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How to Make a Film on a Shoestring Budget

Just because your next movie project is on a low-budget doesn't mean the finished product has to look like it. Here are 12 tips on how to make a film look cinematic, fabulous and capable of taking the festival circuit by storm.

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How to Make a Film on a Shoestring Budget

  2. 2. #1: NAIL DOWN YOUR STORY Before you even begin shelling out money, make sure your story is perfect (as possible) Viewers will excuse a low-budget look if the story is good enough. If yer story lacks character development or slacks off in the 2nd Act, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. You need a strong goal, an even-stronger dilemma and characters willing to pursue that goal to the ends of the SCREENPLAY earth.
  3. 3. #2: LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION Keep it simple, Spielberg Choose your location wisely. You want to make sure the SETTING suits the STORY. (And provides a dramatic element.) Also, proximity to other locations is important. If your locations are too spread out, you'll spend money and time on travel. (And remember: exteriors can get very time- consuming.)
  4. 4. #3:SKIP THE HIGH-END Ditch the urge to splurge on the latest $4500 camera Good lighting can take you much further than a fancy camera can, so don't let the bulk of your cost be CAMERA rental. (Not to mention 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 recoup your expenses. )
  5. 5. #4: FIND A (STARVING) MUSICIAN If you've got musical friends, use them There are instances where it's best to steer away from friend-help, but MUSIC ain’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. (They might even KNOW some distribution folks who can help get your film some much-needed exposure.)
  6. 6. #5: SPEND ON SOUND Don't cut corners with your audio Poor audio will lower your film's production VALUE faster than anything else. (Save a vampire baseball game.) 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. (And that may mean a decent mic or two.)
  7. 7. #6: GO PRO WITH THE TALENT Use professional actors, not un-trained, free "actors" As tempting as it may be to cast your best friend, don't do it. (Unless yer best friend is James Franco. ) You need your TALENT to be talented, and nothing screams "low budget" like a cast of rookie actors. 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.
  8. 8. #7: 5 CREW MUST-HAVES Rounding out the team If you need to skimp a little on the crew make sure you at least have these 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!
  9. 9. #8: EMBRACE YOUR INNER CHEF Don’t overpay for Craft Servcies 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.
  10. 10. #9: DO YOUR HOMEWORK Organize, budget and plan ahead 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. )
  11. 11. #10: GET SOCIAL Take advantage of social media 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!
  12. 12. #11: GO EASY ON THE FAVORS Call in favors only in places where the quality won't suffer Take advantage of every connection you've made, 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 every OFFER you take is one that’ll benefit the finished product. But be prepared to say NO where it matters.
  13. 13. #12: THINK BIG Keep morale high and yer project aimed at BIG things 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. Keep it professional, organized, and like the FILM you're working on is destined for Festival-Gold, even in the hardest moments.
  15. 15. CONNECT WITH US!
  16. 16. “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” –Benjamin Franklin