‘Tangerine’ is released in Irish cinemas this week. The film, which tells the story of a trans working girl who goes on a rampage through LA to confront her cheating pimp/boyfriend, is a rare and marvellous thing; a hilarious, clever and moving film that was made with a tiny budget.

The internet has not yet come to a consensus about how much ‘Tangerine’ cost to make, but we do know the film was shot on iPhone 5s phones, with an $8 camera app and some prototype lenses, which fitted in with the shoestring production budget. ‘Tangerine’ has already made over $700,000 at the US box office, after being one of the breakout hits of Sundance. With this in mind, Movies.ie has taken a look back over some movies that had tiny budgets, but big hearts…

CLERKS

Kevin Smith famously shot ‘Clerks’ on a budget that was gathered by selling a large portion of his comic book collection, maxing out several credit cards, dipping into the money put aside for college and using the insurance money from a car that was lost in a flood. All of this meant that the film cost $27,575 to make.

The good news is that this black and white comedy was a smash hit after being picked up by Miramax Pictures, winning awards at the Cannes and Sundance Film Festivals. Overall, this film about a hellish day in the life of a clerk in a small convenience store grossed $3 million at the US box office, launching Kevin Smith’s career before becoming a huge cult hit on video.

PRIMER

If you thought ‘Clerks’ had a tiny budget, then brace yourself for the budget of Shane Carruth’s weird, complicated and experimental time travel film ‘Primer’. The entire film was made for $7,000, much of which went on the 16mm film stock the film was shot on. Carruth acted as writer, director, producer, cinematographer, editor, and music composer for the film, which significantly reduced costs, and he drafted in friends and family to act in the film. ‘Primer’ took two long years to edit, but when it was finally released in the US, it went on to make $424,760 at the box office. Yes, this seems like terribly little, but remember what it cost to make – $7,000! Not so bad really!

‘Primer’ was incredibly well received when it was released, and has gone on to be considered a cult classic that gave the time travel movie genre a kick in the pants. As well as this, Shane Carruth has gone on to have success with his second film ‘Upstream Colour’.

ONCE

As everyone in Ireland must know by now, ‘Once’ is the film that brought us the song “Falling Slowly” and won Glen Hansard an Oscar, but it is also a film that was made for a relatively low budget. Compared to ‘Primer’ and ‘Clerks’, the €112,000 budget for ‘Once’ seems gargantuan, but director John Carney supplemented the money given by Bord Scannán na hÉireann (The Irish Film Board) out of his own pocket, and gave his own salary to Hansard and his co-star Markéta Irglová. Thankfully then, ‘Once’ went on to be a smash hit, earning $20 million internationally.

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY

Although the franchise has gone on to be a massive hit, with six films in the franchise altogether, the film that started it all – ‘Paranormal Activity’, released in 2007 – was actually made for a pretty modest budget: $15,000, making it one of the most profitable films ever made.

Director Oren Peli shot the film on a home video camera in seven days, and when it was initially picked up by DreamWorks, the plan was for the film to be remade. Test audiences were so scared, however, that this idea was scrapped – although some new scenes were shot – and the film went on to make $193 million at the worldwide box office, and spawn five sequels, the most recent of which, ‘Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension’ came out on October 21st in Ireland, and has already made over $50 million worldwide.

MONSTERS

Gareth Edwards’ feature film debut, ‘Monsters’, cost around $50,000 to make… Well that was the budget, but after spending around $15,000 on the equipment, Evans’ shoot took place at locations around the world without permission, the ‘extras’ were just passersby persuaded to join into the scene and the entire production staff consisted of seven people; Edwards, actors Whitney Able and Scoot McNairy, sound operator Ian Maclagan, line producer Jim Spencer, Mexican fixer Verity Oswin, and a driver.

The low-fi feel of the film paid off, making it a modest hit around the world and earning $4 million at the box office. Of course, the film also made Gareth Evans a director in demand as he went on to direct the ‘Godzilla’ reboot in 2014, and is attached to the upcoming ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’.

Honourable Mentions to…
‘Super Size Me’ which cost $65,000 to make and earned $29.5 million
‘Eraserhead’ which cost $10,000 and earned $7 million

Words: Brogen Hayes

‘Tangerine’ is released in Irish cinemas on November 13th 2015

  • Joseph McCarthy

    No mention of Blair Witch Project?

    • Louise Corrigan

      Was thinking that myself!

  • emerb

    Surprisingly the original Mad Max did incredibly well on a relatively low budget too, i’m guessing that’s not the case for the 2015 one though 🙂

  • filmbuff2011

    My favourite low-budget gem of recent years is In Search Of A Midnight Kiss, which was reportedly made for just $25,000. I first discovered it at the 2007 Dublin International Film Festival. I went in not knowing much about it, but came out utterly charmed by it. It’s like a Woody Allen film but set in Los Angeles and has some touches of Jim Jarmusch and Richard Linklater.