Film & TV

Martin Scorsese’s Tips for Shooting a Low Budget Movie

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 20, 2019 • 2 min read

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Martin Scorsese Teaches Filmmaking

Martin Scorsese is one of the most respected filmmakers of all time. He’s directed countless critically-acclaimed films and won numerous awards for his work in the film industry. Though Scorsese is known for his mob epics and polished period pieces, including his recent release The Irishman, he’s made his fair share of low budget films, including the 1985 underground film After Hours.

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Martin Scorsese Teaches FilmmakingMartin Scorsese Teaches Filmmaking

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Martin Scorsese’s Tips for Shooting a Low Budget Movie

Below, find some of Scorsese’s insights and tips for making movies on a small budget.

  • Use the speed and simplicity of a low budget shoot to your advantage. Though many new filmmakers make films on a small budget out of necessity, sometimes a low budget can contribute to a film’s aesthetic. Scorsese shot his absurdist film After Hours on a compressed schedule for a small budget. He describes how this production process fit with the aesthetic and narrative of the whole film: “I wanted to get something trimmer and faster, you know. And so I felt I should go back to independent-style filmmaking. We shot it in 40 nights averaging maybe 26 setups a day.”
  • Do the legwork in pre-production. One of the most important steps for making low budget films is pre-production. Because you are working with limited time and resources, having a detailed plan for how production will run on any single shoot day is crucial. Planning camera movements and camera angles with a storyboard is a very important parts of Scorsese’s process. He describes how integral the storyboard process was in making his biblical drama The Last Temptation of Christ: “The whole picture was designed on paper … because I knew that if I had the chance to make the picture, it was going to be very, very low budget. And I had to shoot very quickly so I had to know exactly what I wanted in terms of the framing, camera movements, editing and that sorta thing.”
  • Don’t schedule more than you can handle. When learning how to make a movie on a low budget, it’s important to be realistic about your schedule and the amount you can get done on any given day. Whether you’re making a short film or a feature, it’s important to not overschedule your production days. If your production calendar is short, you might need to cut some camera setups. It’s important to objectively evaluate if any given close up or wide angle is truly necessary, or if you’ll be able to make do with what you have. Here Scorsese discusses how he dealt with a compressed schedule on Last Temptation of Christ: “We were under such pressure, particularly because we were gone days over schedule and were running out of money. I remember ... going through all the shots and saying, ‘Okay, instead of three days for these 75 shots, we have two.’ So. What could we lose? And it became 50 shots, 25 and 25. And we got them all.”

Want to Learn More About Filmmaking?

Whether you’re a budding director, screenwriter, or filmmaker, navigating the movie business requires plenty of practice and a healthy dose of patience. No one knows this better than legendary director Martin Scorsese, whose films have shaped movie history. In Martin Scorsese’s MasterClass on filmmaking, the Oscar winner deconstructs films and breaks down his craft, from storytelling to editing to working with actors.

Want to become a better filmmaker? The MasterClass All-Access Pass provides exclusive video lessons from master filmmakers, including Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Jodie Foster, Werner Herzog, Spike Lee, and more.

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