November 7, 2016

6 Lessons on How to Make a No-Budget Feature Film

In no-budget filmmaking, your limitations are your guide.

Trying to make a movie without having any money is certainly a challenge, but it's one that can push us to the limit of our creativity. Some of our greatest directors started out in the low-budget indie sector, and in this video by The Royal Ocean Film Society, we get to look at the early films of Robert Rodriguez, Christopher Nolan, and Richard Linklater to learn the techniques they used to make fantastic low-budget cinema with limited resources.

Here are some takeaways from the video:

  • Shoot black and white: It can actually be easier to manage.
  • Try not to use guns: According to Christopher Nolan, they more often than not look too fake. Use a hammer or something.
  • Take stock of what you have and make a movie about it: Just looking around my office I've got handcuffs, an old Kodak Duaflex II, and an interesting crawl space inside a closet. Boom! Movie about a serial killer who handcuffs his victims inside a crawl space and takes photos of them right before he kills them. 
  • Film something that hasn't been seen before: It doesn't have to be spectacular or weird. It could be your own neighborhood, a mom and pop store, or the roller derby scene in your town.
  • Be disciplined: It's hard to be prepared and intentional when shooting digital, but it's good practice.
  • Don't take things so seriously: We're not performing life saving surgeries here, we're makin' movies. Being overly severe to the point that you're not enjoying yourself or having fun might mean that your audience won't enjoy it or have any fun either.
'Clerks' (1994)

Of course, there are many other things you can do to keep costs down. You can have a cast and crew full of your friends and family, borrow a camera or just use your smartphone, take advantage of available light (the sun, windows, etc.), use free NLEs for editing, and so much more.

What are some things you do to make films without many resources? Let us know in the comments below!      

Your Comment

9 Comments

It's refreshing to see how every single one of these heavy weights had one common trait when starting out. Get it Done! Forget judgements, forget budgets and forget ego. Thanks to Andrew for the great video. Well said and well done.

November 7, 2016 at 11:26PM

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Cesar Adrian Cisneros
Director/Editor
91

This is really good advice. I agree with all of it. Especially the thing about making something from what you have around you. It's like "Be yourself. Nobody else can" but applied to scenarios.
Thanks for this. I think I'll go work on my film now. I'm feeling like it again.

November 8, 2016 at 3:11AM, Edited November 8, 3:11AM

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There's going to be a moment while making your first film. When some shit hit the fan and you have to miss a day of shooting. You don't have the money for another day. It's scary. You feel lost. Why the hell did you make this movie in the first place? Hell what am I forcing my friends to work for little to no money to come out in the rain and shoot an 18 hour day? Is this film even worth it? That self doubt will have its chance to come out. The only way to combat it is if you have something to ground you. Make the film about a message you truly believe in. That way you can say this isn't about you, it's about getting that message out there.

November 8, 2016 at 1:31PM, Edited November 8, 1:44PM

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Filmbaker
Writer/Director
461

Shooting 12 or even 18 hours days is probably not a good idea in the micro to no budget category. I seldom make my friends and actors work more than about 6 hours. I'm just not paying them enough for long days.

November 8, 2016 at 3:58PM, Edited November 8, 4:00PM

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Anton Doiron
Creator/Filmmaker
517

18 Hours is something you may only be able to pull off once...
After that most of your friends won't show up ever again :-p

November 8, 2016 at 4:06PM, Edited November 8, 4:07PM

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WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
8880

That is why having fun is important as well.
If it is an agony to shoot, you might not make it till the end.

November 8, 2016 at 4:05PM

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WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
8880

Handcuffs? OMG! ;-)

Great advice: if you use what you have access to, you can't hide behind: "Yeah, we're making a film, but we're waiting until.... (whatever pig needs to fly)"
You can actually do instead of dream :-)

I know it is hard sometimes: I have visions of shooting in Venice as well. But lets face it: I won't be able to shoot there for a while.. So it is time to work on something reachable.

November 8, 2016 at 4:30PM

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WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
8880

He makes really good points! You're just having fun so don't take yourself too seriously. I've made one micro budget feature called Space Trucker Bruce (https://amzn.com/B00JL5M1TS). I'm working on a new one right now and my style has changed so much based on what I've learned.

My tips:
-Work on it a little every day. Stay focused. This is the hardest thing.
-Don't try to do it like the big guys.
-Make your film for the right reasons. It is a learning experience and should be about something you're interested in, not about getting rich and famous.
-Quality is overrated.
-Use cardboard for your sets
-Shoot evenings and weekends for a few hours.
-Write short dialog that's easy to remember. Your actor/friends don't have time to memorize.
-Plan each shot and storyboard. prioritize so you can drop a shot or two when you run out of time.
-Don't stress out. Like he says in this video: Don't take yourself too seriously.
-I have a superstition that three things will go wrong with a big shooting day. Be prepared.
-Try to please yourself, then your actors/crew, nobody else.

November 8, 2016 at 4:59PM

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Anton Doiron
Creator/Filmmaker
517

Jean Luc Godard's Alphaville is another example. A science fiction city that looks remarkably like Paris.

November 11, 2016 at 5:54PM

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Julian Richards
Film Warlord
1044

I made my first "no-budget" feature film in 2008. My son has made four "no-budget" feature films since then. Two have world-premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival. One world-premiered at the Tacoma International Film Festival.

Cost for production of films: "Daylight Saving Time" - $5,000 but that included the cameras and equipment. "Senior Prom" - $500, "The Historic" - $500. "Finding October" - $3,000 but $1,000 of that was for music rights. "Superpowerless" - $500.

To view these films - go to www.dashboardfilms.net

My two cents:
1. Get talented people involved - not just friends and family.
2. Figure out the locations you have access to and write your story around those. (For my son's film "The Historic" we had access to a 100+ year old movie theatre.)
3. Learn editing or hire a good editor.
4. Learn sound or hire a good sound guy.
5. Figure out your music beforehand. My son's film "Finding October" used songs from various artists.
6. Get a production assistant on board ASAP to walk you through things and be a sounding board.
7. Thank EVERYONE.

July 6, 2017 at 12:24PM

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Matthew Terry
Director/Screenwriter/Teacher
1