As we move closer to the fall film festival circuit, when many of the best new movie titles will have their World Premieres, it’s worth noting that many of our top filmmakers got their start there.
Film festivals are like the farm system emerging talent. Promising filmmakers have somehow managed to take their talent and perseverance, spending every dime in their pocket, and maxing credit cards, to pursue their art and get their movies made. Then it’s judgement day. They play on the silver screen, for an audience.
There are plenty of success stories, some being produced with recognizable stars, for between 1–10 million dollars, low by Hollywood standards. Yes, In the Bedroom (1.7 million), The Big Sick (5 million) and Manchester by the Sea (8.5 million) were all acquired and went on to critical and commercial success. But there is another crop of dreamers, who made films for less than 500k, sewing their seeds on the festival circuit.
Two of the biggest success stories acquired out of festivals, in terms of cost to box office ratio, are thrillers Paranormal Activity (Slamdance), which was made for $15,000 and grossed over 100 million at the box office. And Blair Witch Project (Sundance) was made for $60,000 and went on to gross over 250 million worldwide. Hits yes, but I would argue more like lightning in a bottle with these.
In terms of building on their initial success, and blossoming to master directors, the following 5 filmmakers are on another level. These inspiring storytellers have had spectacular careers, and can point to the festival circuit as their first big step.
Some have leveraged the power of movies to create change. Others have inspired the next generation of filmmakers. Regardless of who speaks more to which audiences, or who wins more awards, or makes more at the box office, they have impacted our lives for the better, engaging us with their art.
Eraserhead by David Lynch (Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive) was made for $20,000 as an experimental horror film, while Lynch was still a student at AFI. This black and white film struck a nerve with audiences and critics alike, paving the way for more twisted tales. Click here to see trailer and learn where to watch the film.
Slacker by Richard Linklater (Boyhood, Before Sunrise) was made for $23,000 follows a day in the life of Gen X bohemians in Austin, TX. The fluid camera work was innovative for this genre, as Linklater filmed conversations, before moving on to follow the next person and conversation. Click here to see trailer and learn where to watch the film.
Following by Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Inception) was made for $30,000 and largely shot on weekends, in black and white and went on to win the Grand Jury Prize at Slamdance. This led to Memento and his trademark style. Click here to see trailer and learn where to watch the film.
El Mariachi by Robert Rodriquez (Spy Kids, Sin City) was made for $7,000 and he famously offered himself up as a lab rat to make the money to finance the movie, using other resources at his disposal, including a motorhome and a turtle. His book, Rebel Without a Crew, has become a staple in film schools. Click here to see trailer and learn where to watch the film.
Pi by Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, The Wrestler) was made for $60,000. This psychological thriller, shot in black and white, went on to win the Directing Prize at Sundance. Click here to see trailer and learn where to watch the film.
Speaking of Sundance, their regular submission deadline is less than a week away. You can bet there are a few gems getting a final polish before they throw their hat into the ring.
Which films will inspire confidence in audiences and buyers this year. Who’s ready to take that great leap into a promising future?