Low-budget filmmaking in Azerbaijan: Thinking outside the box

So you are a movie fan, and now after watching all the latest blockbusters that Azerbaijan cinema offers you…a sudden lightning struck! You actually want to shoot something yourself… And, below is an article, that I’ve decided to write, based on my own experiences…

Unfortunately, Azerbaijan is not really the country, where you can easily make a low-budget movie.

Although, there are plenty of materials and ideas to go around with. Rich history, culture, lots of things a young filmmaker can exploit.

Why I am sticking to “low-budget”? Well, because in here, no one will really invest money in a high-octane blockbuster shot in Azerbaijan. Speaking of independent filmmaking, there are lots of ways you can save your hard-earned money, and still get some sort of a result.

No one can guarantee you will cash in on your “creation”, but it is a great practice. And, as we all know, practice makes perfect.

To make a long story short, I’ll bring you an example. Most of you know such films as “Lord of the Rings” and “King Kong”. The director of these mainstream blockbusters is Peter Jackson. Jackson’s first movie was a comedy-horror flick entitled “Bad Taste” that he shot in New Zealand (that’s where he is from).

The movie was cheap, funny, cheesy, and as of now it’s a cult classic. Next one was “Brain Dead”. Brain Dead was another cheesy horror movie, with lots of comic elements, lots of blood, and no wonder it also got its deserved cult status. Then, the time passed on, and Jackson climbed up the steps, turning into a A-list director with “Lord of the Rings” trilogy behind his back.

So, as you can see, Jackson stepped up from “B” movie category, to “A” movie category.  And the “basement” is where you will start, with so called “Guerilla filmmaking”.

Guerilla Filmmaking is a form of independent filmmaking characterized by low budgets, skeleton crews, and simple props using whatever is available. Often scenes are shot quickly in real locations without any warning, and without obtaining permission from the owners of the locations.

Guerrilla filmmaking is usually done by independent filmmakers because they don’t have the budget to get permits, rent out locations, or build expensive sets. Also studios tend not to use guerrilla filmmaking tactics because they could be sued, fined, or get their reputation hurt.

So we will start with the basics. You don’t know much about movie making, don’t have much money, but desperately want to record something. Keep in mind, that this will not bring you any money upfront, and lots of effort and hardwork has to be put into something you want to do. Making a movie is harder than taking pictures.

I would suggest, sticking to short movies first. A short film is something that goes for 52 minutes, or less. First thing you absolutely have to do – START THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX. Otherwise, there’s a good chance you will not come up with something original. Remember, people are afraid of something new, yet this “something new” always attracts them. So, be open, be creative.

First off, get a camera, a cheap one will do for start. Borrow one, if you can’t afford to buy. Or, another good advice is that while you keep collecting enough money for the camera, keep browsing the net, there are lots and lots of useful articles for young filmmakers. You don’t really have to be entering a film school to learn the fundamentals.

To get a story, look around you, see what you can use. And I mean use for FREE. FREE includes: parks, monuments, seaside, beaches, cars, streets, pretty much anything you see everyday. And if you’re a low-budget filmmaker this is something you would want to shoot for sure.

Well-known Italian director Joe D’Amato (real name Aristide Massacessi) shot 2-3 movies in a row, using an island, back in the 80’s. Back then he said: “Island is cheaper to shoot, there are trees, beach, palms..” – what he was saying is that having a ready background, you can build a story around it, or “in front of it”. In other words, shore of the Caspian Sea can be a background, or some country house in Tovuz region as well.

Since we are in Azerbaijan, I would suggest exploiting social themes, something that is “easy to swallow”. Try to talk some people into working with you, when off working hours. Keep in mind: If a man “just wants to be in the movie” but is not really willing to help – he/she is not really needed. Keep around yourself only those, who can actually somehow contribute to your project, and I mean in any way possible.

Filmmaking is a collaborative effort, so one man is good, two are better, three are fantastic. Tell them your story, your vision of the picture you want to make, listen to them as well. Think of it as a “ping pong” game… You give something – you take something, it all bounces back. Maybe some of your friends can come up with something you did not think of.

Watch more films. Both mainstream movies, and low-budget films. I’ll tell you a secret – if you watch movies only for fun, or see this as a way to relax – then mainstream is for you. If you wish to direct something yourself – mainstream films with A-list Hollywood stars won’t help you understand.

Better watch more low-budget films, it’s a great way to peep in, to see what these people are actually doing. A better analogy: It’s easier to see how a barn is being built, rather than a huge 50-storey building.

As far as writing a script goes, see what you can find on the net – there are websites, that allow you to download free, real scripts from movies that have been already made. And again, do not stick to theory only – the more you shoot, and analyze your recordings later, the better at this you will become.

If you don’t happen to have anyone who can help you with editing the material you shot, check out Windows Movie Maker program, it can help you get started, and get the idea of non-linear editing.

So, you happily finished shooting your first film, and now you ask yourself: What do I do with it? Well, how bad do you think it is? Is it worth showing to someone else, besides your family and friends? Everyone will appreciate the effort, especially the first one. But let’s keep it real: chances of you making a movie on your own and selling it to someone, are very thin. Spread it on the world wide web, start making a new film, expand your possibilities and your creativity. Maybe attract more people to work with you.

And, if you still intend to sell your “creation” do not use anything copyrighted (such as music, trademarks) in your film. You are not likely to get sued in Azerbaijan, but in other countries you possibly would be. So go for it, see what you can do on your own. And remember, always think outside the box.



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