“Evacuate City-17 at once — if not sooner.”

It’s started. Once the domain of big-budget productions, cheap computers (and even open-source tools) now offer more than enough power to enable indie productions to imagine special effects. The remaining gaps: talent and skill. That’s why people actually shouldn’t be surprised that it’s possible to make a slick-looking sci-fi creation on a shoestring. “$500 budget”? Well, absolutely. Of course, what that doesn’t include is the incalculable, unpaid labor that went into production – the part that increasingly is the budget, now that you don’t need pricey film stock just to shoot or high-end workstations or even expensive lights.

The Purchase Brothers have entered the moody world of the game Half-Life 2 with their widely-circulated video Escape from City-17. It’s the first part, and while it isn’t perfect, I think there is some real imagination in it. For sci fi fans disappointed by cancellations and diminishing returns on productions, it means that, in the long view, there’s hope for all kinds of work. And I have no doubt that these creators could transform those 1.5 million YouTube views into some actual sales — wouldn’t you buy an on-demand series you liked at a reasonable price? Wouldn’t you hire a talented team if you had a job to do? Not to harp on the sci-fi thing, but it’s always been a place where people imagine new stuff, and there have always been fans. Shows like Farscape and Firefly have faced network cancellation, but the next generation of shows could do better online.

Via Indie Half-Life 2 miniseries with a budget of $500 – Boing Boing [Cory Doctorow]

Some observations:

  • As my sister always reminds me, NYPD Blue, not Galactica, popularized shaky cameras.
  • Maybe they actually just didn’t spend money on tripods.
  • Ways Valve is not George Lucas: they flew the guys to their HQ instead of suing them. Heck, yeah. I expect to see this on Steam in six months.
  • All kinds of amazing work is possible with five hundred bucks. I think this stuff is really young. Hope that bandwidth costs continue to come down, and don’t instead reverse course (which, because servers run on electricity, is unfortunately possible).
  • It can’t be overstated: you have to keep your server up. The revolution will only come if we can get creative people solid servers. You might have to brush up on simple server admin in addition to learning special effects, sorry to say.

For a better view of this, try the download HD YouTube bookmarklet. It causes a small link to appear below the embed info. Flash choked on HD fullscreen on my Ubuntu box, but a quick download made it run silky-smooth in Totem. (Cough, Adobe, cough.)

More details from the creators:

Directed by The Purchase Brothers.

The Escape From City 17 short film series is an adaptation based on the Half Life computer game saga by Valve Corporation. 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 guerilla 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.

Additional Notes:

Valve flew the team out to Seattle last year, and the brothers have been in communication with them since.

David and Ian Purchase are commercial directors represented by Sons and Daughters in Toronto. They are working on an unannounced feature film. Not HL related.

They have been huge fans of HL since the days of “ivan the space biker’

Represented for commercials at

After getting purchasebrothers.com back online. It has now crashed a second time due to high traffic. Getting it back up… again. To contact us email at this temp addess: