5 Successful DSLR Feature Films

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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