No Money? No Problem!
Updated: Jan 18, 2018
Harness the Power of the Micro Budget
As modern technology advances, filmmakers are able to shoot on lower budgets than ever before, but raising those funds is still one of the greatest challenges of getting a production started.
When major investors don’t believe in your project, it’s time to scrimp and save and maybe even turn to family and friends. Compile as much money as you can and create a micro budget. A micro budget can be anywhere from $2000 to $50,000-whatever a filmmaker can pull together without the backing of a major studio. Crowdfunding is a great tool for garnering local support and getting the money you need to get your project started. Did your grandma just give you a sizable check this holiday season? Put it towards your film! Is your garage full of old junk you don’t need? Have a yard sale! Use any resource to get the funds you need to make your movie happen.
The first thing to think about when producing a micro budget film is your script. Write something you are truly passionate about. This needs to be the film that you absolutely have to bring to life or you won’t survive. Throw your entire self into the story and write from the deepest part of your soul. The reason for this is that making a film on such a limited budget is difficult. There are endless hurdles to jump over so it’s important to know that it will be worth it in the end. Before each production day begins, remind yourself of how invested you are in the story you are trying to tell, so that you can take each problem as it comes and not get discouraged. Surround yourself with people who are invested in the project and aren’t afraid to be brutally honest with you. Their harsh feedback isn’t meant to tear you down, but to make you see things from a different perspective and ultimately strengthen the final product.
Daniel Bergeron, 2017
One of the principal benefits of working with your own money is that you are your only investor. If you accept $100,000 investments from five other people, you are then bound by five other opinions and visions of what your film is supposed to look like. The people who give you money to make a film are going to want a say in how it is made, which can be limiting and detrimental to your creative process. Even though more money might make it possible to do more with the film (technically), you are still constrained by the burden of having to please your investors. It’s about choosing the lesser evil, especially if this is your first feature film. It is better to have less money and be able to make a film that is the truest expression of yourself rather than compromising your vision for a few extra bucks.
It’s also been said that filmmakers with less money are pushed even harder to think “outside the box.” When you have a multimillion dollar budget you can do virtually anything with your film. You can have fancy costumes, crazy explosions and expensive cars to up the production value of the film, but there are a couple of things that happen when you have such a large budget. First, you throw together so many explosions, cameras and locations that your shoot becomes a huge mess of people and equipment. It is possible to put too many unrelated elements into a film so that it becomes all about the technique and flash and the story gets lost in the shuffle. Additionally, you don’t do anything original. Having money gets you caught up in the awesome but overused techniques of big Hollywood studios. Micro budget filmmaking is all about being resourceful and finding new and clever ways to make a $2,000 film look like a $2,000,000 film. Use a rolling chair as a slider. Use homemade props or go digging through your local Goodwill. Having no money means you get to take risks with your story and your shoot. Pushing boundaries is how you get noticed and launch your career into the stratosphere.
Jason Cliffen, 2017
Aside from your production budget, it’s important to factor in a few things that are often overlooked by micro budget filmmakers. Hire people to help you edit. Even if you consider yourself an expert, having other hands to help both speeds up the process and gives you fresh perspectives on your audio mix and color grading, which will strengthen the entire project and teach you something new.
Also, budget for as many festivals as you can get into. Don’t focus on getting into Sundance on your first try because it will not happen. Start with local and regional festivals to get your film in front of as many eyes as possible. Building an audience and gathering good critic reviews are paramount when you want to start distributing your film commercially. If you have an audience base and positive feedback, you are more likely to get picked up by a distributor.
Jay and Mark Duplass are two of the founding fathers of the micro budget technique of filmmaking. Their debut feature film The Puffy Chair had a budget of $15,000. They paid their actors $100 a day to improvise the majority of their lines and shot the film on a Panasonic AG-DVX100. After running the festival circuit the film grossed $194,523 and was picked up by Netflix. The Duplass Brothers now own their own production company and produce several films (not necessarily micro budget) a year. They are a great example of how micro budget filmmaking can be an invaluable technique for budding filmmakers.
Duplass Brothers Productions, 2005
Micro budget filmmaking is a great way to get a career in the film industry started. It takes a little money, a lot of work, and all of your passion. Be resourceful, be smart, be innovative. Push the limits of what your equipment and your crew can do and bring your vision to life. You have little to lose and so much to gain. So what are you waiting for?