February 12, 2016
Sundance 2016

How to Not Waste A Dime On Your Feature Film

'Operation Avalanche'
Struggling to get your low budget project up and running? Here's two hours of advice from Teradek and Seed and Spark’s Innovator's Brunch at the Sundance Film Festival.

If it's your first time, walking down Main Street at The Sundance Film Festival can be a thoroughly overwhelming experience. Major brands line the streets with ushers bravely shuttling pedestrians into cramped dark spaces where swag looms large and agendas remain taught. It’s not a terrible allegory for the independent film industry itself. 

Occasionally, however, you stumble upon a room filled by a group of people truly doing their best to help each other navigate the plights of being a fledgling filmmaker.

The Innovator's Brunch was just one of those spaces. Supported by WeVR, G-Technology, Frame.io, and, of course, No Film School, the series of panels explores the obstacles you'll encounter from getting your film off the ground with no budget, to the unexpected troubles you'll face when you actually acquire a larger one.

How to Not Waste A Dime On Your Feature Film

For those who are just starting off, you've got to use whatever money you’ve managed to scrape together as effectively as possible. A panel featuring cinematographer Eve Cohen (The Visitor), filmmaker Mark Polish (Twin Falls Idaho), Eric Johnson (VP of Sound + Engagement at Trailblazers Studios) and No Film School founder Ryan Koo discuss some of the most effective methods to keep your film on time, in focus, and on budget.

Saving Money by Thinking Ahead

Mark Polish:

I start with the script, making sure that the script is modular, that I’m not locked into certain areas or certain locations so I can move quite freely with a small crew.

Ryan Koo:

There are so many scenes where time of day doesn’t actually matter, so I was trying to think about the way you actually schedule your shoot. Just marking which scenes it actually depends on the time of day and which scenes you can actually try and slide in somewhere else, locations you might be able to double.

On Choosing a Camera

Ryan Koo:

The number one thing to think about when choosing a camera is just how efficient you’re going to be able to be on set. If there’s a 45 minute camera build, if there are things that are going to cause you to not be able to do the things you’re there to do, which is to talk to your actors and get takes, that is more important than the actual image quality because you’re telling a story that is more important than the highlight reel.

Plan for Post

Eric Johnson:

The less money you have for your film, the more money you should spend for a great location sound person.

Eve Cohen:

Understanding that time is also money. If something’s not right on set there are times that you have to say, ok we can’t shoot this because this is going to take so long to fix in post, that we actually just have to spend the time now to do it.

On Communicating with Editors

Mark Polish:

We’re starting at the script. Coming up with shots, things that we could reduce, how many shots will it take for coverage, what’s essential to that scene, what do we need and what don’t we need, what can we lose, what’s essential to move the story along.

Ryan Koo:

In terms of saving money, you’re the person that’s not really being paid on your film.  To get the most out of it, you can do it yourself, that’s where you can save the most...if you can carve out the time and commit to your project than you can get a lot out of your own lack of a life for a while.

How do you work with SAG?

Mark Polish says, "You shoot in Russia.”

Under 100k: The Key to Success or Starvation

One hundred thousand dollars may seem like enough to make all your budgetary problems magically disappear, but could it actually end up making your film worse? Directors Meera Menon (Equity), Karem Sanga (First Girl I Loved), Matt Johnson and Matt Miller (Operation Avalanche) discuss this paradox. 

On How To Shoot With A Low Budget

Matt Johnson:

Our philosophy was to do everything our teachers at film school told us not to do. They’re like, 'don’t shoot without releases,' 'don’t shoot without a script,' 'don’t use trademarks and copyrights.' And then we just did all that.

Matt Miller:

We didn’t spend money on the film until we thought the film was worth spending money on.

Meera Menon:

I had a group of friends I’d graduated with that all went in on a camera package together, so that was never a line item for our micro budget.  We all owned this Red Scarlet at the time, and we were all sharing it and making content with it together.

On the Benefits of a Bigger Budget

Karem Sanga:

If you have more money, than the more planning that we did, the more we got rewarded for it. There was no sense of urgency, which is good because my weaknesses as a director would have become apparent.

On the Drawbacks of A Bigger Budget

Meera Menon:

With scaling up, you lose an ability to be spontaneous, your mind kind of closes down to the unexpected.  There is something really exciting about planning the best you can, but to have the ability to still do anything and go anywhere.

Matt Johnson:

Having more money raises people’s expectations in every way. As a viewer, you actually allow yourself to be surprised quite a bit more by hard work in films that cost no money, as opposed to films that once they get to a certain budget level, you cross your arms at the beginning and say, impress me.

Do you have any tips or tricks for shooting on a microbudget? Is it really possible that a larger budget could end up being a bad thing? Let's discuss some of this advice below.


For more, see our complete coverage of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.

Sundance 2016 Blackmagic Design

No Film School's video and editorial coverage of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival is sponsored by Blackmagic Design.      

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2 Comments

Ryan Koo as a source of authority? Hmmm, ok.

February 14, 2016 at 12:02AM

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Jonathon Sendall
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How do you work with SAG?
Mark Polish says, "You shoot in Russia.”

Touch with me if you wanna do that in a guerilla way

February 20, 2016 at 11:30AM

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