Indie Half-Life 2 miniseries with a budget of $500

Indie filmmakers have filmed the first two episodes of their new Half-Life-2-based miniseries for a total budget of $500. Now, that's an indie filmmaker budget! "Originally envisioned as a project to test out numerous post production techniques, as well as a spec commercial, it ballooned into a multi part series. Filmed guerrilla style with no money, no time, no crew, no script, the first two episodes were made from beginning to end on a budget of $500." You know what? It's not bad.

Half-Life 2 Short Film - Escape From City 17 (via Warren Ellis)

From the comments: Nylund sez, "Of course a small group of people filming guerilla style with no budget, no time, and no script aren't going to make something that actually rivals your favorite show/movie. That's comparing apples to oranges. But the discrepancy in resources dwarfs the difference in quality. It was done for a teeny fraction of the cost, but isn't really that much worse."


  1. Yaknow, I can’t say this strongly enough. It’s really important to get out of City 17.
    The crew in this video seem to have their priorities straight.

  2. I lost interest during the (too long) scene with the radio communications.

    And the Battlestar Galactica shake is way overdone. Trying too hard.

  3. I had to turn the volume down as my dog FREAKS OUT from the sound that the combine soldiers make as they die.

  4. Of course a small group of people filming guerilla style with no budget, no time, and no script aren’t going to make something that actually rivals your favorite show/movie. That’s comparing apples to oranges. But the discrepancy in resources dwarfs the difference in quality. It was done for a teeny fraction of the cost, but isn’t really that much worse.

    I’d wager that the producers of BSG couldn’t make something this good for only $500. Given the paltry resources, they did an incredible job.

    Give them a real budget, real crew, real writers, and better actors and this could be pretty bad ass.

  5. I don’t comment much, but I have to say, that video was really really impressive. I’d LOVE to see a 2 hour show on how exactly they made the thing, not because I would want to do it but just because it’s pretty interesting.

  6. Wow, I wasn’t expecting something that would look so good. Seems like $50K worth of visual effects, if this were done by a hollywood fx company. I think this is very impressive.

  7. I love this. And can’t wait to see more. At a time when the Indie-movie scene is eating itself its nice to see people with a smaller budget trying a completely different distribution technique and succeeding!

  8. This is amazing! It’s extremely well done, and I love the combination of the in-game captures with the real life filming. Two thumbs up for now.

  9. wow, I’m really impressed. To be honest, it rivals the low-budget movies you see on the Sci-fi channel any day. Where can I see more?

  10. What I love is that it appears they leveraged the assets Valve makes available to every developer. This is another example that doing something helpful for one group (in this case, game modders) inevitably assists other groups (in this case, these filmmakers).

    I’d be curious to see how they used HL2’s free dev kit, or if they didn’t, how they got such excellent models and animation.

    Finally, am I the only one reminded of Neill Blomkamp here?

  11. $500 budget is probably off the mark. I’m guessing that doesn’t cover the cost of cameras, microphones, computer hardware, and the hours spent.
    I know it’s a hobby, but people have to understand that a large part of a professional shows budget goes on paying people for their time and expertise, and these guys are good enough that their time doing this kind of thing could make them money.

    So yeah, they may only have spent $500 on costumes and toy guns, but that’s not what it cost to make.

  12. This is OUTSTANDING work. As a sound editor and videographer who sees a LOT of local indie low budget films, I can say this trumps 99% of what’s being produced today.

    I can also say there’s no way anyone can do this on a $500 budget, so I would say that claim is a total lie. Even if nobody got paid a dime, it takes an investment of at least $20,000 in production gear (cameras, dollies, microphones, etc.) and $20,000 in post-production gear (editing workstations, Final Cut Pro, After Effects, some animation software, etc.) to do something like this. Plus probably $500 to $2000 of props and costumes.

  13. I sure hope the filmmakers are reading this discussion.

    It’s awesome! I would totally watch the entire feature.

    (Of course I also think it’s the best video game I’ve ever played, so I’m biased….)

  14. there is no way this was made for 500 bucks. Are they including their equipment, travel costs, computer costs for the rendering times on those boss 3d animations? I think not.

    just your random producer and former production manager piping up to say that you are on CRACK if think that was their real budget.

