During tonight’s PandoMonthly fireside chat in New York City, Sarah Lacy and guest Rob Burnett discuss the making of his low budget pseudo-amateur film “We Made This Movie” (WMTM). Many of the constraints and decisions made along the way were financially driven, while others were a consequence of the regulations imposed by Hollywood unions like the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), the Directors Guild of America (DGA), and the Writers Guild of America (WGA).
While Burnett described the project as being like nothing he’s done before, it ended up being an amazing illustration of the power of technology, particularly the Web, in democratizing content creation. One of the biggest challenges for WMTM was scoring the film. With a budget of only $1 million, Burnett couldn’t afford the rights to mainstream music.
“We kinda had a double problem with the music for this movie,” says the producer, director. “In the early cuts we didn’t have any music in this movie. Partly because we couldn’t afford it. Normally on a big movie budget the music costs more than the budget for our entire film. Secondly, for the nature of the film, if it’s LeBron’s film, it would be weird to drop in something like…” “Beyonce?” Lacy offered.
Burnett says that his first notion was to go to YouTube and find videos of people “in their basements doing covers.” It was charming in spots, but in the really critical scenes, it fell flat. Fortunately, it was at this point that Burnett first learned about the Redbull Sound Stage, which is an online platform providing distribution to unknown independent artists.
“They have this soundstage on their website where they showcase up-and-coming bands, and they’re good. They’re good up-and-coming bands,” explains Burnett. “This is the future, I think. It’s all about curation. On YouTube, there’s a feeling where ‘That guy can make a movie’ or whatever, but that’s starting to wear off. It’s got to be good.”
Burnett and his team decided to put up four key scenes and challenge the bands on the site to score the movie. They initially expected to get only a few submissions, but ended up with more than 1,200 submissions.
“They were just all amazing, one after another,” says Burnett. “So we put songs in those four places, and then we took 18 songs and put them in places in the movie that weren’t even originally going to have songs. It’s kinda this great thing, where yes, we got music for free, but it’s really music that’s good for the music. It’s kind of the perfect marriage of all this. If we can help these bands becomes something, that’s just… How great is that? That’s perfect.”
Burnett took an equally alternative approach to cutting the movie trailor. “I know people who do trailers and have done big professional trailers, and I thought ‘What if we just don’t do it that way?’” he says.
Knowing that a film student attending his daughter’s school, Haley Arader, was already using professional software, Burnett asked himself, “What if I get Haley to take a crack at cutting this trailer?” Burnett’s two daughters, Sydney and Lucy, helped Arader take on the project, and they did “an unbelievable job,” he says.
At the end of the day, “We Made This Movie” is unlike the traditional big budget projects that Burnett is known for. Nonetheless, it turned out to be a project that he’s incredibly proud of and that illustrates the tectonic shifts occurring in content creation. According to Burnett, the “gates” to Hollywood are moving, rather than coming down, and it’s technology and the Web that are driving this change.