Producers Award honor the frugal

Filmmakers accomplish big things from tiny budgets

This year’s nominees in the Piaget-sponsored category are marvels of ingenuity, passion and the collective spirit:

Each one has discovered a close-knit community of filmmakers and found ways to make a succession of solid artistic movies for insanely low budgets.


(“I Sell the Dead,” “The House of the Devil”)

In 1997, Fessenden was hailed as Someone to Watch by the Spirit Awards for his fresh take on bloodthirsty romance “Habit.” Now, some 25 films later, in which he’s served in various producing capacities, the New Yorker is appropriately being touted for his work as a facilitator and organizer. “It takes so long to get an indie film made, so I just started encouraging others to stop waiting around on budgets and just to make movies,” he says. In 2003, his company Glass Eye Pix (“Wendy and Lucy”) initiated its genre banner, Scareflix, which has since spawned more than half a dozen titles and launched the career of Ti West, who went onto direct “The House of the Devil.” “I believe in community,” says Fessenden, “and that has resulted in going back to the same artisans again and again and building an alternative universe to the Hollywood machine.” Fessenden has several upcoming projects — both as a producer and director — many of which, he says, will help carry out his “mission to make art-horror.”

(“Beeswax,” “Nights & Weekends”)

Sokol lives a schizophrenic existence. She’s a die-hard low-budget filmmaker, dedicated to making movies that, as she calls them, “don’t necessarily read as commercially viable” — such as her collaborations with Andrew Bujalski (“Mutual Appreciation,” “Beeswax”) and Joe Swanberg (“Nights & Weekends”). And yet she’s also a prolific TV producer, cognizant of “making things mainstream and ‘poppy,’ ” for such shows as MTV’s hit reality series “16 and Pregnant.” Sokol got her start working for Errol Morris. In Boston, she befriended Bujalski and helped make his debut “Funny Ha Ha,” which convinced her to move into narrative producing. “So much of what we do is about asking our friends to help out with something and that morphs into a whole career,” she says. In addition to tackling the D.I.Y. distribution of “Beeswax” and her own directorial debut, “Sorry, Thanks,” Sokol is working with Bujalski on his next project. Moving forward, Sokol enjoys straddling art and commerce, and knowing, she says, “This is the six months where I don’t have to worry about how to make a living.”

(“The Exploding Girl,” “Santa Mesa”)

Chien’s first love was books. She studied English at Berkeley and comparative lit at Columbia U. but soon realized, she says, “You couldn’t build a career out of reading.” So she took her knowledge of storytelling as a training ground for producing. Since Greg Pak’s 2002 sci-fi romance “Robot Stories,” she’s completed another seven features, including the recent Philippines-set “Santa Mesa” and this year’s no-budget darling “The Exploding Girl,” made for less than $40,000 by director Bradley Rust Gray. “We made a decision to keep the production spare — everything had to fit into one cargo van — and then see what we came up with,” she says. Next up, she’s in prep with Gray on their long-in-the-works lesbian love story “Jack and Diane” and continues to run dGenerate Films, a nontheatrical distribution company devoted to Chinese indies. “It’s incredibly freeing to be around these Chinese filmmakers who are working under this oppressive regime and, in some ways, in total freedom,” she says. “That’s the kind of freedom we felt on ‘Exploding Girl.'”