When I was in film school, I always wanted to make an epic film. It never really turned out that way, because of budgetary issues. Film is expensive and in some cases you have to pay actors, pay for transportation, food, and cover expenses for your crew.
With digital video more or less taking over the industry, it’s become relatively inexpensive to shoot a low budget film. While many take advantage of the technology to create something that looks hip and slick. Some filmmakers go out of their way to make something campy and that has an obvious, low budget look.
One filmmaker who made notoriously low budget films was Ed Wood. His Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) has often been called the worst film ever made. Actually most of his films are pretty bad, but they’re now considered cult classics because of this.
In some cases filmmakers don’t intentionally go out of their way to make a film that isn’t well received; sometimes is just a weird twist of fate. Many low budget films (or B Movies) of the 1950s were box office flops, yet they’ve achieved a highly regarded status today because of the clumsiness of the filmmaking. That’s not to discourage filmmakers from trying their best, but some directors have capitalized on this trend and made films as an intentional homage to the B Movie genre.
One film in particular that stands out is Black Dynamite (2009) an homage to the Blaxploitation genre. The film actually had a very low budget and was shot on 16mm film to give it a washed out look, usually associated with the films of the early 1970s. The film features intentional ‘mistakes’ such as boom microphones appearing in shots and actors reading stage directions prior to their lines. Also of note is heavily exaggerated cinematography, including racked focus and jittery use of the zoom lens. The film was a critical success.
Some low budget films have turned out to be critical masterpieces, such as David Lynch’s Eraserhead, which took 6 years to film and had a shoe string budget, was critically derided when it was released, yet today it’s considered one of his finest films. The same can be said of John Waters’ Pink Flamingos (1972), which cost about $10,000 to make and George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), which helped reinvent the zombie genre and was produced on a budget of roughly $115,000.
The best way to make this type of film in film school is to study the bad ones. Get a sense of how they managed to stretch their minuscule budgets and especially study their obvious mistakes. Some film schools may not advise you to go this route, yet there is an audience for them. Everyone finds some sort of inspiration, and while these films are enjoyable to watch, you may not want to venture into this realm at first, yet it can be a rewarding exercise to some degree.
These kinds of parodies can be successful in the long run. It’s always fun to experiment in film school; some of my classmates ventured into this genre, which were always well received, because we all knew that they were done as more of an homage. Some film schools may not be entirely in favor of these types of films, yet it’s one way to learn about filmmaking and may provide an entry into a profitable genre.