Here’s how you make a no-budget narrative feature film:
Spend a year writing and rewriting a screenplay. About 100 pages or so. Don’t pay yourself. Organize about 30 friends to show up at 6 AM to work ten hour days. Persuade them to do this for free. Next, convince total strangers to let these 30 or so friends into their home or place of business to use their living room as a movie set. Again, for free.
Repeat every day for two or three weeks. It’s a wrap. Congratulations, you are now 1/3 of the way done. You now have to edit the film, prevail upon musician friends to donate songs for the soundtrack, for free, and dodge creditors.
Did I mention? It’s the mid 1970s. There is no such thing as HD video. No Final Cut Pro. No websites with handy low-budget production tips. Instead, dozens of rolls of 16mm film have to be shipped to a lab hundreds of miles away for processing. If that living room scene comes out too dark (or not exposed at all), too bad, you cannot afford to reshoot. There is no Fed Ex. No Sundance premiere as mythic goal justifying it all. No cell phones to wake oversleeping actors.
Imagine making this feature length film with no training, no PBS grants, and no rich uncles. Indie role models to emulate don’t exist yet: Spike Lee is still in Junior High; Jim Jarmusch not yet in film school; Slacker, and the so-called birth of the American independent film movement, still 15 years off. You have no choice but to invent DIY cinema as you stumble along.
All you know for certain, from the very beginning of your long strange trip, is this simple fact: At the end of the day, at the end of your struggles, Hollywood will not buy your movie. It will not screen in mainstream theaters. It will never play on TV. You are Chicano. They are not interested in your life. You live in the West Side of San Antonio. Your subject matter is the inner-city community around you.
This simple fact does not deter you.
To get fellow raza to see your film -- and they will, by the thousands -- you will have to pack your single, precious movie print, all that you could afford, into the trunk of your car and drive the countless miles from Texas to California, renting theaters along the way, charging tickets at the door. You eke out a profit. You are exhausted. Your personal life in shambles.
You do this again. Three times in five years.
Welcome to the world of independent filmmaker Efrain Gutierrez.