In 2005 I was deeply involved in the making of a no-budget film called ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS: THE FALL OF THE ORIGINAL SIX. The complete production of this film – from initial writing to its premiere – took over a year of my life and the end result was (just about) 90 minutes of.. something. It certainly wasn’t good, but it was definitely original. An action/comedy/thriller/satire that – despite our best efforts (and possibly due to a massive intake of weed) – ended up making very little sense. It’s really bad, but I’m proud of it.
It was during this exhausting experience that I developed a deep and enduring love for the films made on the fringes of respectability. I’m not talking about our beloved genre films. I’m not even talking about those low-budget efforts that go straight-to-dvd or litter your video store shelf. I’m talking about those that exist on the bottom rung. Those that are being filmed in basements and backyards all over the world. If it’s three friends and their dog making a science fiction epic with a hundred dollars and a handicam – I want to see it. If it’s a group of college buddies out to make the next great art film – I want to see it. If it’s just you, some corn syrup and some red food coloring… hell, I still want to see it.
Making a movie is really, really hard. This is true if you have 100 million dollars or twenty bucks. For every awful film you’ve seen, there are a group of people who slaved over putting it together. Who took the time to write it and rehearse it and perform it and edit it. In the case of the films in this column, these people are usually just regular joes taking time out of school or their jobs and filming on the weekends or evenings simply because they love it. Because they want to be a part of a business and art-form that has given them so much pleasure. Sure, deep down most want to be the next Sam Raimi or Peter Jackson or James Wan or whoever.. but what they really want is make something that will endure. That will last longer than themselves. To put everything they have right there on the screen.
And the results are usually God-awful.
It’s the simple truth. It might be because of a lack of resources, a lack of time, or a lack of talent. But, usually the end result can only barely be described as a movie. Believe me, I’ve watched and written reviews for dozens of them over the years – often while neglecting films with higher budgets and aspirations – and I’ve discovered that even the best are usually deficient in some major area.
Usually it’s the acting. Often it’s the camera work. Some don’t have a script at all. The worst are as bad as anything you’ve seen. Unintelligible dialogue? Bad lighting? Zero production values? These are par for the course.
Yet I love them. I love the energy. I love the effort. I just love that someone had the guts to convince their friends to give up a chunk of their life just to be part of their vision. Because sometimes the pull of wanting your name up on that screen is so strong that it draws in everyone around you. But with the technology of filmmaking cheaper than ever and even sophisticated special effects available on a home computer, this is the time when something truly special can rise out of the murk. Where someone can overcome these nightmarish odds and produce the next great motion picture. Or it’ll just be a bunch of your friends shooting zombies with toy guns. Either way.
Most people wouldn’t dare to even approach these monstrosities. But, if you were most people, you probably wouldn’t be reading this. Since you’re here, I’m just going to guess that you have a taste for the unusual. For the fringe. Every week in this column I’m going to take a look at one of these underground oddities, along with those who were responsible for them. I’m going to give my honest evaluation, but I’m not here to tear these filmmakers apart. If something is good, I’ll say so. And if it’s bad.. I’ll groan. And moan. And cry. And then I’ll rip them to shreds.
As a shorthand on what causes me the most pain, we’ll be using the NIGHTMARE SCALE. It’s a pretty simple concept – ONE NIGHTMARE means that the film has plenty to recommend it. Somehow the filmmakers overcame their limitations and created something worthy of their names. FIVE NIGHTMARES means that I contemplated suicide repeatedly before the end credits rolled. I’m hoping we don’t get too many of those. I usually stray away from rating films on a scale, but I have a pretty good idea of what to expect here. And what I expect is some deep hurting.
This is a search. A search for hidden greatness and for lost talent. We might find the next big thing, or maybe we’ll wallow in the most reprehensible, vile crap possible. I guess we won’t know until we start looking.
So let’s start.
Do you or someone you know have a film you want featured on NO-BUDGET NIGHTMARES? E-mail me: email@example.com