As filmmakers, we all wish that we had huge sums of money to throw at our projects. This is rarely going to be the case, however, especially for aspiring filmmakers. We need to cut our teeth by creating films on a shoestring budget. With that in mind, we’re going to show you how to film a low budget movie with the best ways to save money, the most efficient ways to spend money, and what you can do to make it look like you’ve spent lots of money on your film. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to deal specifically with how you can do this on a short film.
Low budget movie production requires you to think carefully about the type of story you want to tell; an effects-heavy action or sci-fi film is going to be much more expensive to produce than a kitchen sink drama with only a couple of characters, for example. How to film a low budget movie ideas can be hard to come up with, but you’d be surprised by how empowering strict limitations can be for your creativity. Once your budget-friendly script is written, you need to know how best to spend your limited money. The areas you really need to focus on are casting, crew, locations, production design, and equipment.
Here are some tips to squeeze every inch of value out of your pennies:
If you don’t have any actor friends willing to help out, then the most budget-friendly way to cast your film is to contact actors yourself on websites such as Mandy. This removes the need to pay a casting director, and you can also request self-tapes from actors to save you hiring a physical space to hold auditions. Alternatively, in this post-Covid world, you could always hold zoom casting sessions. There’s plenty of inexperienced actors out there who are willing to take a smaller rate in order to get showreel material. I don’t advocate people working for free so you should aim to pay at least minimum wage.
Crew fees take up a significant portion of a film budget. The best way to minimise this when doing low budget filmmaking is to simply use as small a crew as you can get away with (without compromising on-set safety of course!). Similar to actors, many crew will happily offer a discounted rate for a passion project. It’s worth taking this into account when finding your crew. If you feel like you might need more hands on set, then turning to friends and family can be a low-cost way of getting the help you need.
Sometimes it’s not possible to shoot a film exclusively in your own home. If this is the case, then reaching out directly to locations will allow you to save on agency fees and negotiate a more favourable deal. Websites such as Airbnb and Gumtree can be a great way to find cheap locations to shoot your project. When looking for locations, it’s best to find somewhere close to where the cast and crew are based. This saves on travel costs. It’s also beneficial to find a space that doesn’t require any additional art direction or set-dressing, otherwise, you may need to hire it for more days to accommodate this, as well as paying your crew for additional prep time. Knowing how to make a low budget movie look professional is a skill in itself. Finding great looking locations with amazing natural light can be a great way to do this.
If you’re lucky enough to be working with an experienced production designer or art director, who will likely have good relationships with prop houses, then you could get good deals on any props or set decorating materials needed for your film. However, since you’re working on a shoestring budget, you may not even have a dedicated production designer at all. If this is the case, then a very cheap (although time-consuming) alternative, is to buy and return items online. Amazon is your best friend here. They stock a huge amount of items, and have a pretty relaxed returns policy (although it’s worth checking this for yourself though to make sure it’s going to work for your specific circumstances). In the past, I’ve managed to deck out whole locations for a net spend of £0.
If you’re unable to work with friends or family members who own filmmaking equipment, then the next best option would be working with crew that do. Hiring a DoP that has their own camera equipment will almost always be cheaper than going to a rental house. You don’t want to exploit their generosity though, so it’s best to offer them a higher rate if they’re bringing their own kit.
Luckily for the hard-up filmmaker, if your DoP doesn’t have their own equipment, then rental houses will often do you a good deal if they know that the budget is tight. Some rental houses even offer student discounts for this reason. If you’re savvy, you can also maximise your time with hired equipment if you schedule your shoot on a weekend. Rental houses will often charge a one-day rental for a shoot on a Saturday, but if they’re closed on Sunday’s (as many are), then you can squeeze an extra day’s usage out of the kit before returning it on Monday. Websites such as Fat Llama are also good places to check for cheap rental deals on film equipment.
Can you still make a film without any money at all? Of course! If you find yourself in a position where you don’t even have a shoestring to work with, then you just need to turn our earlier tips up to 11. You’ll likely have to do everything yourself, from writing, directing, shooting, editing, and even possibly acting (if you’re not able to reel your friends and family members in to help!). A script written with a firm understanding of your limitations will also be your biggest ally. Try and come up with an idea that revolves around one or two characters and is set in a single location (preferably a house). The shorter the script, the cheaper it will be to produce.
‘What if I don’t have any camera equipment?’ – well, luckily for us, we live in the 21st century; everyone’s phone now doubles up as a camera (in 2015, the film Tangerine was nominated for numerous awards after being shot on an Iphone!). There are even free apps that allow you to adjust your camera’s settings, such as ProMovie Recorder.
There you have it! Your guide on how to make a short film with no money, or a very low budget. You should now have all the information on how to film a low budget movie and feel ready to go out there and start shooting, regardless of how much (or how little) money you have. So, what are you waiting for? Write that script, jump on Mandy, grab that Iphone, and turn your living room into a movie set! No excuses! Good luck.
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