based on discussions I had recorded at the camp. Due to the vérité style of filming, this project is extremely low budget – and much of the story appears in post production.

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Researching realism

Finding a definitive approach to researching the broad concept of realism was initially the largest obstacle I faced in seeking a relationship between budget and technique. Essentially the practice of making a fictional world appear realistic, it is one of those concepts that often floats by unnoticed because it is so widely used. I approached the subject by studying the roots of realism in Italian, Russian, and French films before looking at how it is used in modern films – and in the end, I found it most useful to the practical results to analyze more closely how realism is used in modern day films, especially indie films and other low budget series.

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Realism as a Tool in Low Budget Filmmaking

Even in a time where digital technology has made film production a more accessible art than ever, the costs associated with producing a film are high enough to bar many artistic voices without thousands of dollars in the bank from telling their own stories. In this research, I hope to explore how real spaces can be shaped with editing and camera work to appear in a way preferable to the story of a film in order to eliminate the costs of artificially producing a set. Techniques of realism such as shooting on location and allowing actors to improvise lines can be used to lower the budget of a film, and when done right, still give it artistic and intellectual credibility.

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