With Mark Pirro
Pirro is head of Pirromount Pictures, founded in 1981 in Van
Nuys, CA and an expert in the art and craft of ultra-low budget
filmmaking. His latest film, "Color-Blinded," was
made for under $500.
Q: How did you get your
start in filmmaking?
A: When I was 13 I got a Super
8mm camera for Christmas, and I became a little camera nerd.
I got my friends to be actors and made little 10-minute films
on every subject I could imagine, including a monster/vampire
movie and "Batman Junior." When I was 18, I got a
job as a tour guide at Universal Studios. I was eventually fired
for adlibbing too much. When I was an usher at the Egyptian
Theatre, I decided to go back to what I always wanted to do:
make movies. I bought a Super 8mm camera, this time equipped
for sound, at Lloyd's Camera in Hollywood, and called my old
friends from Universal and, for a couple of hundred dollars,
I produced "Buns," a 22-minute short about a guy who
goes into a murderous frenzy every time he sees a hamburger.
Next, I produced the 45-minute James Bond spoof, "The Spy
Who Did It Better" for about $1,200. It got some festival
awards and the appreciative attention of James Bond fans.
Q: Were you making a living
off of these films?
A: Oh no, I was still doing odd
jobs, including being a chauffeur for Jim Backus. "A Polish
Vampire in Burbank" was the first film to sell. I began
shooting that in 1981 and, in 1984, sold it to Simitar Entertainment,
for a 7-year deal for about $50,000. It cost $2,500 to produce.
This was my first feature length film, and since home video
was new at the time, there were no made-for-home-video movies.
This was the turning point. I immediately started "Curse
of the Queerwolf," about a guy who turns queer when the
moon rises. That was shot for $10,000 - and about $4,000 went
to buy equipment for synchronized sound. Since then, I've also
made "Death Row Game Show," "Nudist Colony of
the Dead," "Buford's Beach Bunnies," and "Color-Blinded."
I also wrote "My Mom's a Werewolf" which was produced
for another company.
Q: What constitutes a low-budget
film? And how do you raise the money for your pictures?
A: In Hollywood, low budget is
anything under $5 million! I coined the phrase "ultra-low
budget" because I've produced movies for such low budgets
it's ridiculous But whenever anyone asks the budget, I always
say under $1 million because when you produce a movie as inexpensively
as we can, it devalues it in people's minds, even though it
looks like it was shot for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
People wonder what's wrong with it. If it's a cheap film, I
can finance it myself. The last few very low budget films, I
just used my own money. When I did "Buford's Beach Bunnies,"
it was a film for Axis International with a $300,000 budget
- but it was their movie. "Death Row Game Show" was
another work-for-hire, for Crown Pictures, with a $200,000 budget.
The other films I own outright because I financed myself. Now,
unless it's a major film for a major company, I'll finance it
myself because it's under my control.
Q: Is there a genre that's
most suited to these very low budget films? If so, why?
A: It used to be horror. A lot
of low budget filmmakers would shoot kids roaming through the
woods being stalked by someone with a machete or machine gun
because it was easy to shoot. Of course sex, such as an erotic
thriller, is big. You can always sell movies with girls on the
beach jumping on top of each other. Other than that, if you
try to do something with a concept or story that requires intelligence
of your audience, it's harder to sell. A romantic comedy is
going to get lost in the sea of films in festivals. A lot of
filmmakers have a personal- statement movie. Some of these movies
will get recognized and some won't. Believe me, a movie called
"Topless Cheerleaders from Mars" will get more recognition
in the video store than "Golden Pond Part 2."
Q: Who buys your films?
If we want to see them, where should we look?
A: You can rent many of them at
some Blockbusters. At the larger video rental stores, you can
find at least one. "Buford's Beach Bunnies," which
I've kind of disowned because it's been re- edited, is played
on USA Network all the time. The films I own the rights to,
you can buy on the Internet at www.loop.com/~pirro -- or go
to Yahoo and type in Pirromount. They're $19.95/each except
Color-Blinded which is $24.95. I've also had talks with Troma
Entertainment about releasing some of my films in DVD.
Q: Who are your audiences?
A: Troubled individuals. They're
always some obscure person in Iowa or maybe someone who saw
the film 15 years ago and just got reacquainted through the
Website. Actually, I think the audience is someone like me --
they just enjoy outrageous comedy and obscure movies. I've been
compared to Ed Woods. I like that I am compared to a man ambitious
enough to keep making movies. But I don't like being compared
to someone who cross-dressed and made bad movies. But no matter
how bad his movies were, he didn't give up. There's an energy
in these low-budget filmmakers and part of my audience are low
budget filmmakers who want to see what can be done for less.
Also, there's a cult of people into these kind of movies. I
was interviewed by a magazine devoted to these "Cult Movies."
Apparently "Curse of the Queerwolf" used to run every
week on a Boston university campus. One guy on the Internet
put up a Webpage for that film.
Q: How does the budget
break down between production and post production?
A: Right now, for me, it's about
equal, because I've purchased the post production equipment.
For most people, if they were take a digital camera they own
or borrowed, then the post production part would be the most
expensive part of the process.
Q: How did your post production
A: It started out as a basic $1,500
computer that I'd put Adobe Premiere on, with a Pinnacle (miro)
capture card and I just started learning. Iomega helped me out
by giving me Jaz cartridges and Jaz drives. My last movie was
stored on 12 Jaz cartridges. As far as I, and Adobe Systems,
knew, I was the only person editing a feature film on Premiere
-- which I'm using because it was the software that came with
my Pinnacle capture card.
Tell us what Pinnacle Systems tools you use in post production
A: I had experimented with many
other capture cards and had problems getting the configuration
right. Then, a friend of mine from Florida -- Tom McDonald of
Logical Choice Computers in Naples -- was using the Pinnacle
DC-30 and liked it. He said, Try this one. It worked well, so
it became my capture card of choice. Now I've upgrade to the
DC-30+ which is the DC-30 on steroids. It does everything the
old card does, but more efficiently. A feature called Instant
Video allows me to render faster without actually taking up
as much hard disc space. In the past, when I wanted to watch
a movie, I'd have to take all my clips and render it as a new
clip incorporating all those clips so I'd use twice the amount
of hard disc space. Another advantage is that the DC-30+ is
faster, and it also allows me to view images on my computer
screen simultaneously with my TV screen so I don't have to crane
my neck back and forth.
Q: How much technology
background do you have in digital post production?
A: I'm not really a techno-geek
like I should be but you don't have to be one to operate this.
I think the Pinnacle Systems equipment helps because it talks
you through a lot of things when I'm rendering. It's definitely
more user friendly than some of the other capture cards I've
used. I also just got the DV-300, which is a digital video capture
card which allows me to go directly from the digital camera
into the computer. I'm just beginning to use this card.
How do these Pinnacle tools help your post production proces?
A: The DC-30+ puts it into an affordable
category where I can get a product that renders out broadcast
quality video and, in conjunction with Adobe Premiere, I can
create something that looks like I spent a lot of money. Pinnacle
has also been very supportive which is nice. As a low budget
filmmaker, to find a manufacturer that supports me and offers
help is really important. It goes back to my relationship with
Lloyd's Camera. They didn't have to help out, to believe in
me. But they do, and it makes you feel nice that there's someone
that cares enough to find out what you're doing.
Q: What advice do you have
for the would-be low-budget filmmaker?
A: Just shoot as much as you can.
Get out there and make your films. They may not all be good
or watchable. But it's part of a growth process to hone your
skills and craft. It will continue to be more affordable as
cameras and software come down in price. You can literally have
a complete post production facility in your own home.