Film and Television Features

Is Money Essential For Great Film Making?

The argument of what makes the cinema experience so memorable can differ from person to person, with an adrenaline junkie desiring the rumble from the sound system or an old romantic craving that tear-jerking piece of dialogue. When looking back over some of cinemas most famous directors, such as Hitchcock, or even more recently with Christopher Nolan, some of the gems from their catalogue seem to strike the right balance between heart thumping action sequences and luminous scripts.

When one is lucky enough to attain the opportunity of creating a feature film, gaining a grand financial backing to perfectly recreate their vision can often be difficult to say the least. Yet an important question to ask, is whether an imposing financial budget is essential when creating great cinema, or are less significant resources the key part of an underdog success?

One key figure in this argument is Quentin Tarantino, his successful twenty two year career expanding from smart and slick crime thrillers to epic war flicks, and more recently homage to the western genre with Django Unchained (2012). One of the reasons his archive is so essential in this financial debate is due to his development from relying on his unique dialogue to expanding to large scale stunts and set pieces, a growth made possible by greater financial support. Based on box office success the obvious transition and diversity in style within his films doesn’t seem to have affected the quality of his product. In many ways it can be argued that it was essential for the director to swerve in a completely new direction after the lack of critical success with his third feature film Jackie Brown (1998) to both volumes of Kill Bill (2003, 2004), where it is clear that Tarantino, though again maintaining very slick dialogue, was relying greatly upon action sequences that could have been taken directly from a John Woo movie.

It is important to note that though arguably over time Quentin Tarantino’s movies have not lost their suave nature, their style has definitely altered into something largely dissimilar from lower budget classics such as Pulp Fiction (1994) and Reservoir Dogs (1992), and depending on one’s personal taste, money has improved or worsened Tarantino’s craft.

Another contemporary director necessary in this debate is Tarantino’s friend Paul Thomas Anderson, who started his career with work such as 1993 short film Cigarettes and Coffee, set entirely in an American diner, utilising clever dialogue to intertwine the lives of several customers at the location. Such a format of interlocking stories was later represented in his academy award nominated film Magnolia (1999) and though on an obviously grander scale, the quality of this piece of work cannot be dampened by the 37 million dollar budget.

As Anderson’s career has progressed, his later period based work such as There Will Be Blood (2007), which many consider his masterpiece, has continued to successfully combine both dialogue and illustrious action sequences. The first fifteen minutes of There Will Be Blood, containing barely any dialogue, highlights the director’s progression perfectly from the aforementioned Cigarettes and Coffee, as well as his understanding that actions alone can speak volumes. Anderson appears to have taken, and been allowed, to develop his style into elaborate film making, a point that suggests without financial sustainability, movie making as an art form is hindered in some way.

An important note to address is whether these directors’ works have become more important or essential, not only in cinema but in modern society. It can be argued that much of Tarantino’s and Anderson’s early work seemed to only satisfy their passions for dialogue, Pulp Fiction especially arguably appearing to lack a clear significant message. As their careers have expanded however and studios have set their work aside as pieces of great worth, the opportunity to really portray concepts of some significance have become a major part of their profession, something which without a great financial budget may not be possible.

An example of this can be seen with director Gareth Edwards, whose debut feature film Monsters (2010) was an incredible exploit of DIY special effects. Though his smart debut was perhaps one of the stronger arguments as to why monster movies do not always need to star big name actors or include outrageous CGI, as was the case with later unsuccessful attempts such as Battle Los Angeles (2011), his latest offering in Godzilla (2014) allowed Edwards to explore and expand on the monstrous creations he attempted four years earlier.

With this latest offering came a budget of 160 million dollars, a slight upgrade from the 500 thousand appointed to Monsters. Such an increase in budget allowed Godzilla himself to be exploited convincingly and successfully, an aspect that due to the restrictive budget was not as possible in his earlier work, with satisfying glimpses of the physical monsters cut short. This true visual representation of the monster that Edwards pictured at the start of the project is endorsed by the big budget it was appointed, there are no boundaries to his vision and therefore the underlying messages of what Godzilla’s destruction represents is not contained.

Taking into account the date of Honda’s 1954 original, it can easily be argued that Godzilla is a pop culture icon, and his films are not dependent on their effects, yet in a cinematic society where certain moviegoers demand convincing action sequences, arguably a twenty first century Godzilla movie needs grand financial support to have relatively good success, as well as supplying the directorial vision.

As is the dollar signs in their eyes nature of Hollywood, terrible movies will continue to be financed and hacked onto our screens; however, as has been illustrated, fantastic movies will also continue to be funded and created. Maybe the most fulfilling conclusion to such a debate is one that reminds us that film making is an art form, directors the artists, and sometimes the cheapest tools can create the most beautiful masterpieces.