Indie Feature Filmmaking in a Bad Economy by Michael R. Barnard


Indie Feature Filmmaking in a Bad Economy by Michael R. Barnard

In filmmaking, there has always existed an uneasy alliance of art and commerce. Movies have potential to be both emotionally and financially powerful. They offer artistic expression, profit potential, and career possibilities.

Movies can be created solely because of demand for profit or for a passion for storytelling … or for any number of reasons between those two ends of the spectrum.

Other forms of artistic endeavors share this potential — books and fine art, for example — but movies have a unique position because of their collaborative nature. Movies require dozens of artists and craftspeople and business people. The artists might be interested in only their personal expression; the craftspeople might be interested in only the job and wages; the business people might be interested in only the profit potential.

Sometimes, though, a movie project comes along that generates passion and excitement for all of these types of people for reasons that exceed their own self-interests.

NATE AND KELLY is such a project.

Because the indie film business has taken a hard hit from the bad economy, worse than many other sectors, NATE AND KELLY is a non-financed micro-budget theatrical feature film project.

It’s a ‘million-dollar movie’ being made for pennies. It’s either that, or we all just go home and sit.

According to Steve Pond in THE WRAP (“Producers Bemoan New Hollywood Realities”), producing a movie was never easy, and now it’s getting harder. The cold realities of production in today’s climate: Things have changed. Studios are harder to deal with than they used to be. Money is scarce. Nobody wants original ideas.

Indie filmmakers are lucky, in a way. What was a $2.5 million budget just a couple years ago is now a $250,000 budget because of the tight economy, the dearth of investors, and the incredible advances in filmmaking technology. I refer to NATE AND KELLY as “a million dollar movie” because, recently, that’s what it would have cost. And a little while before that, it would have cost $3 million. Today, it should cost $250,000. But, who has $250,000? Nobody. Well, maybe your rich uncle or that car dealer in Ohio you know who really wants his mistress to be a “movie star.”

Jeff Steele of

Jeff Steele, a Hollywood wizard at funding independent movies, explains that films under $2 million are very tough to finance (“Why Films Under $2m Can’t Catch a Break”). It’s just not going to happen these days.

So what is a filmmaker supposed to do?

Make a great movie anyway.

Filmmaker Eric Mendelsohn watches all of us in the indie film biz — and the audience, too — as we scurry about, chattering in the mania of our malaise, and asks, “Have We Forgotten What We Really Need To Talk About?” Mendelsohn laments, “There is only one part of the term ‘independent cinema’ that has ever held any interest for me. That is cinema. For years now, I believe the art form I love has been the subject of a highjacking of sorts; the conversation has been — reductively, tediously, mind-numbingly — about ‘indie-film’ when it should have been about film.”

We are doing something quite rare — lawyers (volunteering for NATE AND KELLY!) have written deal memos and agreements that spell out stipend, deferral, and profit participation. The NATE AND KELLY team will have written agreements spelling out in detail their potential remuneration. I have volunteered on at least a dozen movie projects — and when I had my camera, loaned it to filmmakers to help them — without any of them giving me more than that silly verbal promise about generic “somedays…” that never came. I have no regrets about volunteering; I went in knowing what I was doing. However, that is not what I’m doing with NATE AND KELLY. I am not making empty, frivolous promises.

The only difference between NATE AND KELLY and a studio film, in this regard, is that studios have ca$h and I don’t. The NATE AND KELLY team has it in writing what will happen if we pull together and make a great movie that earns money (a stipend, then all first-dollars-in pays deferrals and expenses, then profits shared).

This is the very best I can come up with in a world where the only investment money goes to sequels, comic books, and cheap slasher films.

The script for NATE AND KELLY is a powerful and moving story about society, how technological progress races forward but human nature progresses very slowly and painfully…and even backs up, as it does today. It’s a love story woven into historical facts. It is set in the year 1915.