  15. Well I wouldn’t say $500 is unreasonable, if you take into account they may already have all the production gear?

    I don’t know if studios add in the cost of all the equipment when it just gets recycled from movie to movie to movie, or set to set to set. Maybe not, maybe so? (Not in the movie business…)

    Reminds me of the HD real life models that were put up on boing probably about 2-3 years ago. They could have done something like that, combine the sdk and 3d modeling software and got some really nice stuff.

    The best part is the crowbar…and the mandatory flat line tone when a combine dies.

    If someone picked this up and turned it into an actual movie, I’d be there in a heartbeat. HL2 meets blair witch low budget… OH YES! (You’d just have to find a way to make freeman not look stupid in the HEV suit).

  16. Whatever the actual budget, there’s a lot of fancy eyewash here that doesn’t hide the fact that the actual filmmaking is pretty thin. Still, there’s potential. I’m pretty horrified by this as a potential pilot, but then everything on the SciFi Channel makes me run screaming in the other direction.

    It was hard to sit through the clip. I’m underwhelmed by the writing and the cinematography and the editing. Strip this of the little spaceships or drones or whatever they are, of that tubular atmospheric effect, and you’ve got a generic fan boy effort. No, that’s not fair. It is a better than average fan boy effort. But they aren’t there yet, no way, no how. And you do them no favors by telling them that they are, or that they are even close.

    Lots of folks are talking about how much this actually cost to make. It’s still peanuts. Consumers can make films very cheaply now. The budget for doing this in 16mm back in the day back when something like an Arriflex cost about the same as a house? No comparison.

    But it’s still all good. Because these guys can learn. This film took a lot of work. You don’t do that if you aren’t determined. And, if they’re any good at all, they’re cringing now as much as they are preening. They’ll look at their mistakes and strive to overcome them the next time. Maybe they’ll start paying more attention to films outside the genre and get down and dirty with the filmmaking. If nothing else, you know they’ve got the backbone to do it.

    It’s damn cool that technology has made this sort of thing affordable. More people can do it, which means a lot more crap, but also some gems, and some seeds like this one, that show potential.

    All this computer stuff, the media tools, the communication tools, the virtual reality stuff, it gets more and more amazing. I’m a little freaked out by the things I start to take for granted.

    And all the while, the natural world outside our doors is crumbling, and we’re too busy with our toys to bother to do anything about it.

  17. I thought this was very well done, and these guys definitely have a future. However, I would love to see a breakdown of their acutal budget, as I find it very difficult to believe that the whole thing cost 500 bucks total, from start to finish. CGI is an expensive game after all. I am reminded of guys like Rodriguez who marketed their films being made at x amount of dollars, when in reality, it cost twice as much in the end to get the product to the big screen.

  18. This is just fantastic! I like!

    But… “Indie filmmakers have filmed the first two episodes of their new Half-Life-2-based miniseries(…)” – where’s episode 2?

  19. Why does he use his crowbar? Because he’s got one! Everyone who watches a movie based on DOOM expects to see the shotgun, the chainsaw, and the BFG. And everyone who watches a movie based on HL2 expects to see the crowbar, the pistol, and the gravity gun.

  20. I always get annoyed by these ‘$500 budget’ film stories because they perpetuate a dangerous myth. How much you spend is NOT decoupled from the quality of the product because of digital workflow. Technology has driven down the cost of some aspects of film making but the realities are that to spool this level of production up from scratch would cost >$10k without including labor on camera gear, cpu, disk, props and consumables alone.

    This doesn’t even factor the costs of commercial software which, no matter HOW much we’d all rather was not *currently* better than FOSS tools in this space is, simply, necessary.

    The fact is, ALL creative endeavors of consequence should pay the talent involved. If the work is done ‘on spec’ an *honest* budget includes what their minimum take-away should be if money were there. You factor that and you can add three zeros to that 500 bucks.

    – Anonymous Coward

  21. To the people crying about how much the CGI must have cost:

    The movie is based on a game. A game with a robust mod-friendly engine that can let you set up entities and record the results quite easily. I’d say the cost of CGI for this was whatever the combined cost of HL2 and a screen capture utility was.

  22. In the context of what it is, something that the makers will never see a dime in direct returns for, it’s obviously a very good effort.

    Yet somehow it draws out those who wish to offer their ‘constructive criticism’ on the subject and it tends to come off as more of a thinly veiled attack screed written to knock the makers down a peg out of some disturbed need to remain a bit snooty, rather than any sort of attempt at criticism – certainly not constructive.

