Directors close-up: stretching budgets and ambitions with the names of John Cassavetes 2021

Of all the different categories of the Film Independent Spirit Award, the John Cassavetes Award is one of the most special, highlighting the creative teams who make their films in a real economy – in particular, with production budgets under $ 500,000.

The award goes to the lead creative roles of the winning film: writer, director, and key producers to recognize the work required by a core team of dedicated storytellers to deliver a cleverly crafted microbudget cinema piece, very often catching being important filmmakers at the start of their careers; for example, Miguel Arteta and Mike White (Chuck and Buck, 2000), Tom McCarthy (The station agent, 2003) and Andrew Ahn (Night at the Spa, 2017).

Fittingly, Ahn – an involved independent film project, screenwriting lab and directorial lab fellow – was the moderator of the last independent film. Close-up of directors 2021 session, The spirit of Cassavetes: making a low budget film.

Ahn opened the day by encouraging a roundtable among all the filmmakers, sharing his enthusiasm for their work by saying, “We’re all here today because you made some great, meaningful films for less than $ 500,000 – really the bottom line. “independent” part of the independent Spirit. Rewards. You have all found creative solutions to have limited resources. This led him to his first question for the group: “When you conceptualize, when you write your screenplay, how well do you consider your budget?”

Ahn first called on Isabel Sandoval, writer / director of Lingua franca, a film that addresses issues of identity, civil rights and immigration. She replied, “Budget limitations force me to really think from scene to scene what purpose each one serves in a dramatic and narrative way in the project, which makes me more creative.”

For Merawi Gerima, writer / director of Residue (the possible winner) – which focuses on a Washington DC neighborhood facing runaway gentrification and cultural devastation from its local black community – he wanted to see what he could do with what they had on hand in terms of money , equipment and human power. He was witnessing the systematic destruction of his community, so there was no time to waste telling this story, refusing to let his project fall into limbo while waiting for money. “Waiting for funding was not an option,” he said.

Gerima’s idea of ​​”people’s power” prompted Ahn to ask these filmmakers how they went about building their teams. Knowing that it was unlikely that either of them could write his team a big check, he asked, “How did you get people to work on your film?”

The director of Saint francoiseAlex Thompson saw the key to team building in the strength of their storyline. “Kelly’s [screenwriter and star Kelly O’Sullivan] the script was so dynamic that it was easy to bring it to the community by making movies on my side. Kelly has this really strong relationship with the Chicago theater community. It grew from the script. At the end of the day, people were very excited about it. “

After 2020, with the pandemic and thousands literally taking to the streets to demonstrate for various social issues, Ahn wanted to explore the role of artists as agents of political change. More directly, he wanted to know how these filmmakers defined success or a successful journey for themselves and their films.

Writer / Director Patricia Vidal Delgado, of the film The black legend, defined success in the responses it received from the public. “For me, just the fact that people come after a screening and say, ‘I didn’t know these kids in El Salvador were going to lose their TPS. [Temporary Protected Status] then be deported to a country they no longer even remember and which might not even have a family. Just having this discussion was enough for me.

O’Sullivan sought success for Saint francoise by delivering a message to women. “I wanted women to feel less ashamed and lonely about reproductive choices and all of those things that we were encouraged to keep hidden. They don’t have to define you and you don’t have to be traumatic either. We can feel a connection by sharing our stories with each other and we can also laugh about it because there is so much feeling and power in laughter.

“With Kill two lovers,“Proposed the filmmaker Robert Machoian,” during one of the screenings, [I had] a 16 year old girl comes to me and says: “I’m so glad you understood me. I am in the midst of my two parents who are planning to separate. And this little comment was for me the validity that I had succeeded, that she knows she is not alone in this kind of struggle. Such experiences inspired him to move forward, he said. “It’s filmmakers like Cassavetes who make a film without money, that makes me say: ‘Are you kidding me, can I make a film without money? “”

To close the session, Ahn asked all the filmmakers: “What was your only budget item where money was not an object, where you splurged?” Well… as much as you can when working with a microbudget, at least.

Both Saint Francis and The murder of two lovers have given up a large chunk of their budgets on sound design and mixes for their films. For director Isabel Sandoval, it was a key place in New Yorka $ 10,000 / day slaughterhouse. And Delgado was to have the song, Eres Mia, from singer, songwriter Romeo Santos. And for Merawi Gerima, his great craziness was food. “We had nothing else, but my sisters and aunts cooked for us and we ate really well.

Check out the rest of the 2021 directors’ close-up below:

Directors’ round table

Read the blog recap here.

TV Creators

Read the blog recap here.

Documentary features

Read the blog recap here.


Read the blog recap here.

Nominated for best first feature film

Read the blog recap here.

Best international feature film

Read the blog recap here.

Writing and production

Read the blog recap here.

The 2021 Directors Close-up is sponsored by Premier Sponsors Directors Guild of America (DGA) and SAGindie, supporting sponsor Sony Cinema Line and Film Independent Spirit Awards Premier Sponsors Genesis and IFC. Bulleit Frontier Whiskey is the official spirit. FIDJI water is the official water. Getty Images is the official photographer.

We are also honored to partner with SeeHer of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), the leading global movement for gender equality in media, advertising, marketing and entertainment, and AMC Networks to celebrate more and take action. as a catalyst for representations in storytelling.

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