Money is, by definition, always a difficult issue for the low budget filmmaker. The challenge is in getting as much of your meagre budget up on the screen as possible. With that being the case do you really have the money to throw around on overpriced software packages?
Luckily, by the wonders of open source development, just about every £500 software package has its freebie equivalent.
These packages give you an entire office set up for every stage of the filmmaking process, from drawing up budgets and schedules, writing your script right through to advanced editing and special effects. All for a most reasonable price. Free.
Open Office – Equivalent to Microsoft Office
Word and Excel, absolutely essential in running your office but at an annoyingly high price. Not to mention the need to buy it all over again to run on a Mac. So why bother? Open Office has all the features of the Office package in a nicely familiar layout. As a bonus it's compatible with Mac and PC and can work with Microsoft files. So long Bill Gates.
Get Open Office here
Celtx – Equivalent to Final Draft
If you're going to get anywhere as a writer then you're going to have to make sure your scripts are properly formatted. Final Draft's £200+ price tag mocks the penniless writer, whereas Celtx welcomes him with open arms. Celtx's range of features is very impressive, functioning perfectly as an intuitive screenwriting package and also offers a complete scheduling and scene breakdown solution.
Get Celtx here
An impressive collection of software, the KOffice project is similar to Open Office in many respects but has a couple of extras thrown in too.
Get KOffice here
Skype – Equivalent to expensive international calls
It's a wonder anyone is paying the extortionate rates of international phone charges anymore. Get Skype, talk cheap.
Get Skype here
EDITING AND GRAPHICS
PC ( LINUX public beta released early 2013, MAC TBA)
An incredibly powerful editing package that is head and shoulders above all other freebie editing packages. Just take a look at their website to see some of the high profile projects that have used Lightworks. Lightworks has features that even some of the big packages don't have without the addition of expensive plugins. With a strong community supporting it, this is only going to get better.
Get Lightworks here
HyperEngine-AV - Equivalent to Adobe Premiere, Final Cut Pro
A decent editing package. A step up from the likes of imovie though still not up to the professional standards of the pricey packages. For simple edits though, you could do a lot worse.
Get HyperEngine-AV here
One of the best free editing packages out there. Avidemux allows you to do basic cutting, apply filters and work with a wide variety of different file types. It gets better with each release.
Get Avidemux here
Windows Movie Maker, Pinnacle Videospin
Avid Free DV
This was a great idea but has sadly been discontinued by Avid. Avid Free DV is a free version of their high end editing software, preserving the interface but removing many of the advanced features. Great for simple editing whilst also learning your way around Avid. Copies are still floating around online, though now it's unsupported it is just going to get more out of date with time. Get it while it's still useful.
Get Avid Free DV here
Another powerful, professional encoding and conversion tool. It accepts even the most obscure video formats and can even download YouTube videos. It is widely used as a simple tool for transcoding unwieldly DSLR footage.
Get MPEG Streamclip here
A powerful encoding tool that can read and convert just about any video file format.
Get ffmpeg here
DCP Builder - Equivalent to taking your project to an expensive post house
Want to screen your film at the utmost quality? Modern digital projectors require something called a DCP (Digital Cinema Package). Most post houses will charge you several thousands for the privilege, even for a short. DCP Builder is free.
Get DCP Builder here
Another DCP package. Personally I've had better results with this one than with DCP Builder. But hey, they're both free so give them both a shot and see what works best for you.
Get Open DCP here
Black Magic DaVinci Resolve Lite
A good colour correcting job can make your budget movie look a million dollars. Black Magic now offer a lite version of their powerful colour correcting tool absolutely free!
Gimp – Equivalent to Photoshop
Photoshop is the worlds most pirated piece of software and for good reason. It mixes an essential, practical and intuitive set of tools with an obscenely high price tag. So if piracy is not your thing, then try out this brilliant, yet strangely named, free alternative. Gimp's impressive set of features rivals that of Photoshop and is expanding all the time. The ability to open and save photoshop files also makes it very easy to jump back and forth.
Get Gimp here
Canvas Photo Editor
Canvas is a simple to use, in browser, photo editor. It allows you to quickly add filters, re-size and edit your photos. You can then download the edited image for use elsewhere. Think instagram, but without the pictures of food.
Use Canvas here
Inkscape – Equivalent to Adobe Illustrator
When creating titles and logos, you are going to need to use vector graphics. Once upon a time that meant the man from Adobe ransacking your pockets. Not anymore. Inkscape does it all.
Get Inkscape here
Lighter on features than Gimp but a lot less clunky. If you just want to do a basic image touch up then give this a shot.
Get Seashore here
For basic audio recording and editing give Audacity a shot.
The perfect way to compose a score for your movie. Frinika offers MIDI sequencing, audio recording and mixing.
Get Frinika here
PREVIZ AND ANIMATION
Blender – Equivalent to Maya, 3DS Max
The big 3D modelling and animating packages will set you back thousands of pounds, a price that sets a solid barrier against the beginning 3D modeller. How are people able to learn to use it? The answer is Blender. The results that Blender has produced are truly stunning and it has already been used to create effects for feature films as well as animated shorts. There is a heavy reliance on shortcut keys which makes it a very steep learning curve for beginners.
Get Blender here
This animation package takes a lot of the pain out of creating 3D animations, allowing you to construct environments and characters with ease out of thousands of customisable templates. Perfect for practising animation or for creating previz for your film.
Get Muvizu here
Synfig – Equivalent to Flash
Whether you're looking to create simple web animations or looking for a program to animate film quality images then Synfig is for you. Offering much of Flash's feature set as well as tools entirely of it's own making, Synfig provides an outlet for the budding 2D animator.
Get Synfig here
Jahshaka – Equivalent to After Effects
You're heading into complex territory here. Recently renamed CineFX, Jahshaka aims to be a one stop visual effects suite. While Jahshaka does have an impressive feature set, it is possibly too unreliable and glitchy for use on larger projects, but for simple effects you can't go wrong.
Get Jahshaka here
Perfect for finalising your film. Cinepaint allows you to do a careful retouch of your footage, frame by frame, or just clean up still images.
Get Cinepaint here
kompozer – Equivalent to Dreamweaver
You are going to need a website and you are probably going to want to put your own one together rather than relying on well worn template tools like wordpress. Kompozer can do it all.
Get Kompozer here
An FTP management tool for your website. Sure, it's not fun, but it is important.
Get Cyberduck here
You may already have this one without even knowing it. I did. Try doing a search on your Mac's hard disk. This little utility can shrink PDF files down to minuscule sizes with very little drop in quality. Ideal when sending out screenplays, press kits etc.
A simple DVD authoring solution that allows you to work with multiple formats, add subtitle streams and create menus easily.
Get DVD Flick here
Rip DVDs at high quality. A simple design and workflow gets the job done in a couple of clicks.
Get Handbrake here
I only just discovered this one and am now not entirely sure how I coped without it. Mediainfo opens any video file and tells you exactly what codecs and settings were used to create it. Essential.
Get MediaInfo here
The video player that plays everything. Essential.
Get VLC Player here
Turn your laptop into a teleprompter with ease. Perfect when doing on the spot reports or perhaps dealing with a particularly forgetful actor. The demo version is free and retains many of the essential functions.
Get Teleprompting here
It's also worth noting that most of the big software packages offer free 1 month trials. And with so many competing packages, you can easily jump ship from one to the next as your trial runs out.
Total RRP of all the above packages is approximately £5780.
Save your money. Make a film instead!
Any essentials that I've missed? Let me know. Or post a comment below.