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Arts & Entertainment

How to Shoot an Independent Movie on a Budget

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 2, 2020 • 3 min read

Cutting your teeth in the film industry can be a daunting process. The path from novice director to Hollywood icon is a long one, but a crucial step in every aspiring filmmaker’s path is usually a low budget film. Learning how to make a small indie movie on a budget is very important for every up-and-coming filmmaker.

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What Do You Need to Shoot a Low Budget Movie?

Shooting a movie is a daunting task, but the good news is there are many tricks to shooting a feature on a shoestring budget, and you’ll pick up plenty of insight and knowhow if you partner with experienced filmmakers along the way. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • A screenplay: The production process can’t begin until you have a screenplay. Whether you’re interested in screenwriting or are just looking to direct a film written by another screenwriter, it’s important to be realistic about the scale of your story idea. Find a concept for a great movie that takes place in as few locations and with as few actors as possible, and avoid anything that would be reliant on special effects to ensure shooting the screenplay inexpensively and on budget.
  • Funding: Whether you’re planning on self-financing, crowdsourcing via a platform like Kickstarter, or seeking outside funds from established film financiers, it’s essential to know what sort of budget you are working with as you enter into the pre-production process. Every aspect of filmmaking requires a concrete budget before you begin film production. Independent filmmakers often rely on a good producer and production manager to help keep them on budget.
  • Crew: Movie making is a team effort. Even if you’re writing, directing, and starring in your own movie, you’ll still need a talented crew of professionals to help you pull it off. A director works closely with department heads like the cinematographer during production of the film. In post-production it’s important to have a talented video editor who can help turn your raw footage into a polished film using video editing software.
  • Equipment: Once you have a sense of your budget and have hired your crew, you’ll need to start getting equipment. Having your own equipment (or working with crew that own their own equipment) can be a huge help in keeping costs down. If you’re in Los Angeles, there are many rental houses that keep all sorts of cameras in stock can help you get the appropriate equipment. Cheap cameras and film equipment can also be found on Craigslist or eBay. There are many DIY ways to shoot films these days including incorporating smartphone footage or working with an old camcorder. If you can find a cheap way to shoot your whole movie that fits your visual aesthetic, it will allow you to use more of your funding for cast, crew, post-production and, potentially, film festival costs.

What to Consider When Shooting a Movie on a Budget

Shooting your first movie can be a daunting process, especially on a low budget. Here are some tips for how to make a movie on a low budget:

  • Be realistic. Keep your budget in mind as you enter pre production and gear up for the production phase of your project. It can be tempting to plan complicated camera moves using expensive equipment, but these are most likely not realistic given your budgetary restraints. Be realistic during your planning process in order to have a smooth and successful shoot.
  • Keep special effects to a minimum. With a low budget, you can probably take most practical special effects off the table. You don’t have the excess cash or time to produce special effects at a professional level. Despite this, you can still rely on sound effects and clever use of editing software to help achieve some of the same effects.
  • Cost-effective cinematography. There are many ways to keep camera costs down, and you should take advantage of the recent leaps in technology that have made filmmaking more accessible than ever. It can be tempting to work with top of the line cameras and equipment, but working with a skilled cinematographer and a cheaper camera can often be the more cost effective route. As a low budget filmmaker, you’re likely going to have to get creative with less-than-optimal gear, so find a way to get creative and embrace it.
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