Framing the world of micro-budget filmmaking

Graphic by Vikram Benipal

When thinking about a career in filmmaking, it’s not surprising that we might think of big-budget Hollywood productions that are unattainable for the majority of us. But local success stories Ava Torres and Helmann Wilhelm are examples of how this is not always true.

Torres and Wilhelm are graduates of Cinema Studies at the University of Toronto, and in 2017 founded Canted Pictures, a film production company focussing on micro-budget filmmaking. Their most recent short film, Through Rose-Coloured Glass, won the Best Waterloo Region Short Film at the Grand River Film Festival.

After graduating, Wilhelm found himself directing and Torres focussed on production. They worked on big-budget films such as Suicide Squad and My Father and the Man in Black, but soon realized that their passion was creating their own content, while leaning towards a micro-budget model.

In September last year, Torres and Wilhelm came to the Kitchener Public Library to give a micro-budget filmmaking workshop. They shared their experience and gave advice in overcoming the financial barriers of filmmaking.

Wilhelm was quoted in the Kitchener Post saying the following:

“Growing up in Kitchener I was told if I want to get into film I was actually encouraged to leave town. So, I went to the University of Toronto and there I was told you have to go to Hollywood,” Wilhelm said to the Kitchener post.

One class that I am taking this term to improve my practical skills is FS370: Introduction to Video Editing. In this class we learn the principles and techniques of digital video editing, such as video capture, raw footage management, working with audio and colour correcting, and the compilation of clips into films.

“So that’s why I came back here, I wanted to show people they can make great films in their own backyard.”

Rather than focusing on what they didn’t have, the pair focused on what they do have: a huge amount of skill and dedicated volunteers.

Use anything and everything you can get your hands on: natural lighting, living-room sets, a volunteer cast. Use your skills to write, produce and edit the film. And by doing this you can make the film your own.

Finding a volunteer cast can contribute to huge savings. Look for volunteers who are breaking into the industry, who are keen to throw themselves into your film. You do not need an A-list cast to make a good film; there is so much new talent out there.

One example of a hugely successful micro-budget film is Paranormal Activity. Oren Peli wrote, directed, co-produced, photographed and edited his entire film, consequently making huge savings. His cameras were placed on tripods, removing the need for camera crew. The film cost $15,000 to make, and grossed over $193 million.

At Wilfrid Laurier University, there are so many ways to get involved in filmmaking. Start by getting some practical skills, such as video editing or directing.

One class that I am taking this term to improve my practical skills is FS370: Introduction to Video Editing. In this class we learn the principles and techniques of digital video editing, such as video capture, raw footage management, working with audio and colour correcting, and the compilation of clips into films.

Finally, be confident in your ability, take every opportunity that comes your way and do not be afraid to fail.

We all start somewhere.

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