    It was enjoyable, not fantastic but in the context of what it is very enjoyable and I hope to see more of it. I could write some actual comprehensive critique but can’t be bothered; I suppose I’m just too easily entertained.

    (I liked that they stuck with the original sounds, especially for guns. HL2 has very unique gun sounds, maybe I’ve just heard a lot of them.)

  23. You know, given a few bucks, _anyone_ can make a ‘movie’ about two guys running around one set location, shooting and killing the bad guys, then throw in some footage from the game intro, there you have a ‘movie’. Some grunting, CGI, who need a script ?

    Even calling this a movie in a way is disrespectful of the really talented people who make REAL movies.

    It’s nice warm & fuzzy to think that if you can raise $28,000 from friends and family, work on the ‘movie’ for 9 months, and then hold a screening at the local bowling lanes.. it’s a cute slow-news day story. But will you ever make that $28,000 back? Have you broken new ground with your zombies-are-loose story? No, just maxed out your credit cards and still no calls from Hollywood.

  24. …they did this for fun.

    It is well done on a low-budget, probably one camera, one mic, special effects done using a game engine SDK readily available.

    #29 – “Even calling this a movie in a way is disrespectful of the really talented people who make REAL movies.”

    I equate this statement with something to the effect of ‘Calling anything written for NaNoWriMo is disrespectful of the really talented people who write REAL books.’

    It isn’t necessary to crush everyone’s dreams.

  25. This is incredibly impressive. No matter what budget it was created on.

    Not only are the effects quite seemless. But the actual action, one of the core aspects of the game, is captured very very well. I was especially impressed with the crowbar beatdown. So many things could have made this really silly, but these guys have made something fantastic.

    Can’t wait to see the other parts, and I can’t wait to see what Valve thinks of this. Put up some money Valve, you could have something very interesting on your hands.

    Christian Bale plays Gordon Freeman? Gary Oldman the professor? Or maybe just a City 17 cast with hints at Gordon the almighty.

    God I want to see this happen now.

  26. This thing is awesome. Doesn’t matter if it’s $500 or $1,000,000

    The only thing that needs work is the ADR and dialogue. The filmmaking is pretty damn great. The sense of place and the realness sucks you right in. The camera work is very effective, some of those shots of epic. And the action felt real. I wouldn’t call this shaky cam, this is handheld with a couple bumps here and there. Bourne Identity is shaky cam, this is closer to Children of Men. These guys are already pro for commercials, I’d bet they’ll be in Hollywood within 4 years.

  27. By the way:
    This actually appeared in a Steam (Valve’s game content delivery service) news update.

    I believe the words were ‘blown away.’

  28. The film makers did a decent job but let’s be realistic here, the budget was NOT $500. That figure completely ignores the cost of the camera, mics, editing/modeling/compositing software & computer hardware. These guys obviously already owned that stuff and know how to use it. The actual cost is more likely thousands of dollars to produce what basically amounts to an action trailer.

    Also, the “working without a script” part is painfully obvious. Explosions and special effects do not make a compelling story.

  29. @#29

    “You know, given a few bucks, _anyone_ can make a ‘movie’ about two guys running around one set location”

    No, they can’t. If “anyone” can make this, I’d be interested to see your animation/cinematography/production design/costume design reels. Or just any other evidence that you could produce something like this.

    For someone who’s so certain that we all possess these skills, your last paragraph makes you sound weirdly unambitious.

  30. This was really cool. It captured a lot of iconic elements of the game impressively (especially the crowbar!).

    I don’t get the people ragging on it. I don’t think the intentions of this project were more than to capture the right atmosphere, and make something that looked good (and it looks very very good).

  31. “This thing is awesome. Doesn’t matter if it’s $500 or $1,000,000”

    Matters to me. I am very inspired by what they did and think they have alot of talent, but as an industry professional, I am also genuinely curious to see their budget breakdown. I think there is alot to learn from these guys if they pulled that off with 500 bucks as that is an amazing feat.

  32. I wish we had the machinima tools to have done the whole thing in CGI. Red Versus Blue is fun, but… no faces, facial expressions, and the motion is pretty jerky. OK for a comedy, but you can’t do a film with a serious tone if all your characters walk all herky jerky and the only way to tell who is talking is by looking for the bobbing helmet.

