August 29, 2016

Can You Make a Feature for $7K? This New Grant is Betting on It

El Mariachi
The 7K Film Grants script competition wants you to follow in the footsteps of Robert Rodriguez.

Writer-director Russell Max Simon and his team wanted to see if they could pull off a Primer, à la Shane Carruth, or an El Mariachi, à la Robert Rodriguez—that is, to make a Sundance-worthy feature film for a mere $7,000. And so, with lots of careful planning and a four-day shoot, they completed their film #humbled. Whether or not it makes it to Park City remains to be seen, but the point is that they indeed created an entire production on the micro-est of budgets, and now they want to help you do the same.

The new 7K Film Grants is part screenwriting competition, part investment plan. If you can prove to Simon's team that you can make a great feature with a $7K budget, they will give you the cash to do it. It works a bit differently than a typical grant, in that it's more like a financier situation; if your film makes money, then you pay the $7K back and split additional profits with 7K Films. (30 percent will go to 7K Films, and you will keep 70 percent.) Simon says that this structure mimics common deals that low-budget filmmakers make with production companies. 

Your total budget must be under $7K, not a penny more.

According to Film Freeway, the decision-makers are looking for submissions with:

  • A track record of making high-quality films on shoe-string budgets
  • A great treatment for a feature film, or a feature-length script, preferably on the shorter side, 80 - 100 pages
  • A letter and materials which describe how you will make this film on a $7K budget

Note that your total budget must be under $7K, and not a penny more (and $700 of it must be allocated to marketing and promotion of your film). Fortunately, there aren't many other eligibility restrictions. Applicants must be 18 years old, and while international submissions are encouraged, the script must be in English and the film must be appropriate for an American audience.

If you're up for the challenge, the regular deadline is September 9, and the late deadline is September 30. Apply via Film Freeway.     

Your Comment

21 Comments

If they are really aiming to replicate the results, then they should compensate for inflation. Those 7k should by 14 by now.

August 29, 2016 at 12:35PM

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Edgar More
All
1293

true, although Primer was made for around the same number, but in 2004.

August 29, 2016 at 1:02PM

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Very true, but is is also a lot cheaper to shoot and edit these days!

August 29, 2016 at 2:04PM

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Matthew Rogan
Cinematographer
81

u actually expecting to pay anyone at this budget ? lol

August 29, 2016 at 7:03PM

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Martin Brewer
Director, DOP
425

I would think thats what most of the 7K would be for.

If you're serious about the craft, chances are you already have some gear (or know others that do).

So If using gear you already own or borrowed (everyone knows somebody with a RED it seems), and you already have liability insurance for cheap rentals to get additional lights + gear, and if your locations are free or $$ dirt cheap, and you intend to do all post work yourself and use a free DCP making tool, then you can definitely use most of that 7K to pay talent and below the line folks "something" as long as you keep the team small.

Granted, you may not be able to hire any serious pros, unless you got an amazing story and they're willing to work at a reduced rate.

I have a long short project I'm working on, and frankly, its the physical props and effects work with set fixed costs that eat up a good chunk of money (building/changing walls, miniatures, special fx make-up, props, costuming, wire work, and location construction and dressing)

August 31, 2016 at 3:17PM, Edited August 31, 3:24PM

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Daniel Reed
Hat Collector
1242

The idea that it is cheaper to shoot and edit on digital than it was on film is a myth. Large format high resolution digital footage like the RED or ARRI take up huge amounts of storage and also require massive amounts of processing power which cost a lot of money. I also used to think digital was cheaper to shoot than film but than I worked in a post house and realized digital can get really pricey really fast.

August 31, 2016 at 2:59AM

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jacob
154

Yup, in many cases it is cheaper to shoot on film, especially S16, but even S35 in some cases.

August 31, 2016 at 3:27PM, Edited August 31, 3:27PM

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Daniel Reed
Hat Collector
1242

Apparently $7K in 2004 is $8,917.57 today.

August 29, 2016 at 5:26PM, Edited August 29, 5:26PM

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Michael R. Garcia
Director / Editor / Cinematographer
93

I understand that money for a film is money, and that not everyone partakes in the "industry" side of the art... But at the end of the day, who are $7K features supporting? Are they encouraging production of projects that previously had no access to any sort of funding, or are they encouraging irresponsible producing and lack of quality? As someone who has been on more than one "micro-budget project" (including one with the creator of this grant), lack of substantial funding for a given project promotes a need for speed, often at the sacrifice of on-screen quality and mental/physical/emotional health. My main issue with this grant is perfectly summed up in the $7K Films FAQ:
"Q: Can I use the $7k grant to supplement other funding options or as part of a larger budget?
A: In short, no."

You can probably make a feature on $7K - it doesn't mean you should.

August 29, 2016 at 2:16PM, Edited August 29, 2:27PM

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Aidan Gray
Director of Photography Assistant Camera | Gaffer
1652

I gotta say this is pretty short sighted. There are so so many great films that are WAY better than huge, 200 million dollar blockbusters that are made for cheap. I'd rather watch The Breakfast Club than the new Ghostbusters or any Transformers movie. Just cause you can make a cheap film doesn't mean you should? What does that even mean? Clerks was made for under $30,000. Ex Machina is a one location sci-fi movie, made on the cheap, same as Whiplash. All amazing movies. Room was probably the best thing to come out of 2016. When you don't focus on the budget you only have performances and writing to make your movie great. And THAT'S why you make a cheap film. Also, Reservoir Dogs was made for next to nothing and it gave way to Quentin Tarantino. It's proof of concept for an artist.

