How to Make an Indy Film
So what do you do when you have non-professional actors and no budget? You embrace the docudrama/neo-realist film making philosophy. When you cannot afford special effects and fancy cameras, you don’t strain your budget. You make minimalism your special effect and you blur the lines between fiction and reality. For a church film, vr film I would suggest a mission’s docudrama in black and white. We’ve seen the docudrama’s success in films (Blair Witch Project), Sit-Coms (The Office) and Reality TV (Jersey Shore). This paper will explore the philosophy behind producing this hybrid genre.
Pre-Production and Neo-Realism
Rossellini, the father of the Italian Neo-Realist movement, had no intentions of creating a movement. He essentially said this all came about from not having enough money to do anything else. This makes pre-production less complicated for independent filmmakers. Behind all the rhetorical tropes, neo-realism amounts to shooting on location, and re-writing the script to fit the real people/ non-commercial actors that are available. In many ways the script is 50% staged and 50% improvisation, this culminates with a very intense sense of reality on the screen.
When Roberto Rossellini released his early film Open City, people were saying how realistic it looked; hence the term Neo-Realism. Andre Bazin, film theorist, was a huge fan of neo-realism and Rossellini in particular. The goal, according to Bazin, is to achieve the totality of life by looking at its simplicity.
Rossellini was able to bring reality back to the entertainment world at a time where the films were getting bigger and more fantastic. Instead of escaping reality, Rossellini made us face it. Instead of flooding us with stunning set designs and special effects, they gave us “fragments of reality” and invited us to take part in piecing the meaning together.
At the time of the war, Rossellini believed there was a desperate desire for truth in film. This is why he attributed a moral position to his filmmaking. No one was reporting what was really happening during the war and he wanted people to know. He used film narrative to expose this truth. There were dramatic stories really happening all around him and he wanted to capture them. It is arguable that The Hurt Locker and Precious could fit within a neo-realist hybrid.
Bazin campaigned for true continuity: deep focus, wide shots and a lack of montage. This would leave the interpretation of a scene to the audience member. The present-day neo-realist does not necessarily uphold to all of these somewhat obsolete standards of objectivity, but the current docudrama approach does strongly encourage a similar interpretation on the behalf of the spectator.
One of the best parts of Richard Linklater’s film Waking Life is when the main character is watching a film where filmmaker Caveh Zahedi and poet David Jewell discuss Bazin’s theory on realism. They highlight Bazin’s Christian belief that every shot is a representation of God manifesting creation. So we are essentially watching a movie within a movie that is talking about film theory. What is even more eye opening is when they employ his aforementioned theories, saying “let’s have a Holy Moment.” What follows is a very creative quest for an elusive filmic aspiration to capture the truth.
Production – Successful Examples
Some argue that fiction cinema has embraced, more than ever, non-fiction aesthetics. Several filmmakers are simplifying there film language.
Blair Witch Project
Myrick and Sanchez’s Blair Witch Project, released in 1999, is one of the most well known hybrid successes. It artificially vacillates between art and life. One of the techniques that I would employ into our film would be using the properties of something like a Hi8 (shaky cam). This technique, like the original neo-realists, creates fragments of reality and invites the audience to peace them together. For example: shaky cam jerks the subjects in and out of the frames, shifts focus in and out, and uses long continuous handheld shots. This style relies heavily on immediacy and intimacy.
In This World
Michael Winterbottom made a film on an immigrant’s road trip called In This World (2002). They took one digital camera, using portability and the journey setting. Although half of the film was staged, the street scenes, crowds and marketplaces were not staged. The visual effects of the real helped to draw us into the scripted journey and human drama that was at the heart of the film. It then reverts to documentary mode at the end by using title cards.
Kiarostami, director of Five, takes five long takes to make his film. This film makes use of the long takes that Bazin identified as part of the neo-realist movement. There were several “holy moments” where director Kiarostami captures fifteen minutes or so of the ocean or the moon in a pond. Kiarostami continues to avoid complicated plot structure and unnecessary artifices in the film Ten.
The Dogme 95 group consists of several people including: Thomas Vinterberg, Lars von Trier, and Kristen Levring. This group sparked neo-realist filmmaking in several impoverished locations. This was a return to the natural feel of filmmaking. The Idiots not only subverts big budget Hollywood filmmaking, but it also calls into question documentary filmmaking. The opening scene draws you into this conflation immediately.
Palestinian filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad directed a hybrid film called Ford Transit (2002). Using a 16mm camera, Abu-Assad tells the story of a Palestinian transit driver named Rajai. Rajai must transport locals through military check points in Ford minivan. While keeping the camera mounted on the car for the majority of the film, Abu-Assad also manages to keep the tension at an all time high. In 2003, this film won the Best Documentary Award at the Jerusalem Film Festival.
When Abu – Assad’s film was accused of being fraudulent he responded by saying his film is both a documentary and a fiction. Like the film Precious, this film could have happened and did happen. Just because the events we’re watching may be acted out does not mean that they are fictitious.