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Putting dreams on film – cheap

Got $20,000? Even $5,000? You can make a movie on a shoestring budget

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For years, Tampa, Fla., truck driver and movie buff Joe Casey dreamed of stepping out of his 18-wheeler and behind a camera, and yelling "action!"

In his spare time, he says, he would troll film conventions and pitch screenplay ideas to anyone who would listen: roadside diner waitresses, other drivers – or his confidant and pet dog, Rags.

"I'll write wherever I am – whether it's at McDonald's or Hooters," Mr. Casey says.

His vision came to fruition last February when he took a week off, hired a cast of local actors, and shot his self-financed $5,000 sci-fi opus, "We're Coming To Help." A cross between "12 Angry Men" and "Close Encounters," it was filmed in a hotel conference roomover a hectic three days.

Despite the enormous setbacks novice filmmakers face, Casey and countless others are finding that it's never been easier – or more affordable – to make a movie. Thanks to inexpensive digital-video technology and Internet access, more would-be Spike Lees are writing scripts, then shooting and promoting their films directly to the public online or through networking.

"It's power to the people," proclaims veteran screenwriter- director Mark Malone, who has worked in the independent and Hollywood studio systems. "Anyone with an Apple G-4 [computer and a digital video camera] can make a movie. You can edit on a home computer."

To be sure, few of these novice attempts ever get widely distributed or turn a profit. For instance, at the Sundance Film Festival, a premier promoter of independent films, only 200 movies of 4,000 submitted for screening are shown to potential American distributors. Getting viewed at less-prestigious festivals is also a big challenge.

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