So you have a couple friends, a camera and a script. Friends and family have pitched in some money to get your film off the ground (not to mention the funds out of your own pocket) but you still don’t have a lot to work with. What now?
Your funding is not a limitation; it’s an opportunity to prove your resourcefulness. If you can show yourself to be creative and clever with little, much more will be trusted to you in the future. Here are some tips on making the most of your limited budget:
1. Keep your story powerful but simple, not too many characters and not too many locations.
According to Aristotle in the Poetics, spectacle is the least important element of storytelling. Audiences care a lot less than you think about where a film was shot, what they care about is the story.
Simplify your script. See if you can combine locations/scenes/characters. It may be fun to have your characters spend a night in Las Vegas but do you really want to spend your time and money on a montage? You’d be surprised how much you can allude to through cleaver dialogue without actually showing everything your characters are doing.
2. Get your team together and find out who has resources, connections or locations that could be accessed for little or no cost.
One of the best parts of indie filmmaking is the people you get to work with. With each member of your team you add a plethora of past experience.
As your team starts to take shape make sure to check with people to see what connections they have. Maybe someone has a relative who would be willing to let you shoot for free at their home. Maybe someone already owns the kind of car your main character will be driving. You’d be surprised how much you have available if you just ask.
3. Once you know what you have available to you for free then you can budget what you do need to pay for.
Spend your money on people, not gadgets. Sure it’s fun to shoot on RED, but if you have to decide between a good camera and a good DP go with the human being every time.
Remember to keep a 10% contingency. You will run into hiccups on the way—expect it, it’s inevitable. You can’t determine what will go wrong but you can determine how you respond and having a little cash as a cushion will come in handy. Trust me.
4. Don’t forget to think about post and what you will need to spend in order to deliver and sell your film.
One of the biggest, novice mistakes made by beginning filmmakers is to leave marketing, distribution and post-production costs as an afterthought during development. Make plans for how you will get your film into theaters and homes before you begin and you will stand out of the crowd.
5. Keep some of your budget for marketing and make sure you get stills and interviews with your cast and crew during production so you have materials to market with and use for social media.
Not a lot of people think about this but it is much cheaper to get pictures and interviews as you go along. Having to call in actors or crew members after production will cost you time and money that you can easily save by being proactive.
Have someone carry around a handheld camera to capture fun moments on set, have actors stay in costume after or before shooting one day and get stills taken. Whatever marketing materials you can gather while production is in progress will put you that much further ahead in post.