Tips for Low Budget Filmmaking

Whether it is five minutes long or two hours, in order to produce a marketable well-made product you need to follow some simple guidelines.
  • Make a genre Film.  Go for commercial, high concept. Topical, original or edgy.
  • Keep it simple.  Small cast.  Few locations.
  • Strive for quality sound.  Don’t skimp.

Sound simple enough.  So how do you do it on a shoestring budget?

  • Be extremely organized and well-disciplined.
  • Have a full understanding of the entire filmmaking.
  • Thoroughly prepare your picture.
    • Pre-Production Schedule.
    • Complete shooting schedule
    • Detailed budget (no matter how low the budget).
      • Don’t forget to include some often overlooked items:
        • Marketing, Music and E&O insurance in your budget.
        • Remember to include cost of Website creation and maintenance.
        • Shooting Permits
        • Music Score and Song Clearance
        • Financing costs
    • Post Production Schedule.
    • Post Production Workflow
  • Cash Flow Chart.
  • Create a website to showcase your project or body of work.
  • A poster or One Sheet.
  • Business cards highlighting your project.
  • Have a well-prepared pitch
  • Create a presentation that contains:
    •  An attached or proposed cast list.
    • A list of key crew members (highlighting their recognizable credits).
    • A script
    • A synopsis
    • Storyboards and/or concept photos
    • Any other selling points that might be helpful.
  • Research options so you can skillfully negotiate your deals.
  • Substitute Creativity for money (Think outside the box).
  • Obtain Production Insurance including Errors & Omissions
Ways to cut costs:
  • Research all free and low cost resources available.
  • Do as much of the prep work yourself instead of paying for outside services.
  • Differentiate between what you need and what you want.
  • Get standard contract and template forms and modify them to fit the needs of your project.  (Be sure to have them checked by an entertainment attorney).
  • Can you afford to be a signatory to any of the unions or guilds?  Becoming a signatory to SAG will give you a better pool of talent to choose from.
  • Hire the most talented individuals you can find from labor pool in your budget range.  Even it is free labor.
    • Look for crew members who can supply their own equipment for free or a minimal rate.   If they have their own insurance, take advantage of it and save yourself some money.
    • Search Entertainment Job Boards for crew members.  Talented individuals that are between jobs might be available to work on your low budget film.
    • During Holiday Periods and TV hiatuses, highly-qualified crew members are willing to take work for less than their normal rate just to keep working.
    • Take advantage of professional Hair and Makeup schools in your area.  Recent Graduates are usually willing to work for the experience.
    • Post at local Film Schools for interns.
    • Check with local Fashion Institutions for Student or Graduates that are willing to intern as Set and Costume Designers.
  • Many vendors give low or no rates to low-budget filmmakers.  In return they may ask for your recommendation; “Like” them on Facebook or  have flyers and business cards on display throughout the set. .
  • Try for the latest and greatest equipment, but be prepared to take older versions at a discounted rate or free.
  • Don’t skimp on Catering or Craft Service.  A well fed crew is a happy crew.  And a happy crew will do everything possible to make your project a success.
  • Schedule six-day shoots.  Most vendors offer the equipment for the week at a two or three-day rate.  That gives you six days shooting for the price of two or three.   If plan to shoot non consecutive over a period of time, shot on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  Renting equipment on Friday and returning on Monday gives you three days of shooting for one day rental.
  • If you can use a sound Stage, find low-budget Studios, or one that has a TV show on hiatus.  Some have permits on hand and can also provide grip and lighting equipment and crew included in their rental package.  Some even have standing sets that could be included in the price.
  • On most of these smaller projects, the norm is to pay for everything in cash and to leave cash or check deposits with all your vendors.  Some vendors will put a HOLD on your credit card for the full value of what you’re renting until the equipment, props or wardrobe is returned and the rental and any L&D (loss and damage) is paid.
  • If there is loss or damage, some vendors will give you the opportunity to have the item repaired or replaced yourself (if you can get it for less than they would have charged for the repair or replacement).

The more you can save money in other areas, the more there will be for permits, effects, extras, music and special equipment.