Wanting to make a film and have absolutely no money or crazy expensive equipment? Wondering how you can get any of it done without a large budget? I am telling you it can be done. I made an incredible short film with a full cast, and on an extremely tight budget. Here’s how I made a film with little money, and you can too:
WRITE THE FILM YOURSELF: I know its easy for me to tell you to write the film yourself, but I promise you, you can do it! If for some reason you feel as though you can’t, then connect with a friend you trust and have them be your writing partner. As someone who works best alone, I prefer to write all of my material. Writing with a partner is an awesome way to bounce ideas and character content off of another person. Your writing partner can help you hone in on your films message.
MATCH YOUR BUDGET TO YOUR SCRIPT: I have several big budget screenplays written that I cannot make on my own. Meaning the scripts do not match my personal budget. Instead of only focusing on pitching/selling my big budget screenplays to a studio, I wrote a short film I knew would fit within my budget. Whether it is a short or full length feature, make sure that your budget matches your script. It’s important to create a film within your budgetary means so that it will be seen by the audience at its best. You do not need to spend thousands of dollars to make your film.
PREPARE YOUR SHOT LIST/LOCATIONS: You’ve written your script and feel like you’re ready to shoot it. Gather your shot list first. What scenes are you going to film and in what order depends on your budget as well. For my short film, In This House, I was able to use my parents home to film the entire thing. I purposely integrated the house into the script and made the home its own character. Figure out where you are going to shoot your film and create a calendar that reflects which scene(s) you will be filming. Factor in the time of day, amount of people needed and time it takes to get back and forth between each location as well. Hit up friends and family members to use locations i.e. their house/backyard/pool etc. so you do not have to pay location fees.
GATHER YOUR FILMING GEAR: No matter what your budget is you will need something to shoot your film with. If you can buy a new camera, that’s great. Do not feel as though you have to buy an expensive camera to get your film made. My first webseries I shot with a Canon camcorder camera. I also shoot youtube videos with my iPhone, and bought a Canon Rebel T6 to shoot my short film, In This House.
Camera equipment can also be rented for reasonable prices as well. Make sure you add lighting (amazon has great budget friendly lighting kits), microphones and any backdrop gear you may need to your budget as well. For my short film I used the microphone on my camera and on my iPhone to record sound. The sound came out so well, especially when we shot outside. This was a free and budget friendly option. TIP: don’t forget your tripod. You will need one.
ASSEMBLE YOUR CAST: Here’s where budgeting can also become really tricky. How do you cast actors? Do you pay them? Heck, can you afford to pay them! As an actor, I cast actors I had previously worked, and developed relationships with. I also worked for one week straight with no days off so that I could afford to pay them when making my recent short film. In 2014 I made my webseries To Live & Date in LA. During that time I could only afford to pay two of the actors, and still had hundreds of actors apply to fill the roles. Pay them if you can, and if you cannot, let them know that up front. Most times, the actors are understanding and will work with you.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT CRAFT SERVICES: Craft services are a must for every set and do not have to break your budget. For my latest film I went to the grocery store and purchased fruits, pita chips, hummus, snack bars, water, and juices all on sale. For all my shoot dates I created charcuterie boards filled with fruits and veggies. I made baked goods, lasagna and pasta salad. My food budget was very inexpensive, and yours can be too. Being able to splurge for catering is ideal, but oftentimes we have to be creative when all the expenses are coming out of our own pockets. TIP: Head to the 99 Cent Store for cutlery/cups/napkins, and drinks/snacks.
WHO IS DOING HAIR/MAKEUP/WARDROBE: The best thing about actors is that most of us know how to do our own hair and makeup. When I made my first webseries I did the actors hair/makeup every day, and even fitted them out with clothes and accessories from my closet. For my short film I instructed the actors on what colors/styles their characters would wear and asked them to bring in clothes that matched the characters descriptions. The actors happily obliged and I adjusted accordingly. For hair I made sure to be specific with the child actors parents and adjusted that as well on their day of filming. This is a huge budget saver since most of us cannot afford to have professional makeup artists come on set…yet.
EDITNG: Editing can kill your budget, but doesn’t have too. If you don’t have the money to pay for an editor, then you need to teach yourself how to edit. Don’t be afraid, you can learn easily and fast if you use iMovie. iMovie is super simple and while it does not come with all the bells and whistles other editing software does it can get the job done. You can always find tutorials on YouTube for free as well. If you want the bells and whistles but don’t have that jingle jangle money…then you can always sign up for a free trial using the more expensive editing software. TIP: do not sign up for a free trial until after you are done with all production on your film and ready to edit.
Sign up for a free trial for that super fancy editing software, buckle down and edit your film. If you find editing overwhelming reach out on social media to find help. I used a new editing software via free trial and was having a hard time, so I reached out to an editor (via Instagram) and explained I am editing my film, and struggling with just a few things. She charged me $20 for a consultation. Meaning, she pointed out in my film the scenes where I needed to adjust certain aspects and would rewatch/virtual consult for $20 each time.
EXTRAS: Make sure you have NDA’s signed by all actors and/or the actors parents. You do not need to spend money on an attorney. NDA’s can easily be found and downloaded online, but make sure to adjust them to your production. Add in the actors names, role titles, film name, fees and permission to use their likeness. Don’t forget to have provisions for fees that may be a factor after production including if actors will be paid upon you selling/winning prize monies/monetizing your film.
Budget for film festival entry fees if you can, and utilize social media to promote your film. Create lists of items, and download call sheet templates online for free. Take pictures of wardrobe/hair each day for continuity purposes. Have a safety plan incase an actor is hurt on set, which includes knowing where the nearest emergency/urgent care is to your location. You got this! Feel free to reach out with any questions in the comment section below.
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