The Small Budget Challenge
“We want to produce a video, but we have a small budget.”
If you’re a video producer, you hear this a lot. This need has given rise to a new kind of production model, a one-man-band approach. Typically it’s a young, fresh out-of-school film graduate.
The one-man-band style of filmmaking is nothing new. Robert Flaherty hauled two hand-cranked film cameras up to northern Quebec in 1920 to film Nanook of the North. National Film Board creator John Grierson coined the term “documentary” to describe Flaherty’s efforts.
To meet tough budget constraints, I’ve taken the one-man-band approach, hauling a 24 lb. Betacam and 7 cases of equipment across the country to film a project for the YMCA back in the pre-digital days. All I can say is that negotiating airports was interesting.
It Is Possible
Today, new technology means that you can pack a full camera and sound package into one or two bags, which makes travel a lot easier. Graeme has used this approach to film projects for us in Ethiopia, Ghana and the Caribbean with great success, so it is possible.
Story, Story, Story
But there are still challenges, particularly around creating a story. While young filmmakers may have incredible technical chops, storytelling is a different skill. It’s about knowing when to pull out the visual fireworks, when to pull back into a more nuanced visual style to support an argument, and how to incorporate interviews, text and visual support. Like many crafts, effective storytelling is a learned skill.
The Digital Media Producer
To compete with the one-man-bands, we’ve developed our own one-person production system – the Digital Media Producer (DMP). But we recognize that this person requires support. We pair our DMP with a senior producer who goes over the story and objectives in pre- and post-production.
A lot of people in the production field question the Digital Media Producer solution, thinking that it will cannibalize our regular business. We don’t see it that way. To us, it’s simply another production approach for the many and varied situations and needs that may come up.
It’s also a fantastic way of bringing young people into the company so that we can learn their tricks and they can learn ours.