Any way you cut it, making a film is difficult. It’s even more difficult when you have no money. Yet every year, while Hollywood churns out blockbusters with budgets larger than the GNP’s of some Third World countries, filmmakers with no money find a way to get their movies made. If you’re passionate enough and lucky enough, you can too.
Understand that there’s a huge difference between low budget and micro-budget movies. Low budget films can range anywhere from $150,000 up to a few million. That’s great if your brother-in-law just won the lottery, but for the rest of us, we’re dealing with films scrounged out for a few thousand dollars and credit cards. One similarity between the two is that both start with a script.
Make sure your script has a limited number of locations and characters. Look around for settings you know you can use for free. Ask friends or relatives if you can shoot on their property. Be creative. Your script should avoid special effects and extreme weather conditions integral to the story. Set your story in the present day and try to limit stunts. List things you know you have access to, and keep them in mind as you write your story. Try to limit your story to 90 pages maximum rather than the standard two-hour, 120 page script.
Shoot in 16mm and emphasize visuals so you can shoot as much as possible without syn ch sound. You can find great deals on wind-up cameras such as the Krasnogorsk K 3. Not only will you save money, but you’ll wind up with a more cinematic film. Limit crew to just the essentials. Everyone, and I mean everyone, will need to pull double and triple duty. Shoot long days – 18 hours or more. Be creative with your camera, but avoid complex set ups and long takes as much as possible. Use a student ID, yours or someone else’s, to buy film stock at student rates.
Beg, borrow, call in favors. If possible, shoot days to avoid having to use a lot of lights. Bounce cards can be made from poster board or foam-core that you can find at office supply stores. Car sunshades make great reflectors. Once again, you must be creative. If you’re shooting car interiors at night, mount a piece of cardboard loaded with Christmas lights in the ceiling of the car. Use car headlights, or worklights easily found at building supply stores to light your sets. I once used a Frisbee as a light filter because it gave lush, warm skin tones. Try not to skimp on sound, people will forgive grainy images but tend to balk at poor sound.
No one will get paid upfront on a micro-budget film, but you can use deferments. Be aware that volunteers are often unreliable, and be prepared for no-shows. Some props and wardrobe can be bought and returned, or sold in a production “yard sale” to cast and crew. But in reality, you should avoid spending money on anything except film and equipment. Film shoot usually provide food, and feeding a large crew can get expensive. Try to find a family member who can cook and make simple meals. Spaghetti and other homemade foods will save money in the long run.
You will most likely edit on video, but if you’re cutting film, edit during off hours. Find friends or local bands who will work for free to provide a musical score. Put up flyers at local colleges that have music programs to find a composer for your film.
Go to www.withoutabox.com for a thorough list of film festivals to showcase your film. You will want to screen your film for investors to attain the money necessary to blow up the film to 35mm and do your final sound mixing. Call up small theater chains and “four wall” your picture. Chances are you’ll need to find heaters with digital projection. Pack the place with family and friends and bring in investors.
DV vs. Film
Whenever possible, shoot on film. It gives legitimacy to your production, and tells distributors and festivals that you are a real filmmaker.
Lastly, with unlockmytv you get an ultimate app that you can use in order to make a great micro-budget movie on your own. This app will help in with every step of the movie making process so that you get a hassle free and seamless experience.