June 3, 2014

How to Maximize Production Value on a Minuscule Budget

It's easy to become despondent when approaching (or thinking about approaching) the uphill battle that is making a film. And although it is one of the most difficult things you'll ever do, it can be done -- regardless of how little experience, money, or equipment you have at your disposal. Filmmaker Joshua Caldwell made his feature film Layover for just $6000; he cast his friends, borrowed a Canon 5D, and now it's competing for the New American Cinema award at SIFF, and he has decided to share what he has learned about maintaining high production value while keeping costs down.

This is a guest post by Joshua Caldwell.

At the beginning of 2013, inspired by seeing several articles about Ed Burns making sub-$10,000 films, I set out to do the same. It had taken me a while to get there. I spent a lot of time and energy developing and writing projects that required other people to give me money and a greenlight, instead of creating a project I could do on my own terms. It took me lifting my head up, looking around and saying, “I have everything I need to make a movie for very little money: access to cameras, actors, crew, post-services. So why am I not doing it?”

So, I took an idea that I had floating around in my head about a girl stuck on a layover in L.A., developed out the story and wrote the script. Then, with my producing partner Travis Oberlander, we raised a little bit of money from a family friend (enough to pay the cast, rent a few locations, and food), cast the film with actor friends whom I knew spoke French, borrowed a Canon 5D, set the schedule and over the course of five weekends, shot the film, and then spent another eight months or so editing (off and on).

The entire film was made for $6000. That’s right.

And now, this little film that I just decided to go and make will be having its World Premiere at the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival in competition for the prestigious New American Cinema award. Immediately following SIFF, Layover will have its California/Los Angeles premiere at the Dances With Films Festival as one of only 16 films chosen to screen in competition.

Since shooting Layover, I’ve learned so much about what goes into making a feature. It was definitely a process of shooting first and asking questions later (beyond the basics, I had produced a ton of shorts and such before, so I knew what we had to do).

Here are some of the things I’ve discovered about making no budget films that aren’t about two characters stuck in one room:

It All Starts with the Script

Whether you’re writing a no budget feature or a massive $100 million blockbuster, every film needs a story. And to a large degree that story can be told in a multitude of ways. It’s something I’ve developed called “Modular Storytelling.” That is, the story is the story, whether I have $1000 or $200 million. What changes is how I execute the story.

Layover could have been a massive action adventure drama; it could have been a thriller, science fiction, and more. Any of those could have featured the story of a girl stuck in Los Angeles on a layover.

I chose to execute that story within the budget I had -- which was nothing. However, as you’ll see below, that doesn’t mean I didn’t have my own set pieces.

Write Set Pieces that Can Be Accomplished on a Budget

If you know how to pull it off for no money, you can allow for a few scenes that look expensive but were actually the cheapest scenes we shot. There’s a trick, however, to making some of those set pieces scenes work: don’t write any dialogue or require any performance from your actors.

The reason for this is while you might have a really expensive-looking scene, you may not be allowed more than one take. These are scenes you shoot guerrilla style. Here’s an example: There’s a scene in the film where our main character Simone meets up with a friend and they go to a club in Hollywood. The club is packed, it’s busy, it’s fun, colorful and dark and our editor, Will Torbett edited the hell out of it. Feels like we owned that club.

But we didn’t. We got permission to be there with our camera and film but nothing else. We couldn’t control the lights; we couldn’t control the crowds or anything else. But I knew that would be the case (because we didn’t have the money to shut the place down) so I wrote a scene that didn’t require any dialogue (dialogue requires multiple takes) and only had specific piece of action to be filmed (Simone seeing her friend). The rest was just girls dancing and having fun.

BUT that was also the point of the scene. For Simone, this is the point in the movie where she starts to let go and have fun. So it became the perfect character-based set piece and it really increases the production value of the film.

What’s your Special Sauce?

Since Reservoir Dogs, there have been a multitude of scripts featuring guys sitting around and talking about things (I should know, I wrote one right after I saw Reservoir Dogs). A majority of them were never filmed and those that were died in obscurity. What was their problem? They didn’t have that special sauce, the thing that made them rise above the basic story they were telling. In the case of Reservoir Dogs, the special sauce is Tarantino himself, his ear for dialogue and his talent as a writer/director.

For Layover, our special sauce is that the film is 95% French language; and no, I don’t speak French. So, why would I make a film in a language that I, the writer and director, neither spoke nor understood? Because it immediately elevated the film.

Narratively, the story of a girl from New York who gets stuck in LA on a layover doesn’t seem that interesting. By having Simone only speak and understand French, it made her character that much more complex and presented some really great obstacles to her nighttime journey. Beyond the narrative, it becomes a really interesting talking point and raises a question: “Why would you make a film in French if you don’t speak it?” And then we’re off talking about the film.

Before I go onto the next one, I just want to point out that everything up until now is free. It doesn’t cost you any money to think about these things and craft your story around them.

Shoot on a Format Appropriate for Your Level of Production

Notice I didn’t say your budget level. You might be able to afford, dollars-wise, to rent an ALEXA or RED, but that doesn’t mean your production can handle it. To shoot on an ALEXA or RED properly, you really need a DIT, a camera support staff, lighting, insurance, coloring workflow, etc.

Now, that’s not to say you can’t shoot a low budget feature on those cameras. You can and people do. But for me, on Layover, it wasn’t possible. So I chose to shoot on a format I was comfortable with and I knew could get the job done: DSLR. We shot all of Layover on the 5D and a little bit on the 7D (for some slow mo).

