Anyone who’s ever tried to make a movie knows how difficult the process can be. Factor in the shoestring budgets most directors have to work with and it’s that much harder for new moviemakers to break into the film scene. With that in mind, Martin Garrison founded the Micro-Budget Movie Fest, for films with budgets of $500,000 or less. The festival’s submission process alone offers moviemakers a rare opportunity: Every entry will receive personalized feedback from an experienced film pro. That kind of close attention is important to Garrison, a moviemaker himself. Garrison spoke to MM about his vision for Micro-Budget Fest, which will take place in San Francisco this October.

Carla Pisarro (MM): You define the micro-budget film as a movie that costs less than $500,000 to produce. Why did you feel there was a need for a festival highlighting micro-budgeted films?

Martin Garrison (MG): Francis Ford Coppola said in your magazine not long ago: “The secret to making a personal film today is to make it very inexpensively.” That’s it: As the mass market increasingly chases the lowest common denominator, luckily and wonderfully, advances in technology have made it possible for more personal films to be made and seen. And while many top festivals give lip service to the notion that theirs is a level playing field, the evidence doesn’t support it. Coppola himself hasn’t directed a Hollywood picture in over a decade. Look at the micro-budget (and Oscar winner) Once, which, before being picked up by Sundance, was rejected, I understand, by many leading North American festivals. This movie had terrific music, a very winning, contemporary story and wonderful performances by its Cinderella leads. It almost didn’t break through. So micro-budgets with a difficult or challenging subject matter? Forget it! The voluminous submissions that pay the rent and electricity bills of these famous festivals—Sundance got more than 8,000 last year—they’re the ones that stand the least chance of being selected. And so we thought, isn’t it time for an entire festival devoted to the personal movie?

MM: What made you feel this could be a valuable resource for moviemakers?

MG: Well, my first feature was such a movie. Shot in 12 days (big mistake) for under a $100,000, 10 percent in Chinese (which I don’t speak) and a comedy (which is the hardest to do)—animal actors, too (no children or I wouldn’t be here). Anyway, a very small movie, a movie that never would have been made without the Internet—where we found everybody, cast nearly everybody—and, of course, without the new affordable HD cameras.

Then I went to Cannes with the film on my laptop, DVDs in my bag and saw firsthand the incredible fixed game that is Cannes. If your movie doesn’t have “names”, the poster better include a bloody carcass and a ripped bodice—preferably both—or at least a cameo from Anna Nicole Smith, living or otherwise, and… oh, yeah, a scene or two with Rutger Hauer.

MM: Every script submission sent to your festival receives personal feedback from an industry pro. Why is that aspect so important to you?

MG: Not only every script but every movie—every submission! We feel so strongly about this because, frankly, an industry that, in exchange for money, provides its customers only a “Dear John” letter and sometimes not even that (Cannes Critics Week, this means you), that industry is, at best, a lottery and, at worst, a racket. This needs to be voiced. And so we are adamant about providing, in exchange for our fellow moviemakers’ precious dough, something valuable back—in this case honest and constructive feedback, not from an academic or the boyfriend of intern #12, but from an actual pro moviemaker with produced credits.

MM: Tell me about the Market component of this year’s festival.

MG: We’re debuting it this year so it’s still in process. But imagine a micro version of Cannes Market—without the pretension. We hope to have all the major online distributors (most are based here) and, of course, many technology vendors (equipment, software makers—many also based here). In fact, every submitter to the fest, whether or not selected for screening, will be able to personally market his or her movie for free at the market. And entrance to both the fest and the marketplace will continue to be absolutely free.

This year’s Fest will take place Saturday, October 25 at the opulently restored Naval Air Station Movie Palace on Alameda Island, with shorts and features screening from 10 a.m. to midnight. As we did last year, we expect to attract a huge battalion of micro-budget moviemakers, supporters and aficionados—from the novice to the expert.

MM: What should moviemakers accepted to the festival expect to gain from this event? What sets you apart from the plethora of other film festivals?

MG: Plethora indeed! Well, first and foremost, we pay real respect (not just lip service) to truly maverick moviemakers, without whom we would not exist. We know how difficult is to make a movie, any movie. We don’t program to attract viewers or “shop” for films from other festivals or hand out dubious awards to fading actors to boost our prestige. From among our submissions, we choose, as veteran moviemakers, what we feel are the finest submitted features and shorts (scripts and movies) made for (or with a budget in mind of) $500,000 or less ($100,000 for shorts). And we do our best to celebrate and promote the work of those moviemakers. Should we judge a moviemaker’s work not ready for screening, we will provide the moviemaker with feedback from a fellow produced pro, including info on the pro’s biases (his or her artistic “zip code” as it were) so the moviemaker can decide for him or herself which notes to take to heart and which to throw out.

MM: After your experience with the festival, what advice would you give to moviemakers working with micro budgets?

MG: Be as organized and professional as a big-budget production; you’ll attract the best help for the best price. Be frugal but pay everyone something. Seek “name” talent but not at the expense of telling your story. Don’t schedule too tight—you’ll always need the extra time. Map out (and real-world test) any tech workflows well beforehand. If possible, involve your crew in any rehearsals. Give of yourself to those on the lower rungs of the industry ladder. Most importantly, make a movie that, given its limitations (and Orson Welles said there’s no art without them) you can be proud of.

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