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5 Successful DSLR Feature Films


Image taken from “Diamond Flash” 

The word “success” means different things to different people. So in this blog post by Lights Online Film School we’ve showcased 5 different feature films (and one documentary) that were shot on DSLRs that have seen some type of success. The success may have been financial, it may have been a favourable distribution deal or it could have been critical acclaim of some sort.

Similarly, the films we’ve profiled below were all indie features produced for less than $500,000. There are other films shot on DSLRs (Fantastic Mr. Fox, Act of Valor, Corpse Bride etc) that were all successful films, but their budgets are out of reach for most indie filmmakers. So we tried to keep our list more independent minded.

5. Diamond Flash

What we liked about Diamond Flash was that this indie feature film was beautifully shot on the Panasonic Lumix GH2. We consider this film a success simply because it managed to use affordable DSLR video technology to shoot a breathtaking film. This film has the technical finesse you would expect to find on a much larger scale film: Strong images, beautiful sound design and great acting to name only a few highlights.

Film synopsis

Violeta is determined to do whatever it takes to find her missing daughter. Elena keeps a strange secret. Lola wants to settle differences with her past. Juana needs someone to love her unconditionally and without questions and Enriqueta is just looking for someone to make her laugh. These five women have something in common; they’re all connected to Diamond Flash, a mysterious character who will change their lives forever. This enigmatic story line hardly encapsulates the framework of an unclassifiable film, probably one of the most eccentric pieces in Spanish cinema in recent years. And when words aren’t enough, the maxim is clear: Diamond Flash is something that deserves to be seen.

Film Trailer

4. Tiny Furniture

We classified Tiny furniture as a successful DSLR film for many reasons. Not only was it added to the Criterion Collection roster of films, picked up for a distribution deal by IFC and won two prestigious awards at SXSW. But the director of Tiny Furniture, Lena Dunham, was also chosen as one of the “25 new faces” by Filmmaker Magazine. On top of all of this success, the writer / director landed a deal with HBO to direct the hit series “Girls”.

Tiny Furniture was shot using the Canon 7D on a very low budget (most sources are saying below $50,000). The first draft of the scrip for Tiny Furniture was written quickly over a few days. When they had the script ready to shoot, they made the decision to use the 7D and they shot over the course of a few weeks.

The decision to use the 7D was a financial one. Their editor owned the camera and the DP (Jody Lipes) liked the low light capabilities. The only problems she stated they had with it was the ability to pull focus. But for that they hired a focus puller (Joe Anderson) and the rest is history!

Film synopsis

22-year-old Aura returns home to her artist mother’s TriBeCa loft with the following: a useless film theory degree, 357 hits on her Youtube page, a boyfriend who’s left her to find himself at Burning Man, a dying hamster, and her tail between her legs. Luckily, her trainwreck childhood best friend never left home, the restaurant down the block is hiring, and ill-advised romantic possibilities lurk around every corner. Aura quickly throws away her liberal-arts clogs and careens into her old/new life: a dead-end hostess job, parties on chilly East Village fire escapes, stealing twenties out of her mother’s Prada purse, pathetic Brooklyn “art shows,” prison-style tattoos done out of sheer boredom, drinking all the wine in her mother’s neatly organized cabinets, competing with her prodigious teenage sister, and desperate sex in a giant metal pipe. Surrounded on all sides by what she could become, Aura just wants someone to tell her who she is.

Film trailer

3. Hell and Back Again

Hell and back again is a feature length documentary that won the Grand Jury Prize as well as the prize for Cinematograhy at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. The film was directed by Danfung Dennis who, as a photojournalist, worked beside the US Marines Echo Company in Afghanistan. The documentary was shot on the Canon 5D Mark II.

Documentary Synopsis

What does it mean to lead men in war? What does it mean to come home? Hell and Back Again is a cinematically revolutionary film that asks and answers these questions with a power and intimacy no previous film about the conflict in Afghanistan has been able to achieve. It is a masterpiece in the cinema of war.

Documentary Trailer

2. For Lovers Only

For lovers Only is a feature length narrative film written and directed by the Polish Brothers. This no-budget romance film stars Stana Katic and Mark Polish. The filmmakers shot the film on the Canon 5D Mark II over 12 days and then opted for an online distribution strategy using social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to get the word out about their film. The film uses virtually no artificial lighting and since the Canon 5D Mark II is so small they didn’t ask for permission to shoot in many of their locations. Most people just thought they were shooting a wedding video or taking stills.