Layover takes place entirely at night, so while the 5D doesn’t have the resolution of a RED or ALEXA, it works magnificently in low-light and wouldn’t require massive amounts of lighting gear (I did have to be willing to live with a higher ISO on some scenes, which I was). In fact, our kit only consisted of a couple china balls, several 250-watt bulbs, several cheap can lights from Home Depot and two light panels our DP owned. Everything else was natural light.

While DSLR doesn't tend to provide the same level of resolution as the RED or Alexa or even the C300, I'm okay with that. I look at it like this: 1080p DSLR is like 16mm (albeit, with a full 35mm sensor) and the RED and ALEXA are like 35mm. It can be an aesthetic choice, one that I embrace. I think too much is made over the whole resolution game. And while, yes, both the 6k RED and ALEXA images look amazing, there's a lot that comes with getting those. For a run and gun filmmaker like myself, DSLR (16mm) is a little more manageable while still delivering stunning results.

Shooting on the 5D allowed me to focus on capturing the performance, shooting long takes and getting a massive amount of material, rather than sitting around waiting for lighting to be done. It allowed me to make the film quickly and efficiently.

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And now I’m taking those learnings and applying them to the next two films in the planned LAX trilogy, of which Layover is part one. The other two stories follow completely different characters, but all of them have similar thematic elements and all of them begin with a character arriving at LAX.

Now that we’ve shot one for no budget, we want to take the others to the next level while still maintaining the DIY approach. So, we’re currently running an IndieGoGo campaign to raise funds for the final two films.

We’re looking for $50,000 to shoot Assassin and X. We’d love for you to help support our campaign. You can see more information by following the link below.

One more thing, since it's so close -- if you're in the L.A. area and would like to come out and see Layover, our L.A. premiere of the film is on Wednesday, June 4th at 9:30pm at the Chinese Theatre.  For ticket information, click here. We'd love to see you there!


Joshua_Directing_03Joshua Caldwell is an accomplished director, writer, producer, former digital exec and MTV Movie Award winner. He has worked with a number of high-profile producers, including CSI creator Anthony E. Zuiker. His award-winning short film Dig, starring Mark Margolis of Breaking Bad, was featured in numerous film festivals. Most recently, released his latest short film Resignation and his debut feature film Layover will have its World Premiere in competition at the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival.

Your Comment

126 Comments

I'm an independent director too... And I toast to the success of all independent films...
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Who knows some day I'll meet somewhere...
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Keep it high...
...

June 3, 2014 at 4:26PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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João Marco

*) Who knows some day WE’ll meet somewhere…

June 3, 2014 at 4:28PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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João Marco

This looks great and usually you can spot 5D a mile away. This competes with the big boys.

What glass did you end up using out of interest?

Cheers and good luck!

June 3, 2014 at 4:52PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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James

Hey James,

We actually used the 24-105mm f/4 Canon lens. For a couple shots like in the club and up on the lookout we used some Nikon primes that gave us a bigger aperture. Other than the MagicLantern software, the camera was pretty much used right out of the box. We didn't even have support equipment. I was basically holding a bare Canon 5D in my hands.

Which is why we sacrificed aperture for an image stabilized lens. Without shoulder support a shakey hand is all that's needed to ruin a shot.

June 3, 2014 at 5:15PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Hey Joshua,

That's really interesting thank you. You've done a really good job of it and I wish you all the success with it! Fingers crossed it hits the big screen in the UK. I'll make sure I get to the cinema for it.

Cheers!

June 3, 2014 at 5:21PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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James

Even with minimal spacial effects, equipment, and crew, I'll be Layover is still a good movie because it sounds like he knows what he is doing, wrote a good script, and planned things out. The thing to remember is that you don't need a ton of money to make a movie. I made my film Space Trucker Bruce www.spacetruckerbruce.com for $10,000 over the course of six years. It was just me doing as much of everything as I could. all my own filming, CG and post production work. I have 105 space shots in my film, 8 ships I modeled in Blender and animated over the course of two years. It cost me nothing except time to add a level of special effects that is rarely seen in no budget films. I built all the sets in spare rooms in my house with scrap material. I spent the most money on hot glue and tape. I got the paint for free from the basement of a local paint store. Used old computers for the displays in the ships. The most expensive thing was purchasing the stock music for the score which was about $900. I wrote the movie with what i could reasonably expect to be able to shoot although I pushed the limits a bit.

June 3, 2014 at 5:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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It looks cool :)

June 3, 2014 at 5:39PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Also, I'd be more than happy to answer any further questions you have regarding producing Layover. Post 'em here and I'll respond.

June 3, 2014 at 5:21PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Hey Joshua,
I am curious as to how you went about scheduling between your actors availabilities and shooting locations?. I'm assuming that since they were your friends that they were working pro bono.

June 3, 2014 at 5:46PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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William Branch

How did you handle audio? What gear did you use and still look relatively discreet?

June 3, 2014 at 5:51PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Kent

We recorded our audio on an H4N Zoom recorder with a Sennheiser lav mics and boom. Pretty simple setup. However, our sound mixer told us that the production audio sounded better than 90% of the pro-stuff he gets in (he's worked on Mad Men and various other pretty big shows). It just goes to show you don't need more than clean audio. Whatever you can do to get that, do it. I prefer using lavs to boom mics. I just think they give you better audio. However, the boom was a nice back up.

When we were in a public place we avoided using the boom and just used the lavs which worked really well. We synced sound using the Movie Slate app on our iPhone or iPad.

