Independent Filmmaking at Affordable Costs

A list of Top 10 Films for Filmmakers with Limited Budgets

Filmmaking is fast becoming a cheaper process. With the rise in micro-budget filmmaking (films made on minuscule budgets, sometimes no more than a few thousand dollars) in the 90s pushed the envelope. And further advances in digital technologies, motion graphics, the remarkable Red One video camera that captures natural light and allows for a more flexible and functional experience, it’s becoming easier for any wanna-be filmmaker to create a professional-looking film for under $10, 000.

Some of these films have garnered such critical acclaim that, in recognition of the micro-budget film movement, the Independent Spirit Awards recently added a new category, the John Cassavetes award, which is given to the best feature film made for under $500,000.

And with the economy struggling as is, money becoming more and more scarce, the movement doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon.

So, in honor of the micro-budget film movement, below is the first five films of a list of the top 10 best independent films made from a budget under $100, 000, including inflation.

Note: All budget figures are courtesy of The Internet Movie Database, or and don’t include added costs post-production once/if the film was picked up for distribution. And Foreign films were not included in the list.

10. Pink Flamingos (1972)

Budget = US$ 12, 000

Writer/Director John Waters is an icon of the micro-budget film industry. His first five feature films each included budgets under $100, 000, and not until Hairspray, his seventh film, did his budget finally exceed a million dollars.

But it was with the cult-hit Pink Flamingos that he gained public attention, albeit, for all the wrong reasons. The plot centers around a competition between two rival groups vying for the title of “the filthiest people alive.” And both groups are filthy.

What helped the film to stand out was that Waters showed, in explicit detail, just how perverse and filthy each person could be, at one point, showing Divine (Waters’ friend and lead actress in most of his films) eating actual dog feces (Waters acknowledges the fact in his book “Shock Value”). It’s no wonder Waters had such difficulty finding funding for the film.

09. In Search of a Midnight Kiss (2007)

Budget = US $25, 000

In 1995, Richard Linklater wrote and directed Before Sunrise, a film about a chance meeting between a boy and girl who eventually spend a romantic evening together walking around Vienna, talking of any and all topics. Midnight Kiss doesn’t copy fully from Linklater’s film but does borrow heavily from it.

Writer/Director Alex Holdridge employed friends Scoot McNairy and Sara Simmonds as his lovers-to-be, and followed them around the streets of Los Angeles. Holdridge took a guerilla-style approach to filming, with everyone involved contributing to the script, which helped move the entire process along quicker. According to the press kit, it required only nine days to film the script’s first 70 pages, at which point, “the team knew this would be a special movie.”

And it was. The film earned the 2009 John Cassavetes award at the Independent Spirit Awards.

  1. Primer (2004)

Budget = US $7, 000

A surprise winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2004, Primer is an intellectual thriller wrought with authenticity of its subject. Shane Carruth, a former engineer-turned-filmmaker, wanted his debut film to feel as real as possible. So, to appease his own desires, Carruth controlled every aspect of the filmmaking process. He wrote, directed, edited, starred in and composed the music for the film.

Shooting took five weeks, and Carruth relied upon filming in his own garage, friends’ apartments and families’ houses. He shot digitally to assist in giving the film its professional look.

It appears Carruth made the right choice leaving engineering to become a filmmaker.

07. Following (1998)

Budget = US $6, 000

Not too long ago, before Batman Begins and Dark Knight, even before he broke onto the scene with Memento, Christopher Nolan wrote and directed this little known, micro-budget indie thriller about an aspiring writer who follows random people for inspiration for a story.

Nolan enlisted the help of family and friends, who allowed him to film inside their houses, and filmed in black and white on 16mm film in efforts to keep costs down. Film equipment was held to a minimal, so he forced himself to use only natural, available light.

The film won several indie awards and, in terms of star potential, it has been an upward progression for Nolan ever since.

06. Bad Taste (1987)

Budget = US $25, 000 *More money was added to the budget post-production

In Ken Hammon’s production accounts, entitled “This has Buggered your Plans for Conquering the Universe: The making of BAD TASTE,” he writes of how Bad Taste started as a short, an experimental-type monster film made between friends, that, upon hearing of the successful reception to Evil Dead at the Wellington Film Festival in New Zealand, grew into a feature film about aliens.

Peter Jackson directed the group, who performed without a script and faced the daunting task of filming each scene on a whim. Production spanned four years and encountered several major problems, including the departure of several cast members–one of which left due to religious indifference to the material after getting married and switching religions–then reappearing years later to pick up filming again.

In the end, Bad Taste was first screened at Cannes in 1988 and received a very enthusiastic reception.