Filmmaking / Directing : Expectation theory by Tim John

Tim John

Expectation theory

If cinemas audiences knew a film was made on a low budget, perhaps they wouldn't judge it in the same way they judge ones with huge budget productions. Or should any and every film entertain/intrigue audience to the same level regardless of cost? I'm thinking about "Locke" as a recent example. I went to see it with a friend in the cinema, with an audience of the general public. Whilst brilliantly acted, my friend thought it was one of the worst films he'd ever seen. Several people in the audience walked out halfway through. Several others moaned afterwards and a few asked staff for their money back. Another friend went to see it at an industry showing, where everybody praised how much had been achieved in so short a filming schedule on a relatively low budget. What's the answer?

Tim John

Hi Robin, Yes, if audiences pay the same amount for a ticket, I totally agree. I was wondering if there could ever be a system where audiences pay less for lower budget films. maybe that's already called TV and VOD, but a cinema equivalent would be great too. I wonder if many of these "capsule" films would be better off being shorter, so they'd seem less repetitive, and theatres could fit in more viewings per day if they needed to balance lower ticket prices somehow. Probably all too complicated. I agree, some low budget movies are excellent.

Jason Levy

Audiences expect a formula and when they don't get it, they're disappointed and sometimes furious. Locke sounds like an experimental film which general audience usually don't like. Sounds like industry people praised it because they knew the story of the making of it. While I'm sure it's a great film, it's not for everybody.

Tim John

Yes, totally agree re audience expectations . While I thought the acting in Locke was great, I found the rest of it quite unimaginative and unsurprising. Once the audience know where you're taking them...

Jason Levy

Locke made me think of Buried with Ryan Reynolds. It's also done in one location with one actor who's only on the phone. It's an incredible film!

Sten Ryason

My Dinner with Andre is a fairly classic example of a film that looks like a standard three-camera studio shoot, that could as easily have been shot in a single take (cutting between the cameras), since it appeared to be simply a natural conversation between two interesting guys. No budget movie, no-name stars (unless you live in New York and go to a lot of theater) and totally absorbing. I've seen low-budget movies that looked it, but the story and the acting made you unaware of it. I've seen big-budget movies where the only thing you're aware of is how expensive this piece of garbage must have been. See both versions of The Vanishing, for example.

Tim John

I had a terrible experience regarding The Vanishing. A previous writing partner and I were asked to a meeting with some LA producers regarding a rewrite of a script. It sounded like they had all the money there, studio backing, the lot, and they said they loved one of our writing samples - the perfect gig - except that while we were chatting with them, waiting for the studio head honchos to arrive, we all got talking about movies and remakes and someone mentioned The Vanishing. My old writing partner said he loved it. It was one of his all-time favourite films. As a result, he loathed and detested the remake, citing it as total garbage from start to finish. Right after his mammoth rant about how bad it was, the producers who had all the money lined up to employ us mentioned that they made the remake he was talking about. That always made me make a special point of researching everything about anyone I was about to work with!

Tim John

Yes, I'd love to see shorts before the main features again. I loved that mock documentary the Pythons had about Venice before one of their big movies.

Tim John

Thanks, Jason - I totally agree about "Buried". People were definitely on the front edge of their seats during that one, rather than on the back edge, nodding off...

Tim John

Yes, I do check the figures sometimes and you're right, the results can be amazing.

Jason Levy

Tim, I'm so sorry to hear about your experience with The Vanishing. There's a big lesson in that story. Thanks for sharing it.

Tim John

Yes, that was the beginning of the end for our writing partnership too!

Tim John

Hi Alle, I totally agree that we need a variety of films. My point was simply that it's a major challenge for low-budget film makers that audiences so often judge them with the same criteria and high expectations as they do big budget movies. Your sums don't seem to allow for the fact that movies of different lengths and budgets could appear in different time-slots if producers and marketers were more imaginative.

William Joseph Hill

You always want to give an audience more for their money. Assuming you raised a small budget for a feature, and that the story is compelling and really entertaining, you should definitely make sure most of your production dollars end up onscreen. If you're lucky enough for a studio to pick your movie up for distribution, if the production values look really good, they might not require any re-shoots or other deliverable costs to bring your movie up to par. Audiences can only tell the difference between a huge budget and a small budget movie by the amount of CGI and marketing. But they still pay the same ticket price for "Captain America" as they do for "August Osage County". Most regular folks can't tell the difference between 4K and DSLR, especially on a TV sized screen. There are some pretty talented DPs out there who can make DSLR look awesome on a movie screen, so it isn't always about the equipment (though don't ever skimp on production sound!).

Vinod Modha

Hi Tim John. I am sure many film makers have wrestled with this question in the past. Unfortunately we have to live in a real world an be realistic. Audience does not care how much was spent on the film (to some people in the world even $50K to %100K is a big fortune so expect high quality product from the maker!). Audience is after worthwhile experience that gives them value for money. (I used to frown on Bollywood films in my youth because they did not always come to the standards I expected but you have to see such products in cinemas in India with the Indian audiences and you realize they made the audiences forget reality of their lives for three hours through sheer escapism and they went home humming one of the songs from the film.) So do not let the low budget hinder you, have the particular target audience in mind and make the best film you can under the circumstances. I have not seen 'Locke' yet but will do so when I can. Good luck.

James Durward

First off, the audience has zero idea how much work goes into making a film. Secondly, they don't care. All they care about is whether or not what they watched was worth 2 hours of their time. All films are judged by the same measurement system.

Dorian Cole

I concur with James. I'm not convinced that a film's budget has anything to do with the quality of the film, or with audience expectations. It starts with a good story/writing and then good acting, and then good production values.

Sten Ryason

I dunno, folks, Hollywood is releasing another Transformers movie. Pretty sure there's a lot of money on the screen, and I'm also certain no one's thinking Oscar-winner...

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