June 3, 2014 at 6:27PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Samy's Camera? They seem to rent out exactly that audio equipment all the time lol.

June 4, 2014 at 12:27AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Actually we just went ahead and purchased it. We do a lot of other types of content and its a great little tool.

June 4, 2014 at 12:34AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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It's worth noting Ed Burns 'shot' that film for $10k. That didn't include the post budget which was like $100k. Something most articles didn't mention!

June 3, 2014 at 6:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ant

100%. Even if he actually spent more on the production, for me it was more inspiration. I was like, "Well, if he can do that, I can probably do that." And I did shoot the film for $6k. Post was all donated but on our subsequent films we'll be wanting to pay people, which is why we're raising funds and the budget is increasing. But our goal is to shoot with the same guerrilla approach with minimal crew, equipment, etc.

June 3, 2014 at 6:29PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ah, i was wondering how that amount covered the post. :-)

June 4, 2014 at 3:25AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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marklondon

Were the five weekends continuous? Were the filming days(nights) really long? How many planning days did you have before each shoot? How did you find the time to process the data between Saturday and Sunday shooting. I've been shooting my new film with a BMCC in Raw and it takes a bit of time after each shoot to clear off the SSD drives for the next day.

June 3, 2014 at 6:15PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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The five weekends were continuous yes. It was about 12 days total although two of those were half days of shooting the motorcycle stuff. All of our days were complete in under eight hours except for one of them.

We did loose prep on the film in the month leading up to filming. Scouting locations, securing locations, rehearsals, etc. But because we shot on weekends, we utilized the weekdays leading up to the production for final prep.

Shooting on the 5D we had a ton of CF cards at our disposal. They're not as expensive as a BMCC drive and because of the prevalence of the 5D at this point they weren't hard to get. We'd usually fill up a couple cards, I would dump them to a drive as we went along and right as we wrapped and go from there.

June 3, 2014 at 6:37PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Some very wise words for low-budget filmmaking. The story premise reminded me of this short film: https://vimeo.com/2078991

June 3, 2014 at 6:21PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Stel

Very inspiring post. Tech really does free us from so many limitations these days. You can work out of an SUV with a duffle bag of gear and, if you're talented, capture the images and sounds that you set out to. Thanks for this.

I'm curious as to if you would have included dialogue in the club scene if you had the means to?

June 3, 2014 at 6:21PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Mike

Good question. Maybe. That said, looking at the film now I don't feel like we're missing something from that. Honestly, the film is so dialogue heavy that it's refreshing to not have it.

June 3, 2014 at 6:38PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Hey Joshua,
Great post and inspiring as well from someone who shoots with a 5D3. I'm assuming this wasn't shot with Magic Lantern Raw...or was it? Either way, I'm curious to know more about your grading process and also, if you didn't shoot raw, what picture profile was used in camera. Looks really great!

June 3, 2014 at 6:55PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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We used the 5D mkii and no it wasn't shot in RAW. It wasn't even shot in Cinestyle for coloring. We basically white balanced and let rip. It's not something I recommend NOW. Now I would have a much better understanding of how to set up the camera for best results for coloring in post.

At the time, however, I wasn't sure we'd be able to find someone to color it and I wasn't comfortable doing it myself. So I wanted to shoot as close to the final product as possible so that minimal coloring work would be needed if it came to it.

As it turned out, I had to grade the whole film myself and did so through DaVinci. There wasn't a lot of work required but we definitely had some cleaning up to do. I love DaVinci, the free version is incredibly powerful and really helped us grade the film even thought a lot of the look was burned in.

But here's the funny thing: the trailer you see above? All of those shots haven't been touched. That is literally non-graded straight from the camera footage.

June 3, 2014 at 7:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Hi Joshua,
I know the 5D has a lot of problems shooting in low light how did you manage to pull together such clean shots at night and in the club scenes? What ISO were you shooting at?
ps- congrats on making an amazing film for 6K!

June 3, 2014 at 7:04PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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greg

Well, one of the reasons I chose the 5D was how great it was in low-light. I could never have made this film on the budget we had with any other camera. It would have been impossible.

On occasion, such as the club scenes and lookout, we shot with a Nikon 1.4 prime lens that helped give us a little more light but I would say a lot of the club scenes were shot at 6400 ISO.

I know, right? My DP had a lot of concerns about it but I told him I didn't care if there was noise in the image. It was an aesthetic we decided to live with and embrace.

Once the film was colored in DaVinci we ran it through a plugin called Neat Video that gave use some really incredible noise reduction. I highly recommend it if you're shooting this kind of stuff. But again, as I mentioned before, that was all for the final film.

The trailer, as you see it above, is footage straight from the camera without any color grading or noise reduction.

June 3, 2014 at 7:23PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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wow. thats fantastic. I shot a documentary recently that I used the 5D on and most of it was natural light. Im glad you say that that is an esthetic that you live with and embrace. I felt the same way. Some shots look amazing, but others shots that didn't have the best light, had a much higher ISO but still came out great. Thanks for the info that you used in post. Best of luck with your future projects.

June 3, 2014 at 10:09PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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greg

Great article with some sage advice. Great decisions and determination - nice to be able to green light yourself! Love the DSLR (16mm) look!

June 3, 2014 at 7:10PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Lance Bachelder

Nice article, great trailer, look forward to seeing the film. Joshua, were you working during preproduction and production? I found that my day job (teaching) gets in the way so much that it ends up delaying projects, taking away time I could prep, and limiting my dedication during production. Not to mention post lasting for ever. Any thoughts on how you manage your time between life's duties and life's calling?

