When we're trying to come up with a big idea, we usually wish we had more--more people, more money and especially more time.

But two successful Hollywood directors have discovered that having less actually frees them to take greater risks and achieve more imaginative, innovative results.

In fact, at this point, even if the directors--Steven Soderbergh and M. Night Shyamalan--were offered massive budgets and expansive timelines, they wouldn't take those deals.

Shyamalan cuts the budget

M. Night Shyamalan has had some breakthrough successes (Sixth Sense) and some notable failures (The Last Airbender) and all of his experience has taught him one lesson: Do more with less.

In fact, he believes that smaller budgets can result in better (and more successful) movies. Shyamalan's latest release, Glass, which was made for $20 million, has so far grossed $246 billion worldwide.

"The beauty of making it smaller," says Shyamalan in a New York magazine interview, is that "the threshold for success is so low."

Looking back on his career,  Shyamalan says he prefers his current stay-lean-and-keep control approach.  

Sixth Sense was made for around $40 million. "Give me ten million more dollars, it doesn't make Sixth Sense a better movie," says Shyamalan. "In fact, I could argue it could make it a less effective movie. I would advise all filmmakers: Make the movie for the least amount of money you can possibly make the movie for."

The creative upside of a small budget? "It allows me to do whatever I want. Cast whomever, crew whomever, shoot it however, reshoot however, don't shoot whatever. Take huge risks."

Soderbergh travels light

Steven Soderergh, whose films--including Erin BrockovichTraffic and Magic Mike--have earned seven Oscars and grossed more than $2.2 billion, has taken Shyamalan's reduction approach to an even greater extreme

Soderbergh's latest release, High Flying Bird, was shot on iPhones--and the first edit was completed in just a few weeks.  

He started his fast-paced technique when making the 2014-2015 series The Knick. "The Knick demanded another gear," Soderbergh says in a New York magazine interview. "We all got into that rhythm. I don't know how to get out of it."

Writes New York magazine's Brian Raftery: "The slimmed-down approach allowed the small cast and crew to travel around Manhattan with relative ease. There were no trailers to park on High Flying Bird. Nor were there arduous rigs to set up: Soderbergh prefers natural lighting -- though he'd occasionally use a single LED panel -- and opted not to rent bulky equipment.

"The fact that we're not carrying a dolly on High Flying Bird means I don't need a truck," Soderbergh says. "I don't need two people to move it around. I don't need all of the supporting material. That stuff adds up."

The result of this approach is that Soderbergh can work fast and move quickly from one project to the next. "I like to keep it lean and mean," he says. And creative: Often "we make it up as we go along."

Published on: Mar 24, 2019
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