When I made my first film, I really had no budget to speak of.
It is was really more of a ‘no budget’ film than a ‘low budget’ film.
I was a television producer working in the Midwest and I didn’t really know much about filmmaking. I was a self-taught filmmaker and I knew that getting to the finished product might be difficult.
But, I knew that it could be done. It would just take a lot of planning.
It was so much fun to do and the outcome so successful that I made another film shortly thereafter.
The things that I learned making these films was invaluable and have stayed with me throughout my career.
One of the first things I did was ‘establish’ my own production company.
Since I was the only ’employee’ of the company and did not plan to run any financial transactions through the company, I did not, at that time, register it with the Small Business Administration.
I did, however, set up a P.O. Box, an e-mail account, and created a logo and letterhead.
Once I had a completed script in place, all of the work really started.
I secure equipment by first asking all of my friends in production the best and cheapest equipment to use. I had several things, like lights and a monitor donated. I did have to buy a low cost camera. But I was able to negotiate and I got a used camera for under cost.
I put casting and ads for crew in every college and university newspaper as well as all small publications in the area. I also posted notices at local libraries and community centers. I called the local cable company as well and asked them to post it for their employees as well.
At that time, the internet was not as widespread as it is now.
If I were doing this today, I would use online bulletin boards for everything from acquiring equipment, casting, crewing up, and post production.
There are a lot of people out there who are willing to work for low or no pay to get experience.
One of the great things that I learned when making any film, particularly a low budget film, is to not be afraid to ask for anything.
Just get on the phone and ask. If you’re more comfortable with e-mail do that. But don’t be afraid to ask.
For some scenes in my first film, ‘filter haze’, I needed a wedding dress. Most women are not willing to loan those out. Neither are bridal shops. I found a shop in the area that specialized in Halloween costumes and low-and-behold they had several dresses that would work for the scenes. The problem was that they were a bit too expensive to rent for the length of time I would need them.
So I got on the phone and called the owner of the store. I told him that I would give his shop a credit in the film if they could cut the cost of the rental. He was great and gave me the dress for about 25% of the original cost.
When the film was complete, I had a screening and invited the owner and anyone from his shop who wanted to come to view the film. He and a few co-workers came and when I spoke to them afterward they said they were very pleased to see their names in the credits.
Ironically, I needed a wedding dress again for my second film, “A Little Diversion”, as well. When I called the owner of the shop again, he was great and said “Same deal as last time. I just want to come to the screening.” I agree and then he said, “Oh and you can have the dress for just the cost of cleaning it.”
So, my goodwill helped me lower my bottom line a bit more on my second film.
For my first film, I needed a church to shoot in. Most locations charge fees and these can be quite costly. When I called the church to ask if I could get a fee reduction, the administrator was a bit reluctant. He asked me to send a letter outlining exactly what we wanted to do, when we wanted to do it, and how much we could afford to pay.
So I got out my letterhead and wrote a very detailed letter that outlined the specifics of the shoot. And, that basically, we had no money.
The administrator called and approved the shoot less than a week later. And, he waived the entire shooting fee. He did ask for a credit in the film and if we could shoot some ‘behind-the-scenes’ footage for him to use to promote the church for future location scouts. We agree on the terms and my crew and I got our scenes and we got some great footage for the supervisor as well.
One of the things that I think is important is to make it very clear with your cast and crew that you are truly making a low budget film. Before every shoot, I gathered everyone and explained this and clearly outlined what we were doing that day and who we had to thank for the location, the props, costumes, and various other items.
I would always provide some sort of craft services, but I was very clear that meals were not included in that day’s shooting. And many times, some of the cast and crew brought food to share with everyone. For a film with no food budget, we did not go hungry on set.
At that time, I was fortunate enough to work at a television station and while I was not allowed to edit due to union regulations, I found an editor who was willing to help with the film.
Again, I find that most people are very willing to help and like being involved in this type of project if you make it very clear what you expect from them and then stuck to those expectations.
No one wants to work for free on something that is disorganized and stressful.
In the end, I really had a great deal of help and was very grateful for it.
As I mentioned, the first film went so well that I made another one very soon after.
During pre-production on my second film, many of the people that worked on the first film, really it was more like volunteering, asked to be involved in the second film.
When I look back at both of these films, I’m very happy with the outcome.
But the thing I remember most is the fun that my cast and crew and I had on set.
I couldn’t have asked for a better experience had I spent millions of dollars on those films.