June 3, 2014 at 7:41PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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I was working. In fact, I was working as an executive at a production company with mostly 11 hour days. The main thing was we had a lot of lead time. The script was done in February. We planned to shoot in April but had to delay because my produced got hired onto a reality show (my company was producing) for a month. So, we were actually cast and pretty ready to go by end of March.

Then it was just waiting. But it did give the actors more prep time to learn their French lines.

The other thing was that because I was still working, I would leave my job at 7pm and then head straight for set where we would usually shoot for another 6-7 hours. Those were some pretty long days.

The best advice is to set a date that gives you enough lead time to do most of the stuff on your own if need be. But my second piece of advice is to bring a producer on board to help. Travis was also working full time but between the little free time the two of us had, there was enough to work on getting things done. And finally, our third producer, Vertel, was more available and open, so he helped secure some of the locations and so on.

However, our script didn't require heavy prep. We weren't building sets. We were securing whatever sets we could and setting dates for locations we had.

June 3, 2014 at 8:05PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Your movie looks great!

June 3, 2014 at 7:44PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Thank you!

June 3, 2014 at 8:21PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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I've gotta say I love everything about the philosophy of this flick. I love that you recognized the need to make the movie special. I think there are far too many indie films that consist of talking heads that just seem to be dialogue exercises without any actual life in them. I also love the 1080p/2K being the digital equivalent of 16mm film.

June 3, 2014 at 9:22PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Coty

Thanks!

June 4, 2014 at 12:06AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Congrats on pulling this off- looks great and the premise/story seems quite rich. I'm looking forward to seeing it some day.

June 3, 2014 at 9:22PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Keith

Hi Joshua,

Thank you for this article. Did you shoot dolly/crane stuff as well? If so how much did it effect your schedule? Do you recommend steering clear?

June 3, 2014 at 9:52PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Daniel Riser

We did not. In fact, the entire film was shot handheld. The main reason being what you allude to: it drastically effects your schedule. Setting up a crane/dolly track takes time. Shooting handheld the way I did we were usually shooting within 20 minutes of getting to set (depending on lighting).

I'd recommend staying away, however, I am looking at doing more crane/dolly stuff on the next film.

June 4, 2014 at 12:07AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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This is very inspirational! I don't really have a question just wanted to thank you for the very helpful article and for answering questions in the comments, I hope the best for your LAX Trilogy. There's far too often people give obscure advice that are to vague, your straight forward advice is really refreshing. Thanks!

June 3, 2014 at 10:02PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Xiong

Joshua,

Best of luck for your premiere. The film looks amazing; and I wouldn't have guessed at all was shot on a 5D! I'm a screenwriting student and manage to get an odd article published now and then. It's really interesting what you said about 'Modular storytelling'; how a basic story can be scaled up and down in terms of setting and the correlation that has with the genre is something I wish I could pick your brains on in greater detail. Would you consider taking some time out for an interview when it's convenient?

June 3, 2014 at 11:09PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ibrahim

I would be more than happy to. Email me at info (at) meyd-ent (dot) com.

June 4, 2014 at 12:08AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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This article was very helpful. As I am gearing up to shoot a new short film I will be incorporating these tips into the production. Short action comedy film "The Hostage" http://youtu.be/OZG4dflODtw
Check it out and let us know what you think! Thanks

June 3, 2014 at 11:39PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Awesome. Glad you found it helpful! Best of luck on the short!

June 4, 2014 at 12:09AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Any details on how you got such clean audio? I saw you said you used primarily lavs and an H4N. This sounds better than tons of stuff I've heard that used much more "professional" equipment.

June 4, 2014 at 12:34AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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JohnBelJohn

Congrats J.C.
You made an awesome looking film with what you had available to you at the time. That is text book No Budget Filmmaking. Getting your hands on a 5Dmkiii to shoot your film is smart especially when a lot of filmmakers are setting their 5Diis' aside for a Red or Alexa. Also the special sauce is brilliant. I'm going to have to add some sauce to my no budget script I am working on now.
Thanks for sharing man!

June 4, 2014 at 12:41AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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This film was well planned ... which is what you get from a producer producing/directing own work.
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A few q's from me -
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1) have you considered a multi-cam production, where you would/might be able to shorten the actual shooting schedule in exchange for an increase of the post/editing time?
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2) what's your opinion of the dialog overdub vs. the live&final recording? Historically, a lot of folks working on low budgets did very few live takes but then mixed the sound almost entirely in post. This seems like a feasible idea for your disco sequence (do people still say "disco"?).
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3) what about renting a 4K camera - and some new ones are rather inexpensive - and then reframing your master/wide shots into the 1080p closeups?
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4) if you could add some camera movement, would you use a MoVi style stabilizer or still do it handheld?

Thanks for reading and congrats on your success.

June 4, 2014 at 1:31AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

Thanks for your questions. There was an issue with NFS a while back where I could only see the last page of the comments, so apologies for the delay.

1) I really love shooting with multiple cameras but only when I have dedicated monitors and video village. I find that unless I can see what is being shot the camera I'm not operated doesn't end up being what I'm looking for. It's easier to correct when I see it. For Layover, it was just faster to shoot one camera.

2) It varies. I knew we wouldn't have the budget for a major ADR session (and having done them in the past, it's just never the same as recording it live). What you lose is the immediacy of the performance. You're asking actors to redo it months later when they may have been in a totally different role on another movie. For me it wasn't the best option, though we did ADR a couple lines, like the one line in the club, as you mentioned.

