Low Budget Filmmaking Case Study: Brick (2005)


Brick was Rian Johnson’s debut feature film.

It took accolades at Sundance in 2005 and was picked up for distribution by Focus Features.

This film kickstarted Johnson’s career.

A USC grad, Johnson had been doing a lot of odd jobs: editing two horror features, Disney Channel promos, and working as the AV tech at a school for handicapped kids.

Meanwhile, he was doing everything he could to get Brick off the ground.

His agent spent a year sending it out. Everyone loved the script, and no one wanted to make it. But their rejections were encouraging: “We can’t wait to see it.”

Along the way, one star came aboard and it looked like they’d get $3M needed to make it. Then that star dropped out, and the money vanished.

It would be a six year wait.

The $3 million film was actually made for $450,000. How? It’s what Johnson calls the deep, dark secret: any film made at that budget meant that people were not getting paid, or were getting much less than what they normally would make. Neither he nor his producer were paid.

They shot 35mm, which is very impressive, and it shows. The film looks gorgeous.

Their schedule was 20 days.

And they caught a big break with Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He was a child star, but he had not yet had much success as an adult in movies. They caught him at a time in his career when he was available and hungry.

They spent three months rehearsing. That time was instrumental to the success of the film.

The film ultimately sold for $2M. All of the investors were paid back and made money, which is rare in independent film.

(Note: These facts above come from an interview of Johnson by Jeff Goldsmith of the Q&A podcast, copyright Unlikely Films, 2012.)

About kartiksingh

I have been living in Paris, France since 1996. I was born to Sikh parents who immigrated to the USA. I grew up outside of Kansas City, and at 18 went to Washington DC with the intention of becoming a diplomat. Five years later, I arrived in Paris and found my life purpose: to make films that bring hope, insight, and inspiration to the world. My debut feature film Callback premieres in September 2010 in New York. For more details on where you can see my films, look for me at www.kartikfilm.com
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