A Crash Course in Micro-Budget Filmmaking

Crash Course Micro-Budget Moviemaking Shadow of a Gun
For $35 on our Kickstarter, we’re making a 15-minute video spilling all our tips and tricks for micro-budget moviemaking.

A couple weekends ago, I attended the TERMINUS Film and Game Festival and spoke on a couple panels. The first was called The Great Film School Debate, where four of us took the stand to talk about the advantages and disadvantages of going to film school. I also headed up a panel called Microbudget Filmmaking— I was joined by Eliza McNitt, Molly Coffee, and Martin Kelleyout of which we conceptualized a new 15-minute video as a Kickstarter reward for my new film:

What is micro-budget cinema?

Micro-budget cinema is a production modality, but it also embodies an adventurous and exploratory spirit of filmmaking. Micro-budgets can range from $1,000 to $250,000, but effectively the limitations remain the same. The benevolent side effect of these limitations is that a certain amount of artifice is automatically excluded from the process. It means we have to rely on our abilities as filmmakers to make what is often already in front of us interesting or relevant on a screen. We don’t have the resources to be lazy. 

The "how" is the "what"

In micro-budget filmmaking, producing and directing become similar jobs. There are just certain things you can’t do in a micro-budget film—but we can’t let the audience know this. We can’t afford to shut down that street, set that building on fire, or create a fully whirring science fiction universe, but we are still tasked with creating the illusion that anything can happen.

Micah Van Hove at TERMINUS 2016 Atlanta, GA on Micro-budget filmmaking
Micah Van Hove of No Film School leads this discussion about the ins, outs, whys, and hows of making films for under $50k.Credit: TERMINUS

3 basic tips for micro-budget filmmaking

  • Create a dynamic opening scene: Reinforcing the idea that “anything can happen” in your micro-budget movie has a lot to do with how you open your film. When the film calls for it, I like to try to show an audience right away that nothing is safe and anything can happen. This is part of a strong defense against a world that "scrubs" through movies.

  • Explore: If you’re going into your film with all the answers or with an agenda to promulgate, then you’ve already beaten yourself. 

  • Learn to turn disadvantages into advantages: Making movies attracts so many difficulties that it quickly becomes all about problem-solving. It's important to not dwell on problems and focus on solutions.

Indie Filmmaking 101 (our Kickstarter reward)

For $35, this reward is a 15-minute film with behind-the-scenes content, interviews, and tips and tricks that cover a wide variety of topics for structuring and producing a micro-budget movie.

  • Tips & Tricks: On-set techniques that help save time and money.

  • Shooting Coverage: Overshooting a scene is going to cost both time and money, and the final product can feel like no artistic decisions were made on set.

  • Structuring a Micro-budget Project: Anything from setting up an LLC to selling equity in your project to writing up a contract for your collaborators.

  • Maximizing Location Value: Producers on small projects need to look around them and utilize what they have, like locations.

Big thanks to TERMINUS festival for having me and for all 141 backers of my new film so far. Also, in case you missed it, here's my essay about working with non-actors for Shadow of a Gun.

Terminus Thank You Card

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Interesting looking film! The subject is controversial, the people in the clip seem almost scary. Looks interesting!
My micro-budget films like Space Trucker Bruce (https://youtu.be/kcOaAqGBWLo ) and the upcoming Hidden Spaceship usually involve me writing a story I like with my budget in mind then making it happen over several years.
The thing to remember when making a micro-budget film is to don't do things like the big guys.

Micro-Budget tips:
-You don't need a crew with designated roles or expensive actors.
-You don't need super fancy sets. grab some cardboard, hot glue, tape, and paint.
-You only need yourself and a camera/iphone although actors and a couple helpers make things better.
-I don't worry about things being perfect. It's never perfect
-There will be at least three problems on shooting day. be ready for plan B
-You also probably won't make any money on the film so don't go in debt.

July 1, 2016 at 2:38PM

Anton Doiron

I like the way they kept using fake machine gun sounds to make everyone think that an AR-15 if a full auto weapon.

Also, having an actor say how everyone at the range is a middle aged white guy just like him was pretty cool also. And then having him top it off by saying he couldn't wait to kill someone was a primo bonus!

And having the guy watching the police video intently definitely helped sell the impression that this guy is a psychopathic wannabee killer!!!

But it really maxed out when he got into "anyone can buy an AR, you just walk in and give them the money and they give you one!"

Great tips on how important "selling" your story is compared to how much you actually have to spend to create a fictional work!

July 2, 2016 at 2:20PM

Robert W.

Also, I loved this statement, "If you’re going into your film with all the answers or with an agenda to promulgate, then you’ve already beaten yourself."

July 6, 2016 at 3:07PM

Kyle Sanders