3) The reason I shot 5D was its light sensitivity and budget (I could get one for free). We didn't have the budget to rent a camera and as I explained above, using one would have required far more lighting than we could afford or handle on such a skeleton shoot.

4) We shot the whole thing handheld. I've heard the MoVi is awesome but also not super easy to use. I'm curious to work with it at some point but again, rental or buying it is currently out of our budget.

Thanks!

October 17, 2014 at 12:53PM

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Joshua Caldwell
Director / Writer / Producer
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Joshua, the movie is AMAZING, I really love it and I suggest it to all people who like good cinema!

When you say "handheld" you mean some sort of shoulder rig, flycam or DIY stabilizer? I ask you because the walking scenes are simply great and I'd love to learn the same technique you used!
How did you achieve that optimal stabilization and the perfect focus?

All the best,
Simo :)

October 19, 2014 at 1:47PM, Edited October 19, 1:47PM

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Simone Salvatore
Filmmaker / Recording Engineer / Musician
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DSLR=16mm, RED/ALEXA=35mm, brilliant. I still say the 5D/7D/T2i have plenty of color, character and resolution. Case in point, Polish Bros. for Lovers Only. Shit film but it looked frickin' gorgeous.

June 4, 2014 at 2:44AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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earnestreply

Joshua,
Actually i am a 15 years old independent filmmaker from India. And i made a film exactly with 0$ as you instructed here and that got best student film award in First Frame international students film festival and however i shoot that film with a Non DSLR camera and cast my friends. and i was a little confused where now i am gonna make a feature film so now i need a little money for my project and your tips were really helpful for me as a non film school student. Thank you very much. and all the best for your film. :)

June 4, 2014 at 2:55AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Amritendu Roy

Love this! It sounds like you had a DP, but you also mention in one of the comments above that "I was basically holding a bare Canon 5D in my hands."
I'm curious to know, did you shoot some of this yourself, and if so, how did you find the shooting/directing combo? I'm about to start shooting a film of my own in this way and would love to hear some of your thoughts on the approach.

June 4, 2014 at 2:59AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Brian

So, our DP William Wolffe handled most of the lighting while I operated the camera. I'm comfortable operating and because we didn't have a video village, didn't even have an on board monitor, I didn't want to waste time going back and watching takes and making sure it worked. It was just faster and easier for me to operate the camera. As for the combo, I prefer operating whenever I can. I find that it gives me much greater insight with regard to how the actor is performing than if I'm stepped away from it. But that's me. It didn't hinder me in anyway but that's because I did so much prep as a director that by the time we got on set it was about minor tweaks.

October 17, 2014 at 12:56PM

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Joshua Caldwell
Director / Writer / Producer
164

Great work and very very sensible. Will try and pop by tomorrow.

June 4, 2014 at 3:29AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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marklondon

Although I am inspired by this amazing story of perseverance and the underdog coming out on top, I do have to disagree with the sentiment that with a 5D one doesn't need to 'light' a shot anymore, because it's so sensitive in low light. I wholeheartedly disagree, as it's always the DP's job to creatively light a scene with light that will compliment the actors and narrative and provide a platform for actors to provide an outstanding performance on screen. We can never neglect light!

June 4, 2014 at 4:49AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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You're right. I shoudn't say we "didn't need to light" but that instead, we were able to make better use of the available light. Thus, we only had to do minor shaping using a 1x1 panel light. It about having to use less lights, less powerful lights, to accomplish the same effect.

October 17, 2014 at 12:58PM

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Joshua Caldwell
Director / Writer / Producer
164

I'll see your $6,000 feature and raise you my $4,000 feature which just had its US premiere - and won the Best Foreign Film award - at the Famous Monsters Film Festival in San Jose, California: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2akmz-IRZf8

Shot on a 7-year-old Canon HV20. Cheers.

June 4, 2014 at 6:35AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Great work Joshua. Mega-inspiring. Passing on the story to give my crew a jolt in the bottom.

http://houseonthehorizon.blogspot.com/2014/06/on-sub-10k-features-and-yo...

June 4, 2014 at 9:09AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Carlos Sanchez

Thanks for the feature, Carlos. Much appreciated.

June 4, 2014 at 4:14PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Awesome man. What your plan of action when submitting to film festivals, and what was your approximate budget?

June 4, 2014 at 9:12AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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The first festival we submitted to was SIFF and we were just very lucky to get in. We were then accepted into Dances With Films. Right now, we're out to several festivals but won't be hearing anything until mid-summer. Our hope was that the buzz out of SIFF, the press and the two sold out shows might compel other festivals to seriously consider us.

When you ask about the budget, do you mean festival budget?

June 4, 2014 at 4:34PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Yeah, festival budget. I really just wanted to know what your game plan was. Did you rule out certain festivals because the submission fee was going to be a waste of money, did you wait for SIFF as you felt you stood a chance, or did you come close to finishing the film, start looking at festivals and thought SIFF was a good one to go for?

June 5, 2014 at 5:32AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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It's really important to have a festival budget, as we're finding out (because we don't have one). We happened to have some money via other jobs we've done that we decided to commit to this. In addition to festival fees, it'll cost a couple hundred dollars to get a DCP made or even an HDCAM. It'll cost money to have posters made and have them printed. Post cards to promote the screenings. FB ads, etc.

