A few weeks ago, I shared how I made a short film using a toy camera. Today, let's talk about a common theme we all run into as filmmakers: limitations.

My latest short, The Elevator, is a prime example of how you can use limitations to your advantage. It was made with no budget, no crew, and no actors. I filmed it entirely by myself in a single (very tiny) location with nothing but a GoPro. 

But none of that would matter unless people didn’t actually enjoy it. And fortunately, they did. So in this article, I will break down how I did it, what I learned from the experience, and leave you with some key takeaways that you can apply for your next project.

But first, check out the short. 

Evolve your story around your limitation  

As filmmakers, we love to daydream about the most amazing stories we would like to tell one day. It’s natural, that's why we do it. So when we finally dip our toes in the water and start working on our own projects, a lot of the time we are trying to emulate what we love seeing on the big screen. But the problem is, especially when we are just starting, that is an almost guaranteed way to fall flat.

See, at the beginning of our filmmaking journey, we are all lacking resources. We don’t have budgets, gear, crew, actors, and access to locations. And that could be frustrating, even discouraging.

Limitations are not necessarily bad—they can drive creativity

Try to think of the resources you have available first. Not the story, but the resources.

Have access to a car and two actors? Great, write a story about them driving around.

Have a cool unique item at home? Make it the centerpiece of your story.

Only have legos? Make a stop-motion film.

You get the idea. Think of any object, location, or person you actually have available to you, and then write a compelling story involving only them.

In my case, it all started when I moved to a new apartment building and noticed that one of the elevators looks a little bit creepy. So immediately my first thought was that it would actually make for a pretty good horror film location. I then brainstormed and wrote down any idea that could potentially work. From the very beginning, I knew that the whole story would take place in there with just me in front of the camera. And that was the key to making it work.

Any-sized budget can run into limitations 

There are plenty of great films that originated from creative limitations and went on to become highly successful.

Take for example Buried starring Ryan Reynolds and directed by Rodrigo Cortés. The entire movie takes place in a single dark coffin. It could have been filmed anywhere, by anyone. It had a budget of $2 million and grossed over $21 million. 

Another great example is Paranormal Activity, written and directed by Oren Peli. It was filmed with a home video camera which was almost always set on a tripod to eliminate the need for crew. With just two actors and a single location, the movie gave the fans a truly unique experience at the time. And with a budget of just $15,000 it grossed over $190 million in the box office.

Some key takeaways

Here's what I would advise:

  • Identify what your resources are and then write a story
  • Keep it simple and use only what you have available to you
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment. Give the audience something they haven’t seen before

In conclusion, remember that when you have too many options, it could sometimes lead to creative paralysis. You can get overwhelmed and unsure of which direction to take. With creative limitations, however, you can explore more interesting and less obvious solutions.

And eventually, the stories will grow with you.

You can check more of my work on my YouTube channel or follow me on Twitter or Instagram