In this new digital era, many films are being produced with no-budget or close to no-budget.
If we fall for the simple assumption that something is better than nothing, dealing with a “micro” budget could seem easier than dealing with a no-budget, but it’s actually a very different experience, with different issues and the same objective: Making a movie!
FRAMED is a micro-budget indie feature film, written with the intent of being self produced. The 50K budget was definitely not enough to satisfy everyone or pay for everything it was needed.
- No-budget ($0-$10k)
- Micro-budget ($10k-$100k)
- Low-budget ($100k-$Millions)
Director and producer Nick Rizzini shares his experience in dealing with a micro-budget film.
Let’s start with a little premise. In 2017 I completed writing my first feature film, a film which never found its way out of the script pages. It was too complex to self produce and finding the support of an established production company wasn’t easy. The fear of having to wait years and to depend on something or someone to make a feature film kicked in.
That’s when I decided to put aside my first project to write FRAMED
“A moral discussion between sexes arises when an aspiring photographer secretly takes pictures of his barely dressed neighbour in the search for his artistic expression.”
How to allocate the money?
This is probably the most important question when it comes to producing a micro-budget film. The budget is definitely not enough to cover all costs and this is when you need to get creative. Your decisions, if taken wisely, will put you in the best position to succeed in making the film.
For as much as in a micro-budget film one of the easiest ways to save money is by choosing free and available locations, we couldn’t do that. Some of our budget had to go to the main location.
Main Location, Westminster, London UK
Framed has a similar setup and dynamic to Hitchcock’s “Rear Window”, two flats facing each other in a courtyard. Since we definitely had no money to build a set as he did back then, we needed to look for a suitable location that would support that specific setup. In our case it meant finding a “main apartment”, an “opposite apartment”, and a courtyard in between.
The clock started ticking.
After visiting many flats in London building complexes, we found one that could work for us. The month we rented the main apartment for was going to be our production time-frame, and we couldn’t go over it. Compared to a no-budget movie, “time” is one of the aspects that could have had a different weight, due to its cost.
We made an offer for the main flat before actually securing access to a flat opposite ours. Not having secured that, it could have really compromised our film.
But after days and days going door to door we managed to convince a friendly neighbour to let us shoot in her flat.
One of the most important choices we made was favouring people over equipment. We decided to pay the people with the most experience as much as we could, trying to validate their work and their level of accountability.
Bad morale can produce a much worse movie than a cheap camera!
Our effort turned out to work as an incentive for them to commit to the job, even if it was for a smaller compensation than they were used to.
If we have to divide the work force in three groups:
- We paid people with the most experience
- Filled in the rest of the roles with filmmaking graduates
- Completed the team with many friends and family eager to help (shout out to my mom doing the catering)
“We had a guitar on set that we were playing during breaks to keep the energy high!”
Casting your micro-budget indie feature film
Being an actor myself I had the confidence of being able to organise the casting without the help of a professional. There was a problem: most of the professional actors are found through “Spotlight” (the most famous UK casting platform), but they wouldn’t allow me to open a casting call for the film. I needed to be an already established filmmaker, or use a professional casting director.
I was furious!
I was committed to pay the cast and I expected to have the same opportunities as every other production. I felt cheated by the system, but I didn’t give up. We tried with smaller platforms. All seemed to go well, but after casting the two protagonists, and being super excited to start shooting, one of the lead actors stepped down from the role for personal reasons.
Our plan to save on casting failed, we had to hire a professional casting director.
This opened up a new world, a world full of new issues. The actors we now had access to, had good agents, and good agents are good negotiators.
We had no margin to negotiate at all. That’s when I started begging. Yes, you read that well. I chose honesty and passion as a negotiation skill and hoped for the best.
Most actors will give in to a story they like, and will do everything to work with a director they believe in.
Lottie Amor as “Virginia” in Framed
Micro-budget indie feature film equipment
Having some money could actually tempt you to invest on a better camera, better lights or on making that really cool shot possible. But investing on people left us with very little money for all of that.
With a budget too low to rent lights for a month, we first looked at professionals that owned equipment, and then we went all-in buying as many lights as we could afford from the cheap quality ones you can find online. It was a gamble. We worked with as much natural light as we could, and used the lights when necessary. Not only they served us well, but we still own them.
Keep a no-budget mentality.
All of these production choices were not always welcomed.
Many directors of photography we interviewed were not happy to work with little assistance, low quality lights, and without a top digital camera. This could throw you off, casting a doubt on the quality of your project.
We persevered and were lucky to get to the point of having an amazing cinematographer on board with a Blackmagic Ursa Mini 4.6K
Having a “Micro” Budget gives you some options but it doesn’t make the movie. Where you decide to allocate the money does.
Obviously we needed to approach a lot of issues with a no-budget mentality. Trying to get as many things as possible for free, asking friends and family to help, and especially doing most of the work ourselves.
All this to say that having a budget doesn’t necessarily mean an easier outcome. Problem solving skills are needed in producing a film, no matter the size of the budget. What the budget does is simply changing the type of problems you’ll be facing. Every film is different and if you are used to making your films with no-budget, when passing on to having a micro-budget, I’d suggest to keep that guerrilla mentality. I have a feeling those skills will always come in handy.
If you want to know more about our micro-budget indie feature film Framed click here.