Action! Local Filmmaker Ray Robison Perfects the Art of Modest Moviemaking
A film made for a couple million bucks is pretty low-budget these days considering what Hollywood forks out for their Marvel productions. But then there’s the clever accomplishment of the ultra-low (we’re talking micro low) budget project. Local indie filmmaker, Ray Robison, has learned how to keep cameras rolling a penny at a time.
Raised a military brat, Robison’s “home” was the suitcase he knew to pack for his family’s next destination. The nomadic, sometimes lonely, lifestyle led him into the world of art and to the dream he’d realize in college.
“The way I grew up, very isolated and introverted, I think I saw film as a way to be able to say things without actually having to say things,” Robison shares. “I found that the emotional aspect of filmmaking was a powerful way to communicate and to have a voice.”
After graduating from Montana State with a Bachelor’s in Film, he spent many years making small-budgeted TV commercials and gleaned some basics he’d eventually use as he began producing films with little to no money. During his years working and volunteering for different local media and film entities, Robison has fostered a large network of like-minded volunteers and aspirants, including college film students and graduates, who share his passion for filmmaking.
“What I essentially do, as a low-budget producer, is bring together a partnership of artists to work toward a common goal,” he says. “For some, the art they practice is acting, for others it’s creating unique and interesting hairstyles, or being a part of creating a powerful image on film. I think most of the people who work on my films pro bono realize that establishing relationships during the production can foster more opportunities—and it does.”
Through connections and exchanges like film credit, free DVDs and invitations to wrap parties he has acquired donated venues, lodging for actors, food and catering services, loaned equipment (dolly tracks, jibs, lighting etc), even a 1948 Bentley prop. But not every strategy has panned out.
“For my first project I researched making a low-budget feature film and instead of paying for food you just tell everybody to bring a sack lunch. Well, I quickly learned that was a mistake!” he laughs. “People were leaving to go find something to eat and it’d be hours before they’d make it back.”
Robison has made several short films for under $100 and three features for under $10,000. Model Rules (2008), his first of several collaborations with actor/writer/producer, Marlyn Mason (The Trouble With Girls), was produced for less than $200 and earned $600 from film festivals becoming what he humorously calls his “only financially profitable film”.
In the beginning distribution was the one side of post-production that became an expensive learning curve. And though film festival fees add up, Robison considers the exposure and networking aspects priceless.
“I’m definitely working hard to make the most of being at a festival, as far as connections with people and information,” he adds. “I never know when there’ll be that one person in the audience that likes my work and wants to become a part of my next project.”
He’s come a long way since his boyhood shyness and the perseverance has paid off with numerous film festival awards including Best Writing (Dear Future Self) from the Marietta International, Best Director (An Affair Remains) from the Rhode Island International and the Grand Prize, cash winnings and Audience Award (Model Rules) from the Eugene DIVA Open Lens.
Nearing retirement, Robison is counting the days till he can wake up and spend the day creating his next movie project.
“One of the greatest challenges for me is to continue on even though I’m looking at a bunch of films that never made me any money, but I’m very happy,” he says. “It’s really about having fun with my time and energy.”