Micro-budget filmmaking under the spotlight

Every filmmaker in South Africa’s industry faces a struggle, regardless of their particular socioeconomic backgrounds, but parallel to these struggles, emerging black filmmakers face a unique set of challenges as they make their bids to enter into the industry. This was the premise of a discussion presented at Durban FilmMart (DFM) on 18 June, addressing the issue of micro-budget filmmaking.

“It is essential that we find ways to make the industry accessible to [emerging filmmakers] and that we close the gap between established, aspiring and emerging filmmakers,” said independent writer-director and chairperson of the eThekwini Filmmakers Association, Andile Buwa, who opened the discussion.

Micro-budget filmmaking is a fiercely independent practice, championed by a handful of the most dogged emerging filmmakers in South Africa. They have recently found important platforms for their work via television channels like Mzansi Magic, and are even making inroads into the various state funding institutions, which are now starting to see the value in guerilla film production. The filmmakers in question, such as Buwa, Mr B and Lehlogonolo Moropane, aka ‘King Shaft’, have been determinedly plying their trade since long before such opportunities became available, producing films in a short time on R100 000 or less, and are in a perfect position to advise incoming filmmakers on how to make the most of scant resources and just go out and get films made.

Moropane spoke after Buwa and outlined, in some detail, the process of micro-budget filmmaking. He advocated bypassing the standard broadcast commissioning process, which is often lengthy and holds up production for extended periods of time. While there is certainly a place for these more ‘official’ methods, the emerging filmmaker would be better off taking what resources they have and just going out and shooting their film without encountering any red tape. Larger budgets will inevitably mean greater control, by funders and that is something established filmmakers may have to accept but for the newcomer, there is considerable freedom in a shortage of funding.

“Filmmaking is a process,” Moropane says. It takes time to finally grasp the language of cinema. You need to work at it until you get it. With micro-budget filmmaking I got the chance to find my voice. I have now done about 15 of these films. Looking at them, I can see my voice and my particular style developing. That’s an opportunity that micro-budget films provide us as independent filmmakers – a chance to sharpen our craft, to learn, to find stories and to find our voices.”

Some of the basic ingredients of a micro-budget film, according to Moropane, include: a stripped-down version of the three-act structure to create a plot that centres around one major event; a cast that includes a maximum of three main characters; a minimal number of locations and a shooting schedule that can plausibly be completed in between one and three weeks.

Models of distribution are also a hot topic for emerging filmmakers. While television channels do provide vital platforms for the showcasing of these filmmakers’ work, the content creators sign over all their rights to the commissioning broadcasters. Online platforms are now providing a new way for content creators to exploit their rights over their own work, but these platforms are still in the emerging phase and are not yet profitable.

In the meantime, the primary benefit of micro-budget filmmaking is its capacity to allow filmmakers to learn as they go in an environment where large amounts of other people’s money are not at stake.

“Micro-budget does not mean bad quality,” Moropane insists. “I’ve always said that quality is about attitude, not budget. Micro-budgets teach you to find alternative ways to get things done.”


Source : Screen Africa

June 21, 2016
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