After they released the film it went onto rank #2 in iTunes in the romance category, #4 in the independent film category and it even made it to the top 100 of all movie rentals and downloads. The film has topped $500,000 in earnings.

Film synopsis

FOR LOVERS ONLY is a story of a MAN and a WOMAN in love. After seeing each other for the first time in years while on separate work assignments in Paris, the LOVERS flee together and travel by train, car and motorcycle, as their love affair takes them across France—from Normandy to St. Tropez. Throughout their trip, both characters experience long periods of carefree bliss and unrepentant joy punctuated by brief moments of guilt and confusion. The final outcome of the affair is left open to interpretation.

Film trailer

1. Like Crazy

If you thought $500,000 was impressive, take a look at “Like Crazy” which had a budget of $250,000 but was then purchased for 4 million by Paramount after winning the Grand Jury Prize at last years Sundance Film Festival. This film was shot on a PL mounted Canon 7D with cinema lenses.

Film synopsis

Anna and Jacob fall instantly in love when they meet as students at an L.A. university. But Anna is British and when graduation approaches, Anna decides to stay and violate her student visa rather than returning to England. After a visit home, she is then unable to return to the United States. While fighting customs and immigration battles, Anna and Jacob must decide if their relationship is worth the distance and the hardship.

Film trailer

Have you shot a feature documentary or narrative fiction film on a DSLR? Let Lights Online Film School blog readers know in the comments below!


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7 Responses to 5 Successful DSLR Feature Films

  1. Paul g newton June 7, 2012 at 12:00 am #

    We film short comedy and fiction all the time with a Sony A77. Even more to come in the future! We have three working scripts that should be out in the next month. Catch them on you tube and Vimeo. http://Www.youtube.com/user/paulgnewton

  2. Shawn Whitney June 30, 2012 at 12:56 pm #

    We just finished a 12 day shoot of a narrative sci-fi comedy feature called A Brand New You on a Nikon D7000 (sometimes using two simultaneously). We actually wanted to shoot on the D800, which is full frame versus the crop frame of the D7000 but getting your hands on a D800 is a bit of an adventure. So, instead of switching over to unfamiliar Canon gear we decided to go with the D7000 and just make sure that we were conscious of lighting because of the limited dynamic range of the camera. Our DP, Alex Lisman, does a lot of documentary work for unions and social movement so he’s used to working with limitations and at high speed – as well as pulling his own focus (a thing to behold tbh). Based on the dailies he got some really nice stuff. The footage is en route to our editor on the other side of the country, Greg Ng.
    Our budget was extremely limited – about $20K – but we tried to invest it wisely: professional actors, quality sound, an excellent and experienced editor with a love of indie film, etc.

    You can check out our daily production diary on our blog.

  3. Ivan August 5, 2012 at 9:18 pm #

    My first feature length movie “Too Tall” was shot with a Canon 7d.
    It is now in post production, hoping to be done by the end of the year.

    http://www.tootallmovie.com

    http://www.facebook.com/tootallmovie

    Thanks

  4. Jarvis Love August 21, 2012 at 8:03 pm #

    We shot a very cool and controversial film with 3 DSLRs recently, were in post now, and looking for distribution.

    Here is the link to the Trailer
    https://vimeo.com/42159481

    A company comprised of women with the winning recipe of beauty, brains, and a business license to kill. For 10years the company has remained virtually invisible using its interior design services to mask its true nature. Its business as usual, but an act of recklessness threatens to jeopardize the organization, leaving a trail of tears for one inquisitive detective.

  5. Aminu Shariff October 17, 2012 at 5:22 pm #

    I recently finished a 15 minutes documentary title ‘Life of a young refuse collector’. Now it is on post production stage, using Canon 1100D. Everything was superb… Can’t believe it!

  6. Derry April 7, 2013 at 6:34 am #

    Hi,
    This is a film Hao. Pictures shot using the Canon 600D: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BVQGwnc8U8Y

    We shot it over 3 days. What do you think?

  7. Jet January 31, 2014 at 2:49 am #

    Great article. Awesome movies. I saw most of them already. I made two feature-length films in the last 2 years. Both using the Canon 7D, Canon T3i, and Panasonic GH13.

    NOWHERE JOHNNY —

    trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bDTqeglcTHY

    FULL movie: http://www.indiereign.com/video/nowhere-johnny

    PUNCH ME HARD –

    trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGnuHQRMhJ4

    in consideration for festivals at the moment.

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