4 min read

No-budget Filmmaking

No budget? No problem! (Sort of).
No-budget Filmmaking

Lately I've been starting a few film projects with essentially no budgets. Because it's a huge challenge that most filmmakers have to face, I wanted to explore the stages I take to get such a project going.

No budget or low budget?

When I call a film no-budget there is often still some kind of budget involved. But I like to use the term because it means I'm simply self-funding at an extremely low level and I want everyone's expectations in check.

And because it's self-funded, the closer we can get to $0 the better. But even if we get to $0 cost this isn't the true cost. So let's get started.

Young woman holding money.
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon / Unsplash

Considering the true cost of your no-budget film.

To help see the true-cost of a project, I like to create a real-world budget based on all the manpower and equipment people are willing to bring to our project. It helps me to understand how much actual value and time people are investing.

That camera my friend brings? My friend of a friend who has a Zoom H4N we can borrow? That all has some actual cost. So even though I'm not paying, it's really helpful to understand what the true-cost would be.

Our group of friends who have been spending 12+ hours with us over the last 5 Saturdays? All of that time has value. It's good not to take any of that for granted even especially on a no-budget film.

Getting started with no money.

The most expensive part of any low-budget film is the time spend on set: People are standing around getting hungry, your rental gear time is ticking away, your location is only open for so long – So the more planning beforehand we can do the better (i.e. cheaper).

Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite...

I like to take as much time as possible with a script and storyboarding and shot planning. I know some people who don't like to do that because they feel it kills the creativity on set, but I disagree. It's still the same creative process, you are simply doing it now while the meter isn't running.

Pile of mail waiting to be sorted and shredded.
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon / Unsplash

Of course you'll still have to be creative and make changes on the actual day of filming, but the more you can do before your group of friends – who are all helping you out of the kindness of their heart – are waiting for you to make a bloody decision so they can go sleep for 3 hours before they have to go to work tomorrow.

Find people who are willing to go all the way.

The last major hurdle to no-budget filming is getting people who are willing to go with us all the way to finish-line.

Normally people are invested once they are getting a paycheque. But since we are talking no-budget, the best thing we have is passion. Filmmaking is hard and expensive, so if I can get people excited and feeling the same passion I do for a project, the better chance they will want to to be in it for the long-haul with me.

Photo by Jose Thormann / Unsplash

Really, no budget?

Now that I've done all the planning I can, and found a great set of people who are dedicated to getting this done no matter what, it's time to realize even a no-budget film costs money.

Lunch for your good friends, gas money, a new SD card, a backup hard-drive, buying some royalty-free music, submitting to festivals, buying some editing software. No matter how close to $0 you get, there are some costs you cannot avoid.

So, if you followed along above, you should have a sense of the true cost of your film if you were actually paying for equipment and people's time. And you should have done as much planning as possible beforehand to film as economically as possible. So now you can take all of that and create your no-budget budget.

$5,000 - $15,000

At the end of the day, even a no-budget film can end up costing me thousands of dollars. So I like to plan on that. Okay, it's a no-budget film, but because of all the planning I know the most economical way of making this will require the following as a minimum:

  • 3 Days of filming
  • Lighting kit from the local rental house.
  • 3 lunches for your 10 friends.
  • 2 tracks of royalty-free music.
  • Submission fees for the top 10 film festivals.

That's an extremely small set of requirements, but it already puts my no-budget project up to $2,000 or $3,000. And if I want to actually go to the festivals the film gets accepted to (assuming it does)? Well, you probably see where that's going.

Thats a wrap.

I hope that's a few helpful things to consider when you start out your next no-budget film. The most important thing at the end of the day is to get out there and create something, anything! Don't let having no-budget scare you off.

But even if you really have $0 budget, I'd recommend saving up some money. At the very least you should get the people helping you a nice lunch and good coffee!

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