Filmmaking To The Max: When Low Budget Becomes Next-To-No Budget

Hi! I’m Kyla, teenage filmmaker & creator of the teen drama webseries To The Max. This column will serve both as a production diary and an ever-growing list of how I’ve found my way around every issue I’ve come across and every mistake I’ve made.

Here’s the number one way to spot an indie filmmaker: they have no money. When they go out, they live off of gift cards and coupons. Alternatively, they don’t go out at all (because apparently a lot of you are surprisingly introverted!).

Anyways, we’re all used to being broke. As a high-school student who works three and a half hours a week, I heavily relate. When I started making To The Max, I was so out of my depth and I didn’t even think about money. I had a million unreasonable and insane locations, and a bunch of vision boards for the perfect 80s outfits. Then, I actually went shopping for those clothes and almost cried at the cash register as I forked over nearly $300 for ugly 80s-esque clothing.

After that, I spent as little as I could. To complete the clothing, I pulled from my closet and the closets of my best friends, and I found a box of outfits my mom saved from when she was in high school. My brother also gave me his old shirts. All else I had to buy were props I couldn’t make/borrow, food, and makeup sponges.

“But how?!?!” you’re asking, though you probably aren’t really because you’re all masters of this stuff anyways and you probably all have real budgets and not just a bundle of receipts like I do but please just go along with it. “How did you barely spend any money?!?!??!”

It was easy.

(It wasn’t. I did that for dramatic effect.)

Here’s how to make your low-budget production next-to-no-budget:


  • Our most colourful makeup palette is the palette of our hair & makeup girl/”Patty”, Kendall Prior. She’s also sacrificed eyeshadow brushes and clothing.
  • My mother gave me a bunch of her old makeup she’s been meaning to get rid of, which includes but is not limited to: ten eyeshadow palettes, three blush compacts, and four lipsticks.
  • One of our most vintage background props is a wooden storage shelf thing that has Eatons Centre magazines from the 70s and records (including one by absolute legend Engelbert Humperdinck). These came from my grandma’s house, along with her needlepoint that she made in the 70s.
  • I also went dumpster diving for some old books that my school threw out. Literally every character reads the same two copies of Othello IT’S FINE.

  • The vodka bottle featured in this here scene was my sister’s that I took to use for a monologue for drama class and never returned. Disclaimer: not real vodka and also I definitely don’t promote underage drinking.

  • Angie’s super old and cool red phone belongs to Jacob Miller, who plays Thomas.

[redacted section because I do not promote illegal activities if you catch my drift]


  • In terms of craft services-- we’ve had mac and cheese, grilled cheese, peanut butter cookies, and literally just drank everything non-alcoholic in the fridge.
  • Okay, so maybe that isn’t no-budget, but it’s called mooching off of your parents’ food because you’re a teenager and also sacrificing the ever glorious Annie’s to the greater good.
  • For the peanut butter cookies thing-- just get a jar of Kraft peanut butter and make cookies from the recipe on the jar. The only other ingredients are eggs and sugar. They’re fast and basic and good.
  • Also, if you decide to get take-out or fast food, MAKE SURE YOU HAVE COUPONS. Never buy fast food without having coupons, whether it’s a shoot day or not. Save that money.
  • On a different note, I am a lipstick person and almost all of my lipsticks have been used for the webseries. Just use what you have and cry later when your lipsticks get broken. It’s fine. (Also, pro tip, if your lipstick gets broken, you can freeze it back into place!)
  • Also, I used my brother’s mancave/budhole/games room and turned it into two different character’s rooms because I didn’t have access to two actual bedrooms. It kinda worked!

Melinda’s room vs Benj’s room! I tried!


  • So diners are super cool. Thing is, I don’t own one of them. Or have access to one of them. Even if my scripts called for like 3 diner scenes. So one of the diner scenes may now take place in a park, the second in one of our main locations, and the third god knows where at this point.
  • We also needed something inventive to replace a storyline, and we decided that we’d stray from our usual locations. The original storyline had 2 scenes taking place in a car, but we changed it so one of those scenes takes place in a park and the other one takes place in a pool.
  • If you have a pool and a knock-off GoPro, it’s stupid not to have a pool scene. That’s a life lesson.
  • Also, think about what you have BEFORE you write. If you don’t, you’ll end up with an 80s setting and no 80s clothes, not enough people to fill out the cast because you have like five friends, and a radio station in your living room.

So those are some pro-tips when you’re a spreadsheet-hating disaster! Whether you have an actual budget or not, always keep in mind that you can make a film without buying anything if you were really that dedicated. Borrow stuff, use what you have, and write what you have, and live off of mac and cheese!