We definitely looked at whether a festival was worth it. A lot of festivals just aren't. However, we didn't submit to any festivals until after we heard we accepted to SIFF. We decided on SIFF because we didn't want to wait months for Sundance on the slim chance we'd get in. It just wasn't worth it to us. Also, Travis (my producer) and I are both from Seattle. And we thought we might be able to generate more good will and attention based on that, rather than being just one of many filmmakers at a random festival. Also, SIFF really wanted us.

Once we got in we started looking at other festivals and submitted to several. We did rule out Telluride, for example, because we knew that Telluride only wants World Premieres, which we couldn't offer (unless you're already a celebrity filmmaker). We may not pay money to submit to AFI because the majority of their films are invited to screen, not submitted. I am not an expert on the festival circuit, as this is my first major experience. But I hope to share more as I learn.

Also, we didn't finish the film until, literally, the first part of May. So, any festivals prior to SIFF were out of the question. And even with SIFF we were cutting it close. We submitted a rough cut to them and that's what they accepted us on.

June 5, 2014 at 3:43PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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You can actually MAKE the posters yoursellf. Tons of great art examples all on line to learn from.

Same with a lot of FREE on line art apps to help you with design.

You DO NOT NEED to pay for poster art - concept art.
If nothing else...go to nearest college, community college...hit the cafe..put up notices for art sudents to do design work on indie feature movie.

You will get lots of responses; not all will be what you want...but you go through it all
until you get what you want.

It's low, low budget, right?

June 9, 2014 at 6:11PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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MARK GEORGEFF

Mark,

Absolutely, but you still have to pay for printing. Whether those costs are for paying a graphic designer to make one for you and then paying a print house or you designing it yourself and prining it at Kinko's there will still be some costs associated with it.

June 9, 2014 at 10:10PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Great article! Assuming the film is a feature, how many days did you shoot and what did you pay your crew? If you paid your crew cut-rates, was it a challenge finding them?

June 4, 2014 at 11:09AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Its a feature, yes. We shot for about 11-12 days. And we did not pay our crew. However, for probably 90% of the time the crew was comprised of myself, our DP, and two of our producers who would trade off running sound. The other 10% of the time, we got volunteers for one day usually. But only 2 of the 12 days required crew beyond the four of us.

June 4, 2014 at 4:36PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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It's an inspiring post, Joshua. Thanks for making this film and getting it seen.

It's a two sided sword, of course. If you spend roughly a year on a project, it might be worthy to go look for more funds to up that production value to a level you want. But the lack of resources shouldn't stop us from trying either..

Anyways, great for you. Yay!

June 4, 2014 at 5:42PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Elias

Well, we only shot for about 11 days and then edited the film in our free time. Due to favors being pulled, post wasn't totally on my schedule. But yes, more funds by you that kind of stuff.

June 4, 2014 at 9:42PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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The more you work, the less it's low budget...

June 4, 2014 at 5:48PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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is the first page not loading for everyone?

June 4, 2014 at 6:05PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

Of comments? I'm having the same problem.

June 4, 2014 at 9:43PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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ya and that's why my questions were ... lol ... oh, well ...

June 4, 2014 at 10:38PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

You can repost and I'll answer them. I know they're checking out the glitch so hopefully it'll be fixed and I can answer any questions you have.

June 5, 2014 at 3:33PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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My questions were on the potential choice of the voice overdub in post vs. recording the dialog live, especially in the disco scene; the other was on shooting wide in 4K and then using the zoom in post for reframing the closeups; and the third was on the possibility of a multi-camera production with the same goal in mind ... more post, quicker shooting ...
.
(and there were also a long winded congratulation sentence ... hehe ... but it was sincere)

June 5, 2014 at 10:02PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

DLD - For some reason I can't reply to your post, but I can reply to mind directly above it, so hopefully you see this.

So, yes, we pretty much recorded as much of the dialogue live as we could. I'm not a big fan of ADR. It's just so hard to recapture performance and emotion months later when the actor hasn't been in character and they're now on a sound stage speaking into a mic. It's just never the same. So, I really try and capture everything I can while on set (even if it's ADR, I try and get it then). However, sometimes you can't.

In the club, there's only one line spoken "Where's Juliette?" That was intentional. I didn't control the club so I knew I wouldn't be able to do a long dialogue scene but I thought that one line would be fairly easy to dub in post, which it was. It helped that the club was dark, we're moving quick, etc and wouldn't be needed to match her lips perfectly.

Since we shot on the 5D, I didn't have the luxury of 4K (or even 2K). However, I have shot in 4K and used the trick you describe below. If you have that option it becomes a really great tool for speed because you can essentially shoot your MED and your CUs at the same time (and just punch in in post). I would probably test it first to make sure there's no problems with it but it can be really helpful for getting more angles when you don't have time.

And finally, I'm a huge fan of shooting two cameras and I've used that effectively in the past. However, I don't like to do it if I don't have two monitors and the ability to watch both cameras. I've found that when I can't see what the other operator is doing (and correct anything I need to) I don't end up liking that footage. So, on the next ones if I have that ability I'll probably take it. However, on LAYOVER we shot single camera and still came in under 8 hours each day. Could a second camera have cut that time down even further? Possibly. But with one camera I knew exactly what I was getting.

June 6, 2014 at 10:09AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Thanks for the answers, Joshua ... clearly, there are always trade-offs in the various styles and techniques but was interested in finding your reasons for this project in particular and the - budget or no budget - film making in general ...
.
PS. This is turning into that very popular thread that hasn't involved GH4 vs. the world debate ... (and this project really begged for A7s, what with its low light capability and all ... alas, the same time, next year)

June 6, 2014 at 1:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

Surely that's a 5D with an external recorder (atomos or similar)? Or magic lantern and a flash card? The image looks great. Apologies if this has already been asked on the first page I can't read it either

June 4, 2014 at 6:24PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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MarcusJc

Thank you! 5D mk ii with Magic Lantern. We bumped the bitrate slightly (too much and it crashes) but it wasn't shot in RAW or anything.

