Edward Burns, director of Nice Guy Johnny and Newlyweds (his newest is The Fitzgerald Family Christmas), has been around independent filmmaking for nearly 20 years, and he always seems to find new ways of reinventing himself and figuring out different ways to tell stories that matter to him. The great thing about the DSLR revolution is that it has put professional-looking images within reach of almost anyone. You can now spend a few hundred dollars on a camera and it will get you quite a bit of the way there, and let you focus on everything else to make the best movie possible. In an interview with Sheri Candler, and in the online Q&A session below, Edward Burns talks about his career, low-budget filmmaking, screenwriting, and how it's possible to make movies cheaply.
It should probably go without saying, but every film and every situation is different. Not everything he says will apply to all movies, but Burns is one of those people I think it's important to listen to because he is out and actively producing these movies, living by the advice he's giving to filmmakers.
It should be noted that Burns spent much more money on post-production than he did on actual shooting, but the point still stands that he was able to shoot these films for basically no money (in Hollywood terms). As he says above, connections are key. The only way you're going to make a movie for no money is by getting as many favors as possible. You're probably going to have to get a lot of free work out of your crew, and ideally you'd be getting as much food donated as possible -- but in the end -- it does cost money to feed people, and that's likely where a lot of your production budget will go if you're not paying Screen Actors Guild performers.
I think the best thing about the digital revolution and the costs of production being lower is that filmmaking can be practiced by anyone at any time. If you keep your story down to a minimum and write it so that it can be produced for a budget that is within reach without any strings, you can make a movie exactly the way you want.
If you want to check out some of the Burns' recent films, you can find the links below.