Thirza writes on making Low Budget Video and Films

What follows is a short paper/manifesto on making low budget work which I presented earlier today at Out On Screen.


I was alone out there, on the plains. I was a lesbian teenager with no one to hump, where the hell were all the other teenage dykes? I was horny and lonely. I went to a queer youth group and hung out with the baby fags, and they taught me to stand proud and loud. I blossomed into a butch dandy, and was still alone. I went to the art house theatre by my underage self, and watched independent films all alone in the dark.

I wanted to see someone like me. I wanted to not be so alone.

My friend Christopher was putting together a Queer film festival, the first one for Saskatoon. It was held in the basement of the Mendel Art Gallery. He put out a call for workshop participants. Make a video in three days. I was game. I wanted to know where the fucking hell all the teenage dykes were. That was my quest. That was my video.

It was called Lessons In Baby Dyke Theory, because I was sixteen and so far it was all theory and no practice. I was and still am one of the most socially awkward people around, so I didn’t want to deal with a cast. I went to the hobby store. I bought pipe cleaners, a glue gun, some foam, and some googly eyes. I also didn’t want them to be white dollies, because I wasn’t all-white, so I made them green and purple, and blue. Some were butch and some were femme. I made a small studio out of a desk in my mother’s basement and spent a day on set, talking into the onboard microphone of a Hi-8 camera.

That was the first time. And when the credits rolled, the audience roared, and I started to not feel so alone.

The next video was about Colonization, and how all these white people were on television talking about aliens landing and putting things up their bums. I thought it was mainly a fear of the colonizer that the roles could be reversed. My alien was made out of a piece of foam core. My space ship was my gramma’s vegetable steamer.

I have since grown up, and yes I did eventually get to have sex with someone, at a queer film festival no less! Over the past decade I’ve made twelve videos and films, some with budgets, some without. My mantra is that you don’t need a million dollars to make a priceless tape. In fact, I believe that sometimes being on a limited budget and working within those constraints can foster a more creative tape. I’ve seen some pretty amazing low budget work that continues to resonate long after I’ve seen it. And I’ve seen bigger budget work that is in my mind pretty worthless and forgettable.

Mainly though, my motive was to tell stories, to tell my stories, to tell the things I thought about that I felt weren’t being addressed. Nowadays there’s a lot more media depictions of teenage dykes, but even so, they are usually white, usually femme.

I’ve had fairly positive responses to my work, I’ve been shown in galleries, on television, and in many festivals, both queer and experimental festivals. Sometimes I get shy about my work, because I do live on the poverty line and it shows in what I make. But that’s a class issue, and it’s something that is also a part of the message inherent in my work.

Some people think low-budget low-tech is good to start out with, but eventually you have to move to big budgets and wait for grants. I’m not of that ilk. I have received grants, and I’ve been denied grants, and either way if a story is bursting out of me I will find a way to make it. I’ve had my own hi-8 camera, and I’ve borrowed other people’s equipment. For a while Video In had a linear editing system that was really cheap to rent time on, and I used that for Untouchable. In camera editing is another trick I used for Bisexual Wannabe, all of which was shot in a one room apartment I lived in on 12th. I think it’s a shame when people wait around for someone to give them a grant.

Mostly though, what I want to say about low budget work is that it is where the revolution happens. I’ve been to swanky festivals where the privileged show their latest slick piece of crap, and for me that is the most boring environment ever.

I make videos because I was lonely, and I was sad, and I was tired of being lonely and sad and I knew somewhere out there were the rest of us. I make work because I don’t think people should be lonely because some mogul with the money doesn’t think a manic depressive halfbreed boi dyke is a good target market. I make work because somewhere out there someone else is lonely for different reasons, and I want them to feel inspired enough to tell their own story, something I wouldn’t have thought of, something that challenges me.

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