Profile: The filmmakers who are making something out of next to nothing

29.11.12

When Jesse from filmmaking collective Lamar + Nik first dropped us a message on our Facebook with a link to their video for Philly rapper Lushlife’s Magnolia, we couldn’t help but be instantly taken in by its charm. The visual was built around the fantastic idea of mocking up cardboard models of every single lyric from Lushlife’s rap, and then – taking in over 65 city locations – asking a host of unsuspecting Oklahomans to plonk the word-models onto their heads. All of this was done for about the amount of money most of us would spend on a decent pair of shoes, which is impressive enough – but with its scattergun editing, careful framing and at times elegant camera work, the finished piece looks like it could have been produced for a hundred times its actual cost. You see plenty of low budget videos put out these days, brimming with zany ideas and overstretched innovations, but a lot of them admittedly end up looking like they were made for next to nothing. Lamar + Nik’s humorous and instantly likeable video is a testament to what can be achieved with some hard graft and unshakeable determination.

We spoke with Lamar + Nik about their filmmaking process and were given access to some of the fantastic photographs they took while shooting Magnolia. They also put together a nifty DVD commentary-style accompanying video for us, which you can stream below (and scroll down to the bottom of the page to see the Magnolia video in full):

Hello Lamar + Nik, congratulations on the Lushlife video. Could you tell us how you initially formed the idea for Magnolia? Did it feel like you’d set yourselves an impossible task at first?

Firstly, thanks for the compliment guys. Basically Jesse (Lamar) had the idea stored away a while ago waiting for a chance to utilize it. We have so many ideas stored away that when the opportunity presents itself we have a bunch of options to choose from. As with most promo directors, we listen to the song over and over and try to come up with a fitting treatment, but when Lushlife approached us via email we immediately both knew the “heads” idea would bring the video to life.

We tinkered around with a few test models Nik had created and got the basics of what we wanted the words to look like. From there Nik designed a font as well as two sets of entire alphabet stencils. The task didn’t seem as laborious until we really got underway with construction on them. It was Nik and myself that did every single word to the video. We got hand cramps, blisters and hot glue burns. At times it was frustrating and above all time-consuming, but in the end it really does pay off, we believe, and we couldn’t be happier with the results for the most part.

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We have to ask – where on earth did you manage to find all that cardboard?

Both of us had different places that we were getting it from. Jesse got his from a grocery store, while I was getting mine from a mall, since they keep their cardboard compactors outside. Pretty easy actually. We estimated this would be one of the main costs of the video and it wound up being the one part of the video that was completely free.

You must have got some interesting reactions from the public while you were shooting.

Yeah, we’d get some odd looks from people and sometimes that would end up being the person who wore the words for that line. It’s like as soon as someone started pointing, they fell into the trap. We’d immediately try to get that person to do it. This is one of the reasons we believe the video wound up having charm to it. People were at work, going home, or just walking around and they became a part of this video we created.

“People were at work, going home, or just walking around and they became a part of this video we created.” – Lamar +Nik

One of the things we loved about the video was how much it came across as a labour of love. Could you estimate how much time it took altogether?

It was definitely a labour of love, we couldn’t have done it otherwise. Our love for the end product that was yet to come kept us going. I think in all it was probably about three months. Two months of that was making the words and then a month of shooting. We had to do everything around our work and school schedule.

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You’ve estimated that the video only cost about $80 to make. Were you very constrained by budget, or did the lack of using any CGI etc mean it naturally ended up such a frugal work?

We don’t like using techniques that we can’t deliver on and we feel like for CGI to be done right, you have to have the proper people to do them. We don’t have that. Beyond that though, we think that when you don’t have money for things it makes you more creative. You have to think outside the box and within your means. When something is done practically (no CGI) it’s more amazing. Our video would have not have had as big of an impact if it was just done on the computer and we hadn’t made any words. Since we’ve had to deal with no budgets on all our videos so far, we know how to stretch our own money. When we actually get a budget we’ll still use the same process, but we’ll be able to add things we couldn’t before. Even $1000 opens so many doors for us, I mean if we can make this video on $80 we can only imagine what we could create for 10K. It’s funny because a lot of people have stated the same thing on some of our videos. “$80? What’s going to happen if you guys get a budget?!”

Have you discovered any real no-go areas when approaching low budget video production?

“Most of those locations we just went in and filmed. Better to ask for forgiveness than for permission.” – Lamar + Nik

When we start on a video we ALWAYS make sure that it is possible for the two of us to complete by ourselves if need be. We can’t really acquire huge crews to assist us. We make it to where if we can get help it’s an addition to production, but not a necessity. There are also many places/businesses that really don’t want to be on camera. During this video we got kicked out of an alleyway because the security guard said that we couldn’t film the building. Most of those locations we just went in and filmed. Better to ask for forgiveness than for permission. Guerilla filmmaking at its best.

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Would you have any advice for any budding filmmakers out there?

“Don’t worry about money, ever. If you have an idea that you think the world is lacking, just make it happen.” – Lamar + Nik

As we’re still trying to make a name for ourselves we have a lot to learn as well, but one thing we strongly advocate is don’t worry about money, ever. If you have an idea that you think the world is lacking, just make it happen. I’d say that if anything, our videos are a testament to the fact that you do not need money to make a video happen. We haven’t once gotten on Kickstarter or any other fundraiser site to try and raise tens of thousands of dollars just to get our video going. If you feel strongly enough about an idea, you’ll make it happen, money or not. If you get money in the process or do a fundraiser as an afterthought, fine, but that shouldn’t be the first thing you go to and rely on. We see so many of our fellow student filmmakers and people in the filmmaking community asking for money first and then trying to make the project instead of just getting out there and doing it. It’s worked really well for us. We’re now receiving budget offers from labels and are in the process of making our first collaborative short film that will be fully funded. This was a possibility for us because we just went out and did it.

LUSHLIFEMAGNOLIA” [DIR. LAMAR+NIK] from LAMAR+NIK on Vimeo.