Saturday, April 30, 2011

High Concept for No Budget: TURKEY BOWL

In Hollywood there’s always a lot of talk about the “high concept” story. High concept essentially means a film that conveys its tone in the simplest terms. The best example of high concept is the film Snakes on a Plane. Immediately, just from the title, we can expect a silly, action packed adventure. For no budget movies, “high concept” means we can easily see the film’s tone AND how it can be made for a small budget. A great example of this is one of my favorite films at SXSW this year Kyle Smith’s Turkey Bowl.

            I was talking to a filmmaker at the festival and he, of course, asked me what I’d seen that I liked so far and I immediately told him about Turkey Bowl. I said,
            “It’s about a bunch of friends who get together for an annual football game. The film starts when they walk onto the field, and it ends when they leave.”
            He blinked at me for a few seconds, then said,
            “That’s f—ing brilliant.”
            And he’s RIGHT. The film is essentially a real time football game. Cast of ten, one location, shot in ten days.
            I had the opportunity to sit down with the director Kyle at La Esquinita in Echo Park for some $1.50 tacos – which he had to pay for after I discovered I had no cash! Doh. I also discovered that not only is Kyle a great filmmaker but he’s a chill, down to earth dude.
            Kyle funded his movie with winnings from a reality show game show called "Crash Course" which featured normal people doing crazy stunt driving. "It was ridiculous," he says. His total budget was in the $20,000 area. Two of his biggest expenses were camera and location. 
He shot on the Canon 7D, which he purchased as part of the overall budget, he then tricked it out with matte boxes, follow focus, etc. To save money he didn’t use a monitor, so he never really was able to watch shots, which seems hard.

DP Jeff Powers and the 7D
While the location seems really easy and cheap, the fear of showing up one day and having construction or a kids' soccer game going on convinced him to not steal the location but to get it the legitimate route. Booking public places in LA is all set up through FilmLA which is a very helpful service, but it isn't really geared toward low budget projects. Expenses include a $700+ application fee, site rental, and an hourly rate for a "Monitor," who sits, watches and gets paid. When we shot White on Rice’s movie within a movie sequence our Monitor also stole some samurai prop swords as well – so they watch you, but you have to watch them as well (all right, I have no proof it was him, but he's my main suspect). Site rentals vary and can be very high. For Turkey Bowl the Monitor showed up the first day and decided that monitoring it was stupid and left. So the filmmakers didn’t have to pay for a Monitor. Which was a nice break. Kyle had considered doing the whole thing cheaply in his hometown in Missouri, but the cost of putting his cast up and flying them out would definitely have been more than the LA permits.
A project like Turkey Bowl relies entirely on its writing and cast, and both hit it out of the park (mixing my sports metaphors there). The cast was made up entirely of Kyle’s friends and they all essentially play themselves but they each bring so much to their role that all of them seem perfectly defined and well-rounded. Their performances make you want to hang out with them and get to know them. As one person in the Q&A asked, “When’s the next game, and can I join in?”
The movie ended up only 65 minutes long, which is probably why it hasn’t gotten into as many festivals as it should. Kyle’s script was 110 pages and the movie at one point was 75 minutes, but as Kyle says it wasn’t any good. He trimmed it down to make it the best it could be. Turns out they got a VOD distribution deal out of SXSW. So, the lesson? Make the best movie you can and things should work out.
So, congratulations to Kyle and his crew and cast for making a film that feels so simple, yet succeeds wildly.
         In the Medieval and Renaissance periods artists were rarely given free reign on expression. The church commissioned their work and there were strict parameters on what they could paint/sculpt and how they were to depict it. But no one ever thinks of the artists from that period as being suppressed. The great artists were able to do amazingly brilliant and unique things within the extreme parameters placed on them. One of the interesting things about no-budget filmmaking is how it forces us to be creative and expressive within a very narrow field, but great filmmakers are able to do extraordinary things within extreme restrictions.

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