Getting Started in Effective Low-Budget Film and Video Production
Like any film or video project, low-budget projects require effective planning and smooth production. Here are some tips to get you started.
You’re an up-and-coming filmmaker. You’ve got big dreams, but currently you’ve got small means. So you’re going to have to wear a few hats to pull off your first few productions. A lot is going to ride on your shoulders to make your production succeed. Here are some low-budget production tips and guidelines to keep you on the path to success.
Your crew will most likely consist of friends, fellow film students, or maybe even seasoned veterans who are just doing you a favor. They want to help you, but they can’t afford to devote days on end to your project. So, try to keep the production to no more than 2 or 3 full days, if possible — and definitely don’t work your cast and crew more than 10-12 hours a day.
You need to be organized. Once you have your shoot days locked in, make a sensible call sheet, shot list, etc., and get them to your crew. Be clear about everything — you want to make it as easy as possible for your crew to understand your shoot and find the location.
Pre-production can make your shoot go smoothly, so it’s always worth it — as much as you can do. Sure, not everything will go according to plan, but if the more you plan, the less vulnerable you are to the unexpected. Call every cast and crew member and confer with each of them that they understand the call time and how to get to the location and that they’re ready for their role. Get everyone on the same page.
And this may sound trivial, but do not underestimate the power of making a list. Too often a certain crew member or even the director or producer forgets to bring key props, costumes, pieces of equipment, or releases, and it ruins the production. Having to drive back for things wastes precious time. Make a physical list of all your equipment and prop needs and check them off before packing up your car and heading to the location. Rental houses do it, so should you. If you’re relying on crew members to bring equipment or props, add those to the list under their name and call them to make sure they have it packed and ready to go.
Study your script, shot lists, and schedules. Know them by heart. For a feature, this may be difficult, but you should at least have a strong understanding of everything. Once you finish a shot, you need to be able to organize your crew to move on to the next one. You need to remember which lines of dialogue and what blocking are coming up — and how you want the shot to look. Be confident in your vision so that you can communicate it.
This will not only keep the production moving smoothly, it will also instill confidence in your cast and crew. It’s always a relief, especially when working for free or for food, to know that you’re working with a competent director or producer.
Be as organized as possible, have a plan for everything, but be ready for things to change at the last minute. Flexibility is a must.
Be ready to cut — or maybe even combine — certain shots during production. The previous shot may have taken longer than expected, and now you have to cut some shots to save time. Or maybe now that you’ve seen certain shots play out, other shots may now seem redundant or excessive. Either way, be ready to cut. A good tactic is to have a few shots earmarked to cut if necessary. Knowing your script and shot list by heart will make sure that any shots you cut won’t detract from your overall vision.
Above all, do not rule with an iron fist. Being rude just upsets people and creates a crummy production. On top of that, the stricter and meaner you are, the less people are going to want to work with you.
Being kind can sound like you might get walked on. However, instead of ruling with an iron fist, establish crew hierarchy and a chain of command. You can’t have PAs just giving their two cents randomly to the director and slowing down the production. Establish order from the start, but be kind, flexible, and understanding — but stick to your plans, your vision, and your schedule.
Not only does being kind and personable make for a better and more fun production, but it also helps you network and make connections. People don’t want to do favors and work long hours for a jackass, but they’re happy to help good friends and acquaintances.
Nothing is going to beat experience when it comes to learning how to run a smooth production, but these guidelines can help you stay on course and create a positive experience for your cast and crew. Be organized and flexible, maintain order, be kind, and make good connections with your cast and crew so you can all keep making better and better productions.
Cover image via bepsy.
Looking for more pre-production advice? Check out these articles.