How to Make a Short or Feature Film on a Small Budget
Recently, I've been running a virtual pub quiz between me and a few of my friends. I asked the question what is the film with the highest budget in cinema history? The answer? Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Now, I'm not here to do a film review, but in my humble opinion, I don't think the high budget translated to the quality of the film. I've never heard anyone say the Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (The fourth one by the way) is the best film ever, and to be honest, I can't see what the budget was spent on, apart from the flashy effects you'd expect from a Hollywood 'blockbuster' these days. That got me thinking, how can you make a well-crafted film that people will like, but on a small budget?
When Fire and Iron Productions started, as with any production company, we had to start small and build our way up. So we've all picked up some tricks along the way. If you're thinking about making a short or even feature film, then this blog should give you some things to think about.
What costs nothing? Your imagination. If you have an idea for a project, then that's already a great start! With that in mind, get writing. Even if you don't have the money, crew or even a camera, get that thing written! Especially now when some of us have more time on our hands than we ever will again. If there's been that one film you've always wanted to write, do it now. If nothing else, you will feel a sense of accomplishment. The story is everything and without a good narrative, no matter how much money you put behind it, your film will not be as good as it can be. Bronson had a budget of £230,00, so you can definitely be frugal and make a brilliant film. If you're wanting to get some advice on compelling storytelling, then check out one of our previous blogs here.
At the same time, you've also got to be realistic with what you can produce. If you've got a multi-dimensional sci-fi epic going on in your mind, brilliant! Write it, but maybe leave it on the back burner until you've got a bit more money in your pocket.
Plan, plan, plan. If you're trying to be tight with your monies, then planning ahead is the best thing you can do because more often then not, things will go wrong. Planning will limit that risk. When setting out your budget, make sure you allow for some contingencies in case something comes up that you weren't expecting.
Incentives for cast and crew. Make it as worthwhile as you can for those involved, if you're strapped for cash give them as much 'not cash' as you can. Food, copies of the film, a VIP screening, props from the set if you made them etc. Get inventive and help them to get the most out of it. However, in the same breath, if you have the ability to, pay for the people working on the project. Every creative is struggling for cash.
Also, whilst on the crew, try and find the right people. It's all well and good finding people who will work for payment in meal deals, but if they're not passionate about the project, then they're not right for you. You want people who can take pride in what they're creating and also have fun in the process.
Sound, prioritise it. People can put up with less quality in the visual but not sound. The best thing you can do for that is by simply reducing the background noise as much as possible. That can be done by choosing the right location, turning off anything that makes noise (air conditioning etc) and by soundproofing the room (this doesn't have to be anything expensive, old curtains and bedsheets will do).
Location. Ask around! Sometimes, people you know, know people who have a really great place that they own, so get asking. Failing that, Airbnb can be a good option if you are open and transparent with the owners about what you'd like to do.
Vary the shot choice. If every shot is static it can be boring, but there are inventive and cheap ways to vary the shots. (Side-tracking shot using a towel on a smooth floor etc.) There are some fab channels for that. The same goes for lighting.
Those are some of the tips and tricks we've picked up over our time working on various projects. If you take one thing away from this, it should be that you should prioritise the narrative and quality of the story over the prettiness of the shot. I'm sure if Titanic was filmed on a Nokia people would be confused, but they wouldn't be able to argue with the powerful nature of the story and the writing.
That's all from us. Bye for now