Movie-making is an expensive hobby. There’s a reason that there is so much discussion and controversy in Hollywood about privilege, diversity, and opportunity: the cost of filmmaking is so much that often only the rich and connected can afford to get a foot in the door.
While that’s still largely the case in most of the industry, the advent of more affordable consumer cameras created something of an opportunity for ADJECTIVE-minded directors to be. Films like Medicine For Melancholy or The Puffy Chair kickstarted careers and still managed to come in under $15,000.
What’s to stop you from doing the same? All you need is a little guidance on how to make it happen. Read on, and we’ll walk you through how to make a movie of your own on a shoestring budget.
Don’t Make the Movie
You read that correctly. Don’t make this movie. Walk away.
Making a movie is an incredibly challenging task. It will take nearly all your free time for months and months to come in order to complete your film. You’ll have to ask countless heavy favors from friends and family, clear your bank account to afford the various needs and costs, and still might be disappointed by the final product.
Making movies is very, very hard and there’s a reason so few people are successful at it.
Still here? Still interested in making your film? Good. That’s the determination and confidence you’ll need to make your film happen. Everything can and will go wrong when making a film. So the first thing you’ll need to do is be able to steel yourself through the urge to give up or call it quits.
Write What You Know
There’s one major key to low-budget filmmaking, and that’s to right within your means. If you only have a few thousand dollars to make your film, you better not be trying to put that money towards some kind of space sci-fi epic.
Maybe you knew that already. But it’s hard to stress just how small you should be thinking: if you only have a small sum of money, you likely won’t be able to afford to make a movie about anything besides a small handful of people talking in a few easy to access locations.
Want to keep your budget low? Write your script with this in mind. What locations do you already have access to, for free? Your apartment, your office, your uncle’s farm, public parks, and beaches… if you write with these places in mind, it’ll make your shoot that much easier.
Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. For example, movies like Unfriended or Searching were made entirely on computer screens. If you know how to record video on Mac, you could even do something similar.
On a similar note: have a few friends who you think have an interesting presence? Write roles for them in the film. Your friends are much more likely to commit their time and effort for free to a project than any professional actor will.
Try to get something on the page that you could go shoot tomorrow with little to no effort. You’ll still probably run into issues, but you’ll have at least made them as manageable as possible.
Break the Rules
Many first time filmmakers make the mistake of trying to mimic or emulate what works for the big shots. Maybe you’ve read how a professional set works, and you’re familiar with the positions and the proper working process.
Let that information go: it won’t serve you and you won’t need it. If you attempt to run your set the same way people with millions of dollars run theirs, you’ll run out of money fast.
Instead, try to think smart. Don’t let anyone tell you there’s a way something ‘has to be done.’ No-budget filmmaking is 90% creative problem-solving, and you’ll have to think your way around doing things in unconventional ways.
The most obvious of these methods? The size of your crew. While normal movie crews can extend into the hundreds, your crew will likely consist of somewhere between five and ten committed individuals. The more committed the better– they’ll probably be working for free.
Don’t Underestimate Post Production
It’s easy to focus all your attention and budget on the making of the film itself. But if you fail to plan ahead for your editing and finishing process, you might become one of the many filmmakers with an unfinished film sitting on their hard drives.
Editing is insanely more time-consuming than the actual production of your film. It can also be more expensive. There are some costs that you just won’t get around in making your movie. These include the costs of proper sound mixing, color, and creating a DCP, which can cost a few thousand dollars.
Failure to budget for these costs can leave your movie stuck in limbo. So can failing to create a proper post-production schedule. Don’t underestimate the hours and hours of work it can take to finish editing a film. If you don’t find a way to work this task into your schedule in a concrete way, there’s a good chance that the movie will never be finished.
How to Make a Movie on a Budget
Movies can be terribly difficult to make even if you have all the money in the world. So if you’re trying to make one for near-nothing, you’ve got a challenge ahead of yourself. The above tips can help you learn how to make a movie on a shoestring budget.
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Last Updated on February 3, 2021.