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7 Films That Creatively Make The Most of Their Limitations

7 Films That Creatively Make The Most of Their Limitations

by Mandi Harrison

New filmmakers can face a multitude of limitations, most stemming from money, locations and time.  What you do with those limitations determines what type of filmmaker you are.  It will help you as a storyteller to keep your story tight. It can help you as a director and a producer to work creatively to make your movie, building your skill along the way.  Established filmmakers will place limitations on themselves, to constantly challenge themselves.  Learning how to work with your limitations can help you stay under budget, ahead of schedule and have a movie that keeps the audience engaged.  Here are seven movies that use limitations to their benefit, four of them by first time directors.  



by Duncan Jones

The story of a man trying to finish his solitary three year mission on the moon so he can get home to his wife and child.  The stark location and lack of characters shows the character's isolation and desire to get home to the ones he loves.  

Budget: $5 million




by Alfonso Cuarón

A grieving mother has isolated herself in her work after the death of her child.  Forced into actual isolation after an accident, her survival instincts kick in as she fights for a way to get back to Earth. Another alone in space story-  simple concept, incredible execution.  

Budget: $130 million


El Mariachi

by Robert Rodriguez

A legend amongst indie filmmakers, Robert Rodriguez just wanted to make movies.  He took a tale of mistaken identity and his $7,000 budget (most of which was raised by doing drug trials) and made a movie that he hoped he would be able to sell to Mexican television stations. Columbia Pictures bought the film and El Marachi is in the Guinness World Records for earning the highest box office numbers from the smallest budget. Robert used what he had and worked creatively and still works the same way.  

Budget: $7,000


Rear Window

by Alfred Hitchcock

A man in a wheelchair, unable to leave his house, spies on his neighbors and is convinced he has witnessed a murder. Considered to be one of the greatest movies ever made, Hitchcock's classic proves that you don't have to leave the room to obtain thrills.  In fact, many movies since then have stolen this very troupe- lock your subject(s) in a small space and throw in a menacing force and voila- you have a thriller.  

Budget: $1 million (roughly $9 million today)


The Shallows

by Jaume Collet-Serra

A pretty girl, the ocean, and a shark. for the majority of the movie.  Seems like the ending would be a given. This is no ordinary survival story though; this enthralls you and puts you in that water. The starkness and beauty of the ocean sets the tone, pulling you into the movie. 

Budget: $17 million


The Blair Witch Project


by Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sánchez 

It's hard to remember a time when "found footage" movies weren't in the mainstream.  But these filmmakers took their low budget and made it work for them, creating a movie genre along the way.  The way the film was filmed and edited added to the movie and earned a place in pop culture history.  

Intial budget: $35,000

Reservoir Dogs

by Quentin Tarantino

Quentin's feature length debut is , well to paraphrase Mr. Orange, super cool, like a f**king Beretta. But it ended that way because of choices  made due to his budget limitations.  His initial budget was $30,000, but when actor Harvey Keitel signed on, he was able to find funding to bring the budget to a million.  And every dollar was used with purpose.  The heist that took place in the middle of the movie was never filmed due to finances and Quentin decided that the action before and after it occurred WAS the story.  Using your budget to write the story can be risky, but the pay off can be huge.  

Budget: $1.2 million

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