August 29, 2016 at 2:26PM

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Filmmagician
Writer/Director
89

We're speaking to the same point - you can make amazing films for cheap, but $7K is irresponsible. Theres a middle ground and this is far from it.

August 29, 2016 at 2:28PM

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Aidan Gray
Director of Photography Assistant Camera | Gaffer
1652

I totally agree. $7k is irresponsible. Especially small productions lack insurance. If something happens you're screwed. Additionally (as someone wrote before): No quality equipment and no actors (NO actor should work for free which in this case they would have to). Not to forget about editing and coloring (to be able to sell it).
Technically this grant supports irresponsible filmmaking and not paying the actors and crew. The only way to get this done is one person all by himself (and maybe one paid actor) if he already owns all the equipment or people do it as a favor (which lowers their work ethics).
I have a two location Sci-Fi and my absolute minimum budget would have to be $17k. I guess you could make an acceptable feature for $15k though if you pay them all.

August 29, 2016 at 10:14PM

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Marcus
9

At $7K you cannot pay a crew a legal minimum wage and make a feature. And having worked on 4 day features as an AD, I've seen the toll on quality first hand. Nothing short sighted about that.

Even further, the examples you're citing such as Whiplash and Ex Machina were not made for $7K. Not 70k. Not even 700K. They were 3.3 million and 15 million respectively.

Quality is most assuredly a product of time. And time without money in most cases is slavery.

August 30, 2016 at 3:20PM

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Sam Shapson
Director
223

All the movies you mentioned were made for cheap IN COMPARISON to studio blockbusters. Even Reservoir Dogs was made for a cool million in the early 90's. Bottle Rocket? Same. And Kevin Smith has said that he doesn't think Clerks would get into Sundance nowadays. The expected quality of the films from unknown filmmakers is much higher now that Sundance gets around 5k submissions per year, compared to around 500 when Clerks got in. Unless you're a name, your cheap film isn't getting into Sundance. I find it hard to believe NO recent, cheap film from an unknown filmmaker has made a splash at Sundance. Is it really a lack of talent at that level?

September 1, 2016 at 4:18PM

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J Manuel
158

While I do agree with you, there is a whole lot more you can do with $30k (Clerks) and $7k. Both are small budgets, but $7k is considerably less.

October 11, 2016 at 2:26AM

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Jesse
81

I want to make a feature for cheap as possible. I'm going to do. It just inspired me to make an adjustment to how I'll write the script to make it easier to shoot.

August 29, 2016 at 4:07PM

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Freddy Long
Writer-Director
373

Obviously nobody researched what it cost to make Primer or El Mariachi screenable in a theater or major distribution outlet - the supposed budgets of those films have gotten more people in trouble in the indie film. Robert R. points this out himself, he dumped everything on tape and did it for learning or maybe get picked up by Mexican TV. This however, is a profit split type deal and obviously distribution is planned. Unless you happen to be a DIY post genius, $7k will not get you very far for feature post-production mastering - things like a 5.1 mix, DCP, VOD encodes, Blu-ray mastering, close-captions, international version etc. blah blah. I assume they expect you to apply for yet another grant for that since distributors today are loath to pick up the tab for those.

August 29, 2016 at 10:15PM

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Stephen A van Vuuren
Filmmaker
467

I know there was a ton of money that went into getting El Mariachi screenable but Carruth didn't spend more than that tho did he? He did all the post himself, which is why it took 3 years...

August 30, 2016 at 5:18PM

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chris
275

Filmmakers, you can crowd fund $7,000 (an attainable goal!) and not give 30 percent of any profits away. With a $50 entry fee, the contest will pay for itself off the backs of poor filmmakers, then take a cut of someone else's hard work, ingenuity, and creativity! It's not a grant, grants are GIVEN. This is NOT a good deal for filmmakers (Unless distribution is in place, which I see no mention of in the article.)

August 30, 2016 at 11:26PM, Edited August 30, 11:36PM

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R.M. Roser
writer/director
23

A wise person once told me--

"Filmmaking, like all creative processes, should be about raising the bar- not lowering it. Finding the "cheapest" way to undercut other artists, to devalue their work and safety, their art, or their trade, shouldn't be the aim. When it becomes the aim you should have the integrity to reveal your motives; on the off chance those motives are lost on a few."

August 31, 2016 at 11:09PM

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Scott Selman
Content Creator | Filmmaker | Producer
1127

As the producer and creator of the grant, thank you to NoFilmSchool for writing about it, and we have two comments:

- To clarify the budget: if, in the judgement of the producing team and filmmaker, we decide that the finished feature film has commercial potential, we will certainly have a discussion about investing more money in a marketing and sales strategy, or for whatever technical costs are necessary for release. It would be silly not to!

- To those who are making assumptions about the quality of the work while not having seen the film (or even any of the footage), we say: when it comes to the quality of the work we would think the respectable thing to do as a filmmaker would be to withhold comment on its quality until after you - or at least somebody - has actually seen it.

September 6, 2016 at 9:34PM, Edited September 6, 9:34PM

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Russell Max Simon
Producer, Writer, Director
87