Broke Filmmaker Guide To Making Movies With More Dash Than Cash

So you really want to make a movie but you are broke, right? Are you afraid of becoming a broke filmmaker? Here’s the downside: you’ll be getting all bitter and twisted, especially when you discover that the BFI’s film fund has given a grant or production finance to someone less talented and less deserving than you!

What do I know? I started Raindance Film Festival in 1992 when everyone thought the UK film industry was down and finished. I started Raindance as a thought experiment to prove that you could make a movie without money, training or experience. Before you get bent out of shape, let me take you through the basics of Lo To No Budget Filmmaking.

Rule #1 Reverse budgeting works

Make a list of all the stuff and people you need to make a movie. That’s all a budget is. Then ask yourself what you can get cheaply or for nada. And remember, there are three ways people pay for their budgeted line items: through cash (which we won’t have) through deferrals (pay later out of profit if any) and through ‘in kind’ ie: product placement. Make certain you have your paperwork together though or you’ll get into emotionally draining wrangles when money starts to dribble in.

Rule #2 Locations cost money

Every time you add a location to your story you add in more costs. Location hire, transport, set-up times, set dressing all adds to your budget. That’s why so many broke filmmakers use the one location story. The benefits are: it’s cheap to shoot. The down side is: it’s cheap to shoot so everyone is doing it.

In order to make a simple location story work you will need to find a new way of using a limited location movie. You might want to check out our One Location Movie resource.

Rule #3 It’s story story story

The reason we say no to 99% of movies is because of the story (or complete lack of it).
Read John Truby’s 9 Elements Of Great Films
Read What Producers Should Know About Story

It’s also really important tomake sure your story is genre based. Ths makes it easier to market and sell your film.

Remember that Raindance believes you do NOT need to have talent to become a filmmaker. Help us debunk the talent myth.

Rule #4 Sound: the secret to making your film look ‘well lit’

There’s something about the way our brains are wired: if we strain to hear what they are saying on screen the picture dims. If you don’t have money for lights, make sure the sound is good. We will forgive all sorts of visual shortcuts if we can hear what people are saying crisply and clearly.

Fimmaker Jason Satterlund has some great videos on editing sound.

Rule #5 Make sure you have the music rights

There are so many urban myths regarding music rights that I could fill page after page with stories about filmmakers who have ignored music rights and made a movie and been unable to show it. You simply cannot use anyone else’s music without their permission unless they have been dead for 70 years, and/or it is 70 years since the release of the album or track.

If you don’t own the movie rights you can’t sell the movie. It’s that simple.

Read Acquiring Music Rights

Rule #6 A Broke filmmaker develops excellent interpersonal communication skills

Learning the fine art of presenting yourself in a positive manner is a specific skill no one can afford to ignore, especially when you are broke. People can hide behind their money to communicate – but the result is that they usually look fake.

The trick is, I think, to network like mad, and build an ever-expanding circle of people with whom you can collaborate.

As you head out on your journey, don’t make these networking faux pas. And here are six ideas of how to break the ice at your next networking event.

Rule #7 Strategic creative opportunities vs problems

Having little money means you can’t solve problems by throwing wads of cash at it. Instead you need to think creatively and reframe how you feel about a problem.

Take Ate de Jong – the writer/director of the cult classic Drop Dead Fred. When he joined Raindance Raw Talent to make the pyschological chiller Deadly Virtues he knew there was hardly any cash. He used his time before the start date to plan everything out and during the shoot allowed the cast and crew the opportunity to solve situations on the spot using their resourcefulness and creativity. The results were staggeringly good – and Ate tells me he had more fun on this shoot than on any of the multi-million films he’d worked on.

This Raindance Raw Talent production has enjoyed over 360,000 trailer views and has been sold to 9 territories meaning it has been a success.

Fade Out

Having no money can actually be a benefit. It means you think harder about your movies and become that extra little bit more focused on the details that could distinguish you from you big-budget colleagues and rich rivals.

As Ate de Jong says of his broke filmmaker film experience:

Elliot: There’s no such thing as a problem when you have no money. There’s just a series of challenging creative opportunities

Ate de Jong

Learn how filmmakers did it

Raindance has pioneered micro and low budget filmmaking in the UK since 1992. Filmmakers like Christopher Nolan and Edgar Wright made their first movies using the pricipals taught in the Raindance signature class Lo-to-No Budget Filmmaking weekend masterclass. Find latest details and course times here: London | Toronto



Photo Credit David Martinez / BIFA 2018

Few people know more filmmakers and screenwriters than Elliot Grove. Elliot is the founder of Raindance Film Festival (1993) and the British Independent Film Awards (1998). He has produced over 700 hundred short films and five feature films: the multi-award-winning The Living and the Dead (2006), Deadly Virtues (2013), AMBER (2017), Love is Thicker Than Water (2018) and the SWSX Grand Jury Prize winner Alice (2019). He teaches screenwriting and producing in the UK, Europe, Asia and America.

Raindance BREXiT trailer 2019

Elliot has written three books which have become industry standards: Raindance Writers’ Lab: Write + Sell the Hot Screenplay, now in its second edition, Raindance Producers’ Lab: Lo-To-No Budget Filmmaking and Beginning Filmmaking: 100 Easy Steps from Script to Screen (Professional Media Practice).

In 2009 he was awarded a PhD for services to film education.

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