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 Kelley— out 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 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.