    I tried Poser, way too complicated. Then somethign called “the movies”, way too simple. And I really don’t want to do machinima like Halo until someone can get a game engine that can be programmed somehow. Like you move the character around and it records the movements, and then you can somehow edit the movements rather than ahve to redo the whole scene.

    Oh, and it has to have unique faces for each character.

    I’ve got a couple of movie ideas, but I’ve been so disappointed by the CGI software that I don’t even bother looking anymore.

  33. It looks very good but I would agree that $500 obviously doesn’t cover the equipment and software costs, which would be significant. The also obviously leveraged millions of dollars of top-notch Valve HL2 production and story work which is conveniently available to developers. All of this to say that they have cleverly superimposed themselves on top of the real product, as if I cut and paste myself into Jurassic Park, running from a T-Rex.

    That said, HL2 is the most cinematic of all video games in my opinion and Children of Men (which is a great film) owes it a huge debt of gratitude for it’s overall tone and production design. it will be long discussed as a landmark in the emergence of computer games as a “real” art form.

  34. I think a lot of their $500 budget is due to the fact that bit torrent (for the compositing and editing software) and free time is, well, free. Almost all (all of?) their CGI is pre-rendered from the actual game and they made some smart decisions on location which helped. Not to say it’s bad, but if you break it down you can definitely see where they were able to cut corners without sacrificing quality.

  35. This is great for the amount of time / effort / budget put into it. One thing to keep in mind with the budget of this “flick” vs. bigger ones with large budgets: salaries. Making something on the side for fun on $500 is great, but the bigger budget stuff includes budget money to pay the crew for all of their time, something that this small group obviously doesn’t have to worry about.

  36. Wow this little movie evokes as strong emotions in me as playing the single player game. Humans and Vortigaunts unite! A universe without freedom must be fought against, the Universal Union must be subverted and defeated.

    Seems the critics are unfamiliar with Half Life 2 and how superbly the atmosphere is caught. This is no place for “good acting” or smooth lines delivered by script: Hollywood production qualities would completely butcher the meaning and authenticity of the imperfect (and alienate those inclined to be mesmerized by the Half Life saga).

    The episode obviously takes place straight after Gordon Freeman (the player in the game) has “won” and triggered the start of the self-destruction of the Dark Energy Reactor at the top of the Combine Citadel in the middle of City 17, which is why one hears the voice of world prison keeper/Universal Union global puppet dictator Wallace “Savior of Humanity” Breen ordering the evacuation of City 17 and it’s “patients”.

    It’s the story of surviving City 17 Human Resistance members trying to escape the Combine “evacuation”, the ongoing open warfare centered on the city, and the city itself before the DER blows.

    Players have had to escape City 17 and know what to expect and it does not lessen the thrill at all, players also know that City 17 has been in a state of open rebellion and warfare since they first escaped it because they fought their way back in through it all towards the end of the game with the help of the Human Resistance.

    Fantastic work, I would love to see it in better-than-flash quality. In the words of the transhuman Civil Protection and Overwatch members: “verdict administered”.

    P.S. I love the teaser at the end, always had a sweet spot for headcrabs (and thus headcrab zombies) and blond chicks, not necessarily in that order ^_^

  37. pretty boring actually. i just HATE lame CGI effects.

    people thing that by popping in some CGI, any clip automatically becomes great. but it’s not like that :D

    those idioits spent there 500 bucks to irritate thosands of people…well done.

  38. Whatever it “really” cost – I enjoyed it, and was impressed rather than disappointed. Looked like a much bigger production than it was. I think the key thing to consider is that the video was made with found material – someone probably had a video camera, computer, a few friends, obviously the game and game footage, probably even a couple of guns – yet these guys crafted it all into an enjoyable 5 minutes of footage. So yea the true raw cost was probably much more, but I won’t try and claim that posting this message cost $1600 because I was using my laptop.

  39. you could too do this for under $500.

    all the software from torrents.

    all the hardware (mics, cameras, laptops) from walmart or some other site with a generous no-questions-asked 30 day return policy. or from the university film school equipment library.

    time is free if you don’t pay yourself to do it.

    consumables like blood packs and blank rounds for the guns, plus beer and pizza for the cast and crew, and pot for the scriptwriters, might run under $500.

  40. That was freaking amazing for such a small budget, if this was a movie i would go out and see this anyday and buy the dvd after. nice work

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