In 1915, the times were not unlike the times now. The “Industrial Revolution” of a century ago caused a lot of turmoil for common folks in rural areas. The move to machines and cities caused fear, anxiety, and anger. Farms were failing. Jobs were fleeing. Homes were lost. People were afraid of the future, and that led to anger about the rapid changes that were occurring.

A dramatic emblem of how the cities were flourishing was the Panama Pacific International Exposition of 1915 in San Francisco. The city had gone all-out to build a fantastic worlds fair to celebrate not only the opening of the Panama Canal, which tied the two oceans together, but also to celebrate the resurgence of the beautiful city itself after its near total-destruction from the earthquake of 1906.

On the other hand, the dramatic emblem of fear and rage among common folks in the rural areas was the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan after it had been dormant for decades. People were angry, they wanted things to be “the way they were,” and they wanted targets for their rage. Demagogues were enriching themselves by driving people to their worst behavior against fellow human beings, against those who were different in any way. They convinced the common folks that times were better in the old days. They found simple targets, groups of people blamed as the reason for our woes.

They clamored for a return to the past, they refused to believe that the current times held any promise for them, and they were afraid of the future.

This most base human behavior is repeated frequently throughout all of civilization, including today. It’s the behavior that spawns wars, including two world wars. It’s the behavior that destroys lives because of racial hatred. It’s the behavior that crushes the unfortunate because of fear that they might encroach upon those who cling to their successes. It’s the behavior that eliminates social and economic opportunities for anyone who is “different.” It’s the behavior demagogues always manipulate for their own enrichment.

Even in the midst of times like these, there is the spark of love and hope between two people. This is the story of NATE AND KELLY.

This powerful script is touching filmmaking professionals who are committed to bringing NATE AND KELLY to theaters for audiences to enjoy. Talented filmmaking professionals are tired of the economy stopping almost everything, so they have come forward to make this a great movie: actors and crew, casting director, script supervisor, composer, a large ranch, a century-old railroad, a town with 1915-era buildings, antique automobiles, horses, and other resources are now committed to NATE AND KELLY.

We are making amazing progress.

NATE AND KELLY is a “beg-borrow-steal” production of the highest quality, driven by the desire to create something grand regardless of the lack of investors. It’s success will be because it is a lean-and-mean production by people destined to make a great movie.

Any theatrical feature film production, even with these generous contributions of talent, resources, and locations, still requires a lot of cash for expenses that cannot be handled any other way.

To meet this critical need for a bare minimum of necessary cash, NATE AND KELLY has a crowdfunding project on The feature film needs to raise more than $25,000 for production.

As with cast, crew, and vendors who are contributing, donors who contribute to the production through the crowdfunding project will also receive recognition and rewards for their contributions.

The crowdfunding project for NATE AND KELLY begins this week on and continues for just three weeks.

You can join us! Contribute to the crowdfunding project, visit
the webpage at and “like” the page at

© copyright 2011 Michael R. Barnard “NATE AND KELLY”

Michael R. Barnard has been writing all his life (he was editor of the school newspaper in 9th grade) and has worked in TV/film/radio that long, too (he was floor director of TV shows while in high school). He moved from Minneapolis to Hollywood a quarter century ago, after Prince, with whom he had been working, went off on the LoveSexy tour in Europe. He tried working within the studio system, including a classically tragic “Hollywood” story about being in the William Morris Agency just long enough for his MOONLIGHTING script to end up ignored after the series was cancelled. Recently, he was Producer of an independent theatrical feature film, the family comedy COLLIER & CO.–HOT PURSUIT! starring John Schneider of Dukes of Hazzard and Smallville fame. His passion project, the independent thriller feature film A FATHER AND SON, stalled when the economy collapsed and now sits waiting for a million dollars (it’s an expensive script). He moved forward with his new project, NATE AND KELLY, an independent feature film. It’s a Western (think “Pretty Woman” as an R-rated Western), and it is now in pre-production.