Tips for Creating a Low Budget Film – Learning the Production 411’s

The world of production is calling you. You know you have what it takes, you just need to get your foot in the door. That first step is the biggest hurdle, but we are here to help you gain your footing, In our ongoing series, “Learning the Production 411’s” this primer, broken down into major categories, is designed to be easily digested, offering you the basic elements to get you on your way to completing your first successful project!

• Start with a short

If you are learning to swim, you don’t start by swimming the English Channel. Even the most accomplished painter’s first sketched their idea before creating the final piece. Begin with a project that will allow you to master your craft. Look towards a ten minute or less short. Arranging a shooting schedule around a twenty page script will be a far more manageable challenge than starting with a 120 page screenplay. A short will also require a smaller budget than a feature and will generally require less shooting days.

Additionally, a well-crafted short can be used to highlight your skills and help you gain funding for your feature. It is an accomplished skill to tell a well-rounded story in ten minutes or less, and every major film festival in the world (even the Academy Awards) has a shorts category for this reason.

• Love your script

This may seem like an obvious step, but it is crucial. Before you shoot a single frame you may spend months planning and prepping; if you are not in love with the script, the process will quickly become a horrible chore instead of a labor of love. The script will determine how many actors you need, where you should be looking for your location(s) , how large a crew you will need, the type of equipment you should be looking for, and important details. If you need a script, check on sites like Craigslist or Mandy, or find students at local film schools who are looking for someone to shoot their script. Whether you shoot your own script or another’s work, make sure you are committed to the script you chose.

• Define your budget

Once you have a script locked down, you can determine the budget of your shoot. If you know you don’t have a lot of money and your script requires some complicated visual effects, you will have to determine practical ways to create a reality and provide a believable world to your audience. Every aspect of your production falls into the budget. We can help you learn how to create your budget in this “Learning the Production 411” article: “How to Create a Film Budget

• Obtain your cast and crew

You can’t make your film without a cast and without a crew. Finding the right people in all of these “roles” is crucial to a successful production. Let’s look at each one independently.

1. Crew: If you have a limited budget you will want to go to film schools and find people with some experience who are willing to work for credit. Essential departments to think about include: camera, sound and art department. If you are working on a contemporary piece and have to cut corners tight, you can have your actors provide their own wardrobe. Likewise, you can have your actors create their own makeup – however having people to oversee these departments will ensure you maintain continuity and control of the looks throughout your shoot. Speaking of continuity, you may also want to find a script supervisor, gaffers and craft services. The more details covered, the more you can concentrate on ensuring all remains on time and accurate.

2. Cast: The actors bring the characters to life. It is important to cast people who are believable to the audience in the roles found in the script. The camera captures subtleties, so if an actor is broad or false in the moment the camera will catch that, and your audience will too. You may need to conduct multiple casting calls to find the best actors for your roles, so plan accordingly. You may post your casting calls on sites including newspapers, Craigslist, and other production resources.

• Prepare your shot list, production schedule and equipment needs

Work closely with your DP and prepare your shot list. A production doesn’t have to be shot in the order of the script, but should be shot making the most of specific location set ups, lighting set ups, and sound needs. Cast availability may also affect your shooting schedule, so juggling schedules will become crucial. Work with a story board artist (or if you can’t afford one, draft one yourself) of what the shots are you want to capture. Once you have your shot needs down, speak with the DP and audio mixer about the equipment that is needed to capture the shots. Additionally, speak with your art department about specific set needs and props, and determine what can be obtained with the budget you have.

• Keep Calm and Carry On

If you are directing your shoot, all eyes will be on you throughout production. Above all else, remember to keep a level head and learn how to role with the punches. Things will go wrong. Be prepared for the unexpected, and surround yourself with people that will help you rise to the occation, and enjoy the process.

• Post Production and Marketing

Production is half the equation. Once you have wrapped shooting , you will need to have an editor cut the film. Depending on your budget, you may also want to invest in color correction and finishing. You’ll want to burn DVDs (or create a trailer to post on YouTube, the film’s own website or Facebook page). If you are submitting to festivals, you will need to be on top of application deadlines, materials and costs. You will also want to invest in promoting your film with postcards, flyers, and screenings.

Hopefully you feel excited to get to work on your first project! Keep in mind many organizations and colleges dedicated to film making provide classes on creating a short film. There are many workshops on the subject as well. It never hurts to become as knowledgeable as possible with the process in order to make your project the very best you can be!