June 4, 2014 at 9:43PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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The scifi teen movie PINK ZONE which had its WORLD PREMIERE at Dances With Films too last saturday, was made for 5k, write, directed, shot and edited by one man.

Check out more on pinkzonemovie.com

June 4, 2014 at 7:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ben

There you go. And Sci-Fi is arguably harder to pull off low budget than drama. But it's not impossible.

June 4, 2014 at 9:44PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Not impossible but really time consuming. Space Trucker Bruce did not get into Dances with Films so I'm a bit jealous but I can tell from your trailer that your film is much better. I think the tough thing with sci-fi is to build the sets and do the CGI effects on a budget. I think its best if you have to have years to devote to it the ability to do it all yourself. Only cost is time and a bit of your sanity.

June 5, 2014 at 3:20PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Yeah. I've certainly developed out Sci-Fi stories but they were all demanding a budget. I'm just not a guy who can do his own VFX. So, for me, it was about finding a story that I felt I could execute with what we had, but also, it was less calculated than that. What kind of story would I like to tell? What I mean is, I didn't settle with the story. It's exactly the kind of film I wanted to make.

June 5, 2014 at 3:48PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Definitely, it's all about the story ! I'm sad we missed each other's screenings ! Are you coming to the closing night ceremony Joshua ?

June 6, 2014 at 5:23AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ben

What you've done with this film is really (for me) what its all about - content, not gear - and what's more a story about people, not a product - excellent and inspiring!

June 4, 2014 at 8:32PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ed Wright

Thank you. And yeah, people get trapped in the gear -- instead of story. Story matters. Resolution doesn't, not really. People will forgive you resolution as long as you tell a great story. But how many 100 million dollar movies, with all the gear in the world, suck because of the story?

And not to say this film is for everyone but I hope people connect to it in some small way.

June 4, 2014 at 9:46PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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The trailer looks fantastic!
Congratulations and thanks for the insight.

June 4, 2014 at 9:02PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Weldon

Thanks for taking the time to comment! Glad you found some value in the post.

June 4, 2014 at 9:46PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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This article almost made me cry...this was the instant boost I needed to bust out my "little drama" script and just fucking shoot it, I know I can make it for a few grand (got the canon 5d, work at a film school here in LA so free lights, great actor friends), may sound sad but this article right here is what's kicking my ass in gear...

Thank you Joshua.

June 4, 2014 at 11:07PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Melvin

That's great to hear. And something everyone should know: You might fail. This movie could have been a failure for me. (It's happened before.) But that was okay. I'd rather fail on a $6000 than on a $1M project.

But yes, sometimes, if you have the tools, there's nothing stopping you but yourself.

June 5, 2014 at 12:38PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Nice. Congrats. Just do it. This is all similar to what I did on my first short film. I produced this one alone with whatever I had available because I couldn't stand waiting around to make a film any longer. I embraced the micro budget & no crew and just kept it simple, went out and made something happen.
Sniper versus scout: http://vimeo.com/m/93150694

June 5, 2014 at 2:33AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Nice! Yeah, sometimes, for certain films, the bigger movie stuff gets in the way. Sometimes all you need is a camera and two dudes with guns. :-)

June 5, 2014 at 12:39PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Or in this case, just one guy. I had a few days off but no one to assist so I made this one all by my lonesome. I played both characters and self shot it (as one can tell by some of the poor framing). The quality is low but I like the fact I didn't let "lack of everything" hold me back from making a short. I appreciate how you found creative ways to bump production value and get your film done without the additional "niceties".

June 5, 2014 at 10:34PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Just watched the film in Hollywood. What a refreshing experience. Thanks Josh and Team for a very well made film. Inspiring!!!

June 5, 2014 at 3:34AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Scott

Thanks, Scott. Really appreciate you taking the time to come out and watch the film. Glad you found some value in it.

June 5, 2014 at 12:40PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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I believe that making the movie is the easy step in the chain. Would you double please tell us about the screening process and how to get on local or not so local theaters? Was it because of Friends? Producers? Magic? Mind control? Because for me distribution is a secret that just the illuminati know... and perchance macgyver.

June 5, 2014 at 8:44AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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edgar

Totally agree. I'll say that on this film we really didn't give much thought to distribution while making it and are now trying to figure it out. We really feel this is at its heart a festival movie more so than a general release movie. (I could be wrong.) As such we're really looking towards festivals as the limited theatrical run before going to VOD and Streaming distribution.

For us the win was in having people see it and give us money for the next one, but not necessarily release this one. However, we were only able to be in that position because we shot the movie for so little. I'd be freaking out right now if we had made the film for $500,000 and hadn't found a distributor. Because at that budget level you have a responsibility to do what you can to get that money back for you investors. We didn't have that issue, which was intentional.

I've said that I think it would have been irresponsible of me to have made the movie I did for half a million dollars. So, we're hoping distribution comes through, mainly so people can see the movie. But worst case, we get a streaming deal with Netflix and throw it up on iTunes. If we don't make our money back, that's okay with us.

June 5, 2014 at 1:12PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Mh... For better or worse, your articles are welcome here, so don't forget to bring us some good news next time.

