High quality but low budget- what should I focus on?

(Marc L) #1

Hello. I hope you all had a good holiday (if you are in the USA). I am primarily an actor but after some bad experiences on set I was thinking about producing something of my own so that I could make sure leave with high quality footage that I would feel comfortable putting in a reel. The problem, of course, is that I have no funds and am not interested in crowdfunding at this juncture. Given all of this and my relative lack of experience behind the camera, what elements of the production should I focus on to “get the most bang for my buck”? I want to get festival play and perhaps distribution but without funds I know I cannot make a spy thriller at of James Bond production value or a travel series. I will probably make at least one drama and one comedy, both shorts at first. Any advice in this area would be very welcome.

(Bri Castellini) #2

Writing, definitely. If the script is bad, nothing else matters. Even with stellar actors. Prioritize your story before anything else and everything else will fall into place eventually.

(Bri Castellini) #3

Uh @redshirtjamie @HackettKate @JenniPowell @Alex_LeMay @Evie_Marie_Warner @kmd @Meg @rossmcclure @Monica_Quinn

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(Meg Carroway) #4

Good lighting!! Even with a really nice camera, if your lighting is bad, it’s going to look weird and gross. A million dollar lighting set up with a cheap camcorder will always look better than not good lighting with a Red camera. And I agree with @Bri_Castellini- script matters! And casting matters- don’t just cast anyone who will agree to be on set. Not if you want distribution.

(Evie Marie Warner) #5

Sound and lighting

Locations are next b/c i always have trouble finding a locations and because I beleive that location can be a character in the story of itself. You want to find something that rquires little prep, set building, etc. Meaning, don’t use a place that doesn’t have a dresser or nightstand if you really need a nightstand. Because then you got find a nightstand, transport it to and from set. Aint nobody got time for that lol

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(Bri Castellini) #6

That’s so true! A great location can also cut down on a need for production design- if it has interesting colors and textures already, most of your work is already done.

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(Evie Marie Warner) #7

consiering the fact that i never have a production design budget…yeah. cutting down on that is always a good thing :smiley:

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(Bri Castellini) #8

I’ve never paid for production design past the materials (posters, prints, tape, etc) but I will say, having a production designer and not having a production designer makes a difference. Would love to bring someone onto my team for that full time.

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(Evie Marie Warner) #9

yeah. its a nice thing to be able to have. But a likely never will unless I am working for a big prodcution company. But just like everyone else, you learn to make do with what you have. My last short, I had six hundred bucks. shrugs

(Monica Quinn) #10

I would write thinking like a producer. So what I mean is write with the locations you know for sure you have!
I would ask friends that are maybe a bit more well off than you to help with this. Maybe you can use their place for a one day shoot and it’s a closed set so you wouldn’t need any permits.

If you don’t have money then you need time. I would work with people that have the same goals in mind and not necessarily friends. Look into your local film schools and see if you can find a director, who may have a friend that is a dp, who may have a friend that is a grip, etc… these people all have incentives to make great projects and because they are learning may want to help you with your project.

Sound!!! Is the most important thing!!! If you have crap sound it’s unforgivable. Soooooo do yourself a favor and if you are gonna pay anyone pay the sound person.

Also, this isn’t super fun BUT!!! Learn how to edit! I did! I have the adobe cloud and I downloaded all of the programs I needed. It can be easily learned through YOUTUBE!!! YouTube is your friend.
I learned green screen that way, and a mirror trick I used in a short film.

I have a great book you should “read”. I say “read” cause it’s an audiobook. If you send me your email I’ll forward you a copy. If you don’t already have audible the first book you receive is free!

I say play and have fun. You will get better at filmmaking the more you do the work. Each time you are on set it’s a new opportunity to learn!

Do yourself a favor. Build your team! I don’t give a toot if this is low budget! Build a team! Get someone else other than yourself to produce. Get a director! Get a 1st AD! It is ONLY going to HELP YOU (Actor to Actor) be better when you are on set! If you have to worry about crafty while working on an emotional scene your performance is gonna be poop!!

Speaking of CRAFTY!!! FEED YOUR CREW!!! If you’re gonna spend money Food, then lights!!!
If you want to keep friends and have a positive set FEED YOUR CREW!!! Good healthy and nutritious food!!!

Now… on IMDb I lie and say COCKTALES cost 10K!
I did SAG PAPERWORK and made 5 people union.
I did a lot myself and in the end had to bring in more hosts than originally planned because I just could not direct and be a hostess.
Now that being said it cost me 1,000 to make cocktales and I think it looks great! 24 episodes on a shoestring!
I calculated 10k by how much I would have spent.
Also, I paid my DP and my sound!

