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Lowering Production Costs on Your Digital Video Film

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 7/4/2011

Movies cost money, even those shot on low-cost digital video. Here are a few ways to lower those costs even further.

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    Digital Filmmaking

    Once you have decided to use relatively inexpensive digital video technology to make your feature, documentary, or short film, you still have to consider that there are huge panoramas of costs that will have to be incurred. Since you will not be able to run the cameras, adjust the lights, keep the script and production on track, clothe everybody, cook the meals, and act, you will likely have to pay cast and crew members. Likewise you may encounter location costs, taxes, fees, union dues, equipment costs, and a whole host of unanticipated problems that you will likely have to throw money at. Since you likely have very little money to work with your best choice is to take stock of the film you are trying to produce and then make some serious changes to lighten the financial load.

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    Script Revision

    The first thing you are going to have to do is analyze the script and see what you are actually able to change. Look for the ability to combine characters to keep the cast down. See if the same filming location can double as two or more in the film story space. The most important thing you are doing here is trying to reduce the number of days you are actually in production. Every day that you are out filming costs a certain amount of money in production costs. The shorter the shooting schedule, the less money that aspect of production will end up being. Try and arrange long shoots, get takes as quickly as possible, and shoot everything that is in the same location in one day. Always keep in mind that relocating is a huge cost, so cut down all the different locations you possibly can.

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    Night Time

    Shooting at night seems as though it would be easier and cheaper because there are less people out and much fewer things you have to adjust in the open environment. Nothing could be further from the truth. Every time you have an absence of natural light you have to do even more blocking and lighting. These things take time, lots of equipment, and experienced personnel. All of this costs money, so it is best to change as much as you can to the day time. If this is impossible, try to move much of the night stuff inside. Again, anything that is shot at night should be done all in one or two shoots. This is easier to do for night shoots because it is easier to make one location double for another when it is dark out.

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    Three Is Company

    Working with lots of extras for large group scenes is a bad idea for a number of reasons. You absolutely have to pay extras because their appearance is not good for their resume because they are likely not professional actors. They are there as a temporary job. Also, if you are shooting a large group scene you will usually have to do this outside, which will put you at risk for tax and permit fees.

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    Avoid Certain Things

    Do not attempt to deal with intense natural forces like water, complicated weather, or fire. These are hard to employ with inexpensive cameras and you will need professionals on set with you to keep everything safe. It will probably raise the rates of your insurance, put you at legal liability, and will not come out the way you intended. The same is true of using animals or small children, which have specific working laws and usually require multiple takes.

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    Stock Footage

    If you cannot get certain shots look into stock footage archives. Most good ones will cost money, but it will it usually will not be as expensive as actually getting that clip yourself. Be patient and look in as many sources as possible.

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    Going Abroad

    Finally, if you are arranging a very large film you may want to consider taking it out of the country and to a place where costs are generally cheaper. This has a huge transportation cost to it, but if you have a massive film ahead of you it may end up balancing out. Remember, anything you can get for cheap you should go for, but free is even better.