Learning how to make a film doesn’t require years of film school, a million- dollar budget – or even a HD camera. (“Are you taking notes, Mr. Bay?) But when dipping into movie making it DOES help to know what to DO – and what NOT to do – before you hit the set.
So, here are 12 tips for how to make a film…on a shoestring budget.
How to Make a Film Key #1: Before you even begin shelling out money, make sure your story is perfect.
DESCRIPTION: Viewers will excuse a low-budget look if the story is good enough. If your story lacks character development or slacks off in the 2nd Act, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. You need a strong goal, natural dialog and to follow the 3 ACT Structure as much as possible. You have nothing if you have a bad script.
How to Make a Film Key #2: Location, Location, Location
DESCRIPTION: Choose your location wisely. You want to make sure that the setting suits the story. If your character works at a laundromat, make sure you have access to a laundromat. If not, rewrite your scenes to suit your location. Also, proximity to other locations is important. If your locations are too spread out, you’ll spend money and time on travel.
How to Make a Film Key #3: You don’t need to splurge on the camera
DESCRIPTION: Good lighting can take you much further than a fancy camera can, so don’t let the bulk of your cost be the camera rental. A fancy camera will get you nowhere without great actors and locations to film. DSLR footage will be fine if your DP knows what he/she is doing. Or you could always buy a camera and sell it when you’re done to save too.
How to Make a Film Key #4: If you’ve got musical friends, use them
DESCRIPTION: There are instances where it’s best to steer away from friend-help, but music isn’t one of them. Music rights are expensive, so if you or your friends can record a score, do it. Also, consider using unsigned bands—they’ll be cheaper.
How to Make a Film Key #5: Don’t cut corners with sound
DESCRIPTION: Poor audio will lower your film’s production value faster than anything else. If the audience can’t hear what’s going on, you have nothing. Pay your sound recordist well and make sure your locations will lead to quality audio.
How to Make a Film Key #6: Use professional actors, not un-trained, free “actors”
DESCRIPTION: As tempting as it may be to cast your best friend in your film who’s dying for a stardom and will work for free, don’t do it. You need your talent to be talented, and nothing will scream “low budget” louder than a cast of actors who have never acted before. Have a casting session, advertise at local theaters or acting schools, and make sure you find the best people to play your beloved characters. Many will work for little pay to get experience under their belt.
How to Make a Film Key #7: 5 crew must-haves
DESCRIPTION: Ok, so you know not to cut corners on sound or actors, so where can you? If you need to skimp a little on the crew make sure you at least have these bare essentials: Cinematographer, location audio, grip, makeup, and a production assistant. These are vital. And unless you absolutely cannot and they’re still willing to work, pay them!
How to Make a Film Key #8: Don’t overpay for Craft Services
DESCRIPTION: A happy crew is a fed crew, but be smart when it comes to your food choices. Order in bulk, plan ahead, and if you must, cook! Individual meals will be pricey and you can only eat pizza and subs so many days in a row. Order in bulk and whip out an apron if you have to.
How to Make a Film Key #9: Organize, Budget, and Plan Ahead
DESCRIPTION: Make sure you have enough resources to finish before you get started. There will be unforeseen costs. If you’re organized, you won’t waste time. Time is money! And organization will make your set feel polished and professional. Don’t forget to account for post-production costs like transportation to/from festivals and festival fees too.
How to Make a Film Key #10: Take Advantage of Social Media
DESCRIPTION: If you’re not yet a master of social media, learn to be! There’s no better way to gain a following for little money than through social media. Use it to fundraise, advertise, and get eyes on your finished product. And don’t forget your film’s website and your production company’s website!
How to Make a Film Key #11: Call in favors only in places where the quality won’t suffer
DESCRIPTION: Be creative, take advantage of every connection you’ve made, person you know, or location you have access to, but don’t be afraid to spend money either. Your friends and family may want to help, but make sure that every offer you take is one that will benefit the finished product. If your uncle owns a restaurant and will feed your crew, take that opportunity! If you’re brother owns a lake house close by, film there! But be prepared to say no where it matters.
How to Make a Film Key #12: Keep morale high and keep it “Big”
Description: Do whatever you can to make your set feel like the set of a big budget film. You need your cast and crew to believe in your project in order to get quality work out of them. The last thing you want is for them to lose interest a few days in. Keep it professional, organized, and like the film you’re working on is destined for Festival-Gold, even in the hardest moments.