I hope that helps! Feel free to reach out to me.

Also if you want that book type in your email address.

If anyone wants the book and you don’t have audible type in your email address!


(Bri Castellini) #11

Thanks for this, Monica!! This is fantastic!

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(Kyla) #12

monica’s advice is top notch but I have some stuff to add!

regarding building a team: you want people you trust and can work well with, but it’s always a bonus to have team members who have equipment/connections! your team members will absolutely have connections they’ll forget about-- for example, an actor in the webseries I’m working on is a regular at a local diner & I’m going to call the owners on thursday to see if we can film there. even you have distant connections you may forget about it-- my dad has a friend who’s a stunt coordinator, and I didn’t even realize that we could get his advice on a fight scene until my dad made a joke about the fight scene. so call in all your favours, shake everyone’s brains out for ideas, because more likely than not, someone will know someone who has something you need or can introduce you to someone.

for the webseries I’m working on, our budget wasn’t even a budget-- it was just about $350 spent out of my own pocket so we could have clothes that looked era-appropriate. that was it. everything else-- locations, hair/makeup, camera, mic, everything, I found for free through friends and family and my community. admittedly, it was easy on the camera/mic front because I could borrow from my school, but everything else took a lot of searching. my friend’s living room is our radio station, and my basement is three different houses. I think the corner of my living room is going to end up as someone’s bedroom. we’re using old hair pieces from when I was in the fifth grade and thought I was super cool, dollar store mirrors that I brought to summer camp years ago, never-worn leggings that our hair/makeup girl (and also one of our actresses) got many christmases ago, my grandmother’s makeup, and sample products that my mom gets for being a member at sephora. basically-- you have (almost) everything you need. you just don’t know it. search. think.

finally, lighting wise-- I know people stress good lighting, but you can fix shitty lighting in post (which may be a hassle but will be well worth it). one of our cast members volunteered to make some kind of lighting thing (??) to help our scenes based on a video our DP sent him, I can try and find the link.

and finally-- have fun!! filmmaking should be stress, but it should be good stress. that’s something I’m learning.

(Alex Le May) #13

You bring up tons of great points. Man, audio is so import and worth paying for.

(Monica Quinn) #14

Hey Alex.
You’re right! Audio is worth paying for! But if it’s audible’s policy to give away someone’s first audiobook for free… well who am I to argue.
Especially when there are artist on this thread figuring out how to make their art on a shoe string budget. $15 bucks can pay for a pizza for the crew. Or three little Caesar pizzas :pizza: Just saying!

(Herman Wang) #15

Besides what’s already been mentioned, put some effort into planning your moving camera shots. Even a few nice sequences will improve the apparent production level.

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(Jamie McKeller) #16

Do not attempt to do it alone.

If you’ve got an idea which you think is worth making, maybe look around for an existing group to collaborate with? Maybe there’s an indie company near you who will fall in love with your idea.

Whereas lighting, sound, editing… all that are vital elements to any film production, you can’t and shouldn’t even consider learning them all. Don’t get me wrong, an understanding of them is vital for a director but each element is a different skillset. Your brain will implode if you set out to be a one human film machine.

I’m primarily a writer and director, but I can shoot if needed. I much prefer to let one of my more knowledgeable collaborators shoot though.

Saying all that, I know that at the very start it can be difficult to assemble a team and the one that’s free is the script, if it’s yours. Write it well, let others read it, take feedback and work it until it shines. There’s a reason a lot of web series are produced as vlogging shows - they’re cheaper and easier than say a web series about a vampire hunter that features dozens of practical special effects. Only a fool would try something like that for their first project… :smiley:

Check out -

The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_XbD_IYYMVk
Brains - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2gfDPnAS3Bs
Jenny Jennings - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ibh32XZ1Jug
Mina Murray - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38sREiRdA7Q

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(Marc L) #17

Wow everyone! Thank you very much for so many responses to this! I will go through each individually but thank you very much for helping. This is a very good community and I thank you all again.

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(Marc L) #18

Very good point, Bri, and I have a screenwriting friend I can reach out to.

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(Marc L) #19

Thank you, Meg. I do not know much about lighting but this is very good to know re: good quality video camera and bad lighting. I will do some research.

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(Marc L) #20

Thank you Evie. I remember seeing a location article on this website before so I will track that down and look into it while I develop my story.

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