Arts & Entertainment

The Art of Low-Budget Filmmaking

James Cameron

Lesson time 12:14 min

Learn how integral preparation and inventing tricks are to low-budget filmmaking.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: Get the Most Bang for Your Buck • Build Around Your Strengths • Use Every Trick in the Book and Invent New Ones • 117 Setups in a Day on a Low Budget


[MUSIC PLAYING] - The art of low-budget filmmaking is the art of being thoroughly prepared and maximizing what you have. And your preparation is at every level of design storyboarding, technical scouting, selecting your locations, trying to get the most bang for the buck out of a location, versus having to build a set. You'll sacrifice some control. You'll sacrifice some design elements that you might have if you'd had the budget to build a million dollar set. But it's okay. The essence of the story will come through regardless. And you're going to select a crew for their ability to move fast and take no prisoners, but still generate images of high quality that are punching above their weight, so that the film that you end up with looks great, and you don't see and feel the compromises that you know you've made. You're not going to have a movie star, which can be a blessing in the sense that it forces you as a filmmaker to earn the audience's interest in that character. So I think it builds craft. And maybe you have to make two or three films at a more modest budget to prove-- to prove yourself, and to learn the craft, and to prove that the craft that you have learned to, you know, the powers that be, that sign-- that sign the checks. Pick a subject that can be done within the budget constraints that you have. And let me give you an example from my own experience. When I was breaking in, I made "The Terminator." That was my first directing credit. And I knew when I was writing it that I had to write it for a budget. So I knew I was going to be on location, so I wasn't going to be able to build sets. Now, the difference between building a set of a castle and going to a castle or a large building or large mansion and using the location is a difference in control. You can knock out a wall. You can go back on a longer lens. You can stylistically do things in a set that you cannot do on a location. Does the audience care? Probably not that much. You might not win an Academy Award for cinematography or design because of the limitations, but you'll still make a damn good film. So it's a question of, when are you getting diminishing returns for where you're spending money? And so with "The Terminator," the idea there was to be very everyday, very commonplace, not exotic, for a specific reason, then drop the exotic element into it. And that was really a motif throughout "The Terminator" films, for the most part. Certainly, the first film was about, this is everyday Los Angeles. This is a restaurant. This is a nightclub. This is a city street. And the extraordinary elements came into it from the future, Kyle Reese, and the terminator. And even then, they were forced to deal with contemporary elements in terms of weaponry, and so on. And that was done by design for a very simple reason. We couldn't afford anything else. That script was carefully written to be something that was affordable. Because I knew I was comi...

About the Instructor

From The Terminator and Titanic to Avatar, James Cameron has directed some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters. Now, for the first time in his 40-year career, he opens up about his process. Through behind-the-scenes breakdowns, James shares his approach to developing ideas, storylines, and characters; harnessing technology; and worldbuilding on any budget. Explore the innovation and imagination behind epic moviemaking.

Featured Masterclass Instructor

James Cameron

Academy Award–winning director James Cameron teaches you the tricks of the trade and shares his approach to epic moviemaking on any budget.

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