June 6, 2014 at 1:30PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Edgar

Thanks Joshua, great article. A very inspiring smart approach to filmmaking. Thanks.

June 5, 2014 at 1:24PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Also, a quick question. How much pre-production did you do? For example actor rehearsals, storyboards or shot list, DP discussions, etc?

June 5, 2014 at 1:26PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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The trick to making a film this cheap is all in the prep. We had about two months, off and on, of prep ahead of shooting. So, we did a lot of location scouting (since we stole a lot of locations, we had to know what we were getting in to).

Because we were shooting weekends, we basically did prep each week ahead of the shooting. For the actors, we'd meet on Tuesday night, go through the scene, rehearse, make sure the French was correct, and then that gave them several days to get off book for the scenes that weekend. Meanwhile, production would just be prepping for whatever props or wardrobe was needed and then we'd go.

I didn't storyboard and I did general shots lists. Basically, the way I shot the film was to stage the action and then just shoot around with a couple different angles. Because we were so mobile with the 5D and had virtually no light we could change up the angles very quickly. I would also try to shooting the entirety of the scene with each angle.

June 5, 2014 at 1:57PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Hey Joshua, thanks a lot for the reply. Everything you said makes perfect sense about the prep being the key. Also, I can totally understand about being mobile with the 5D and no lights, etc. I had the opposite situation a couple of weeks ago. I am attending film school here in the UK and I just shot my MA graduation thesis film on the RED. It was a 7 day shoot with a large crew, as you said the RED really uses a lot of production resources (DIT, lighting, etc) but I am lucky to have the support of my school. Where my shoot fell down a little was I didn't do enough prep with DP (absolutely essential if shooting with the RED). However, I am proud that I followed most of your other tips (I used Japanese culture and set pieces with no dialogue).

https://www.facebook.com/konoyofilm

Shooting my shoot film was a great experience and I learned so much, a definite stepping stone. However, your sub $10k feature experience is the missing key for me moving forward. Beyond filmmaking, I believe it also relates to lifestyle meaning one can hold a normal job and make films on weekends. Nothing is more important than balance not even films...Anyway, once again thanks for sharing.

June 5, 2014 at 5:07PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Damn, missed the LA premiere last night (just read this this morning). Showing anywhere else soon?

June 5, 2014 at 4:16PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Mike D

Not sure. We hope so. You can subscribe to our newsletter at layoverfilm (dot) com and get updates on the film and where it's screening.

June 5, 2014 at 4:17PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Absolutely inspiring, Joshua. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and tips.FANTASTIC idea to use french as a interesting stylistic twist, truly unique. I love your comments about tarantino, as Im literally trying t avoid "taratinio-isms" and "2 people in a room: stories w my shorts as I work with more writers (thats my worst area IMO, so I try and involve others FAR more talented than I).

As I'm currently putting together a small crew to shoot short films regularly, Im finding its difficult to gather a good team who cares about the final product as much as I do. Its truly incredible what you were able to pull off with such a minimal budget, BUT also with such minimal gear, crew and time. So many focus ONLY on budgets, but what many forget is the time crunch in shooting a low\no budget film w/o sacrificing story or character and you apparently nailed it.

I'd love to know more about the film, if you have any BTS material. You;ve got me hooked. Thank you again

June 6, 2014 at 12:15PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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We don't have much unfortunately. However, the film is now available to purchase at http://www.LayoverFilm.com. There's some Anatomy of a Scene BTS clips and an interview with me. Also, over at /Film we have this article about shooting in a club: http://www.slashfilm.com/how-to-shoot-a-club-scene/

October 17, 2014 at 1:04PM

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Joshua Caldwell
Director / Writer / Producer
164

Really great work! But, I made this feature film for $5000, got into a bunch of major festivals and got distribution.

http://goo.gl/uGzfSc

June 6, 2014 at 10:42PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Vishnu

Congrats! Another great example of success without spending tons of money!

June 6, 2014 at 10:44PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Your trailer was pretty good up until the stabbing scene. It is CLEARLY OBVIOUS that she isn't even close to touching him with it. It is more compelling and better looking than the OP's project though.

June 7, 2014 at 8:18PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Marcus

this isnt a contest. No need for a "BUT". Its awesome you pushed forward and created a low budget feature as well.

June 9, 2014 at 12:54PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Hi, very interesting project as well as super inspiring for us all. I think in a lot of DIY/micro budgets fall in to the trap of lousy sound. How did you work around that? I would love to hear (not a pun) about your sound set up and gear you used. Did you have a designated sound guy on set at all times etc?

June 7, 2014 at 8:28AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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We recorded all of our sound on an H4N Zoom recorder using two Sennheiser lav mics (the standard ones) and a Sennheiser shotgun mic usually running at the same time (for backup, mostly). I've always found for me that the best dialogue comes off lavs (so long as you're not getting clothes rustling) and prefer to make that the primary mic. It just gets super clean audio. Honestly, the guy recording the sound was one of our producers who understood how to use the equipment but wasn't a "sound guy."

After that, it's all about your post sound mixers working their magic. I'm fortunate that I have some really great guys and friends who do this for a living. So many times I've watched them remove hiss, hums, bumps that I thought couldn't be removed. I think that's where you win. I'm fortunate to have those people in my corner but I know not everyone does. That said, if you can get clean audio even a simple mix in final cut can still sound great.

But, I'd say that our sound recording setup wasn't anything special.

June 7, 2014 at 12:46PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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You mind letting us know which sennheiser lavs you used? It sounds fantastic

June 9, 2014 at 12:57PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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