Since May I've been working as the Unit Production Manager on a low-budget indie called Hope for a Thorn. In the process I've discovered a flaw in the philosophy that states, "the cheaper the film, the purer the art." This maxim may hold true if one wittles the craft down to one person holding a camera in an act of pure documentary cinema, but as soon as other people enter the equation, the purity of the art is compromised unless those other people can be bought. I'm not a proponent of doing things the big-budget way for the sake of glitter and gloss, but when you're an hour behind because breakfast didn't arrive on time, you begin to ask yourself, "Would breakfast have arrived on time had I paid them a good amount of money?" The answer is probably "yes."
I don't want to make big budget movies, but I'm not sure I want to make no budget movies either. I don't want to spend millions where thousands will do, but I don't want to work with volunteer crews either. People deserve to be paid for their work, and they work better when they're paid. I expect someone who volunteers for a job to work just as hard as someone who's paid (because I expect it of myself, too), but I know human nature. Volunteers won't always meet expectations (though when they do, they really stand out).
Very few people were paid on this film, and the one's who were paid were paid poorly. The movie would not have been made had this not been the case. In fact, had we even paid each crew member just minimum wage, our budget would have more than doubled. Who's going to pay for that? We had enough trouble scraping together the money we had. How do you convince anyone to put his or her money into an art film he or she knows will likely never make its money back? It may be good art, but it's bad business.
So there's the question: can narrative filmmaking be an art, and if so, is there anyone out there willing to support said art with the significant financial contribution is requires? That's a big question, and one I will face head on as I spend the next year or so trying to find the money to fund my first directorial feature film. I know this: I will not direct a feature unless I raise enough money to pay each crew member for their work. Perhaps that means I'll never direct a feature, or perhaps it means that it'll be a half decade before I finish my MFA. Maybe it means I really will be working with a crew of three or four people.
All that said, working on this film was a wonderful experience, and I really have to praise our crew for making it happen. We worked miracles together, and I'm really proud of this project. I'd just like those miracles to come a little easier the next time around.