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7 Tips for Low-Budget Filmmaking

Jourdan Aldredge

Consider these low-budget and no-budget filmmaking tips to get your next project off the ground without breaking the bank.

Cover image via Daniel John Peters.

For what used to be a revolutionary idea, the concept of low-budget or no-budget filmmaking has now become very common in the indie filmmaking community. There are countless examples of low-budget films launching big careers.

So, as an up-and-coming filmmaker looking to make your mark, here are seven pieces of advice to consider before you start rolling on your next low-budget filmmaking project.

Use Cameras Available for Cheap

7 Tips for Low Budget Filmmaking — Cheap Cameras

High-end film cameras are expensive. The cost to use an 8K RED Weapon, for example, can grow astronomically out of hand very quickly. Chances are, you or someone you know has a perfectly capable DSLR or mirrorless camera that can shoot high-quality HD or even 4K without breaking the bank.

Having a “good” camera is not a prerequisite for getting your film into film festivals or posting it online. If you understand of the technology (or have a good DP who does), you should be able get footage that is dynamic enough to tell your story — which should be your main focus.

Here are some articles and resources on how cheap and affordable cameras can work for you.

Set Scenes in Free Locations

7 Tips for Low Budget Filmmaking — Free Locations
Image via NoFilmSchool.

When doing your pre-production, be aware of your scene settings. Reaching out to your network before deciding where you can shoot for cheap or for free shouldn’t hurt your creative process.

Consider public locations or places you’ve been before. There’s no reason you need to pay thousands of dollars in location fees or halt production because a scene’s location is too ambitious — especially if you could easily set the scene someplace much cheaper.

Use as Much Natural Lighting as Possible

7 Tips for Low Budget Filmmaking — Natural Lighting
Image via Daniel John Peters.

In addition to keeping locations in mind, think about your locations’ amenities — specifically lighting. This can help you cut costs, save time and reduce equipment needs. Look for locations outside or with lots of natural lighting, as that will help you save on large lighting setups.

You can still shoot stylistically. Just remember that it’s cheaper to create darkness than it is to create light.

Be Flexible on Set

7 Tips for Low Budget Filmmaking — On Set
Image via Wikimedia.

When you’re on set, try to keep an open mind about how to keep production costs down. A very detailed production script and schedule will help, but in the face of the many unforeseen setbacks you will undoubtedly face, flexible decision-making will get things done (and done well) without increasing costs.

Share Credit and Ownership

7 Tips for Low Budget Filmmaking — Share Credit
Image of the team behind Mustang Island.

When working on low- or no-budget passion projects, one of the major downsides is that you probably are not going to be able to pay your cast or crew very much — if at all. This means you’re working on favors, goodwill, and mutual benefits. In this situation, put your ego aside, and share as much credit as possible. This can create much greater buy-in and a sense of ownership for everyone involved — even when there’s no money.

Focus on the Fun

7 Tips for Low Budget Filmmaking — Focus on Fun
Image of the team behind The Legend of Ben Hall.

On a similar note, make your project fun to work on. Filmmaking, at its heart, is a fun endeavor. You’re creating art, and it’s a break from reality — even if requires hard work. If you can keep that in mind and make your collaborative process enjoyable, your crew will give you as much as they can and come back to help out again.

Skimp on Everything But the Story

7 Tips for Low Budget Filmmaking — Story
Image via Shutterstock.

This should probably be the first, last, and all the pieces of advice in between, but always, always, always put the story before everything else. Your camera, acting, and even directing is secondary to the focus on the story. As any filmmaker will tell you, the story is what will shine through, and it is what people will remember. The story gets films shot for free on old camcorders with non-actors into film festivals and launches careers. So, before you shoot, make sure it’s a story you’re ready to tell.

For more low-budget filmmaking advice, follow our blog for more articles, tips, and tricks (you can bookmark this link). Let us know if you have any other low budget tips or tricks in the comments below.

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