Maybe I’m just a shop-a-holic and haven’t quite come to accept and admit it. But I think that – besides the advances in camera gear and the potential for internet distribution and marketing – e-commerce and e-shopping are disruptive elements in microbudget indie filmmaking.
Some of the stuff is maybe obvious – you can pre-order your camera online and it will be shipped to you. We shopped for our lights, shoulder rigs and follow-focus units in China and India, bought them with paypal and then had them shipped to our door – cheaper than you would have paid to “buy locally” ten years ago. Of course this isn’t just a technical question. It has also been made possible in large measure by sweatshop conditions in developing countries. And these conditions themselves made possible by repressive political conditions that make unionization difficult and often illegal. Is there anything that have a certain amount of blood spilled on it – including indie film?
But the possibilities are truly expansive and quite niche. We needed an iPad with a broken screen for our lead character, Santiago. Sure enough, we found an iPad with a broken screen that still functioned normally otherwise on ebay. It arrived at our door today from California, less than one week after we ordered it. It also arrived at the same time as a 5′ x 25′ roll of Neutral Density gel (which will allow us to darken the windows so that they don’t look blown out in the shots – the D7000 camera doesn’t have great dynamic range so we really need this stuff). We bought that from a surplus stock that someone in Calgary had and paid about half-price what you would at a store in Toronto. Before the internet, craigslist/kijiji and ebay that stuff may well have just ended up in the trash.
Nor do we need a clapper/slate to mark scenes – those classic devices of film myth. We all know them – the 2nd Assistant Camera holds them in front of the camera and calls out the scene number, shot number and take number. Well, there’s now an app for the iPad and Mac computer that automates the video file labelling process using a QR code (not surprisingly the app is called QRSlate). We downloaded it to an iPad (another one that we borrowed from Reece, one of our awesome camera operators) and purchased it in the App Store on one of our Macbook Pros. It arrived instantly, costing less than it would to rent a clapper from a rental house.
For health and sanity reasons I don’t recommend it. But you can practically crew up, gear up and do your pre-production paperwork without ever leaving your house – and for a fraction of the price you once could. This relative ease of filmmaking ought to come with a responsibility, however, to make films that don’t simply try to mimic the Hollywood model. Not to say that every film should be a call to revolution. Just that we don’t need any longer to be slaves to the levelling effect of mass produced commodity culture demanded by high cost productions.