Don't Have Money for Your Movie? Focus on the '4 L's of No-Budget Filmmaking'

'Living in Oblivion'
'Living in Oblivion'
Let’s talk about how lighting, location, lens, and limits can create a stunning no-budget film. 

Making a short film with no budget and limited gear and crew is difficult. There are so many challenges that a filmmaker is forced to face in all phases of production, and sometimes those challenges seem insurmountable... especially when they deal with money.

Zach Ramelan, director and editor of the short film The Statement, sat down with Film Riot to talk about the key factors, or the "4 L's", to consider while creating a no-budget film. Check out the video and then we'll talk after the jump.

Lighting

Lighting can make or break a film. It sets the visual mood, atmosphere, and can show the audience where the story is going. In The Statement, Ramelan creates a futuristic look by lining a storage unit with $40 LED lights from Amazon. The lights create depth in a room that has limited space and creates an ambiance that is needed for the scene. 

Okay, you've got your inexpensive lighting setup, but you've also got practicals. Practical lighting can come from lamps, string lights, flashlights, or any other light that shows up in the frame. There's also natural light... like...sunlight. And what's the best thing about practical and natural light? It's free!

In the 1999 film The Blair Witch Project, practical and natural light plays an important part in creating the mood of the film—​a very DIY, found footage, home movie, flashlight-under-your-chin horror aesthetic.

'The Blair Witch Project'
'The Blair Witch Project'

Location

The prime location for a no-budget film might just be your backyard or the vacant parking lot across the street. Why? Because they don't cost any money to shoot there, and you don't have to worry about permits, contracts, or insurance.  

Going back to The Blair Witch Project and Ramelan’s The Statement, both films use the woods as the setting. Blair Witch Project uses the vastness of the woods to create fear of the unknown, but it also uses the trees to create a claustrophobic feeling as the documentary team is unable to escape. The Statement uses the woods—the tranquility of nature—to show peace and a time of reflection. The same location can tell many different stories. 

But what if you don't want to shoot in the woods or your backyard? What if you want to do something a little more adventurous? The no-budget sci-fi horror film, Cube, managed to not only create an interesting, unsettling aesthetic but it also did so using the same small room throughout the entire movie. Director Vincenzo Natali and his team decided to use colored lights to indicate when the prisoners have entered a "different" room. The location is practical and doesn't alter much which means that production didn't have to spend money to change locations every time. The location can be transformed with lighting, decor, props, and...pretty much anything. 

Cube
'Cube'

Lenses

What kinds of lenses should you use when you're trying to save money? Well, whichever ones you've got...but let's say you have options...fast lenses, if you can afford them, are great for no-budget filmmakers because you need less light to get proper exposure. So, while most lenses can handle natural light outdoors, a faster lens will be able to let in more light when you head inside. Keep in mind, though, that the depth of field will be shallower, and that may not be the look you're going for.

Limitations 

While describing what it was like to create a short film during COVID-19Ramelan said, "...limitations can propel creativity to a whole new level." We are living in a time when everything that once was available to us is either closed or isn't worth the risk of going out and getting. This has forced filmmakers to get creative by making do with the gear they have, in the space they're in. (We've seen what you can do with those limitations!)

But once COVID is over, filmmakers will still have limitations, whether it's with their gear, budget, time, location, casting, or even their own personal abilities and knowledge. The important things here are to understand what options those limitations take away from you, be realistic when planning and setting expectations, and get creative to solve problems.

What do you think? Are there more factors to no-budget filmmaking outside the 4 L’s? Let us know your thoughts below.     

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1 Comment

If I were to add an "L" it would be lunch. Feed your crew!

October 6, 2020 at 8:34PM

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Dan Garee
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