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Your Guide to Becoming a Low Budget Filmmaker

written by: Shawn S. Lealos•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 9/26/2011

When setting out to make a movie, you don't have to have millions of dollars on hand for the production. Many people make movies every year for little to no out-of-pocket expenses. From pre-production to the filmmaking process itself, here is a guide to making your own low budget movie.

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    Budget filmmaking has become widely popular with the dropping prices of camcorders and the ability to edit quality films becoming a reality with free and inexpensive software. With the ability to create a new movie cheaply, many people gather their friends and acquaintances and kick out their own low budget movies.

    While many of these films never see the light of day outside of a small screening with a group of friends, it provides aspiring filmmakers a chance to learn their craft without breaking the bank. From picking out an inexpensive camera to learning how to get free help, there are plenty of ways for beginners and film lovers to get out there and create their own masterpiece.

    We have gathered some of the most important information on how to get your low budget independent film off the ground. From the planning stages to the actual shooting of the movie, we delve into the ways to make a movie with little to even no money spent out of the filmmaker's pocket. Want to make your own mini cinematic masterpiece? Learn how with the following articles.

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    Preparing to Make Your Movie

    Every day, movies play in theaters and make millions of dollars for the studio system. Of course, most of these movies cost millions of dollars to produce. However, with a cheap camera and some helpful hands there is a way to make your own movie for little out-of-pocket expenses. Before you get started making a movie, it is always important to understand the history of the business and learn why low budget aspiring filmmakers like yourself stand a better chance of breaking into the business now. Learn why Hollywood is in financial trouble and what a low budget filmmaker can do to break in at this time when budgets are crunching on major film releases.

    Next, it is important to make sure that the movie you want to make fits into the constraints of a low budget film. Understand how much money, if any, you have to spend and plan accordingly. Limit cast, props and locations to only what you can afford within the time constraints of making your movie. Then figure out how you will get whatever money you need to make the movie, whether it is through loans or fundraising opportunities. When you figure out these important stumbling blocks, you are finally ready to make your movie.

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    I Know What You Need When shooting a movie, regardless of the financial burden, there are stages that all filmmakers go through during the production of the film. It is important to understand each of the stages and what they entail so you can understand the financial responsibilities involved in each section. The first of these stages is pre-production, where the budget filmmaking team makes sure to pre-plan for every step of the movie. This allows the project to run with limited roadblocks during the shooting and post-production stages.

    One of the most important things for someone to remember when getting started in budget filmmaking is to make a checklist in pre-production. The last thing a producer of a low budget film wants is to have something unexpected pop up that he can’t afford simply because he forgot about it before filming started. Next, make sure that all the tools are needed for the project, from the cameras to props and locations, this is the time to check those items off your list.

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    Cast and Crew

    When it comes time to get started on making your film, it is important to make sure to surround yourself with the best people available. For many low budget films, that means finding people who will work for free. While a major movie crew normally has one person working each individual job, low budget filmmakers cannot afford such luxuries. While there might be three or more people working the camera on a major movie shoot, the low budget filmmaker might only have one doing every task. Learn which crew positions you can eliminate in your movie to save you the most money.

    Next, bring in the best cast you can for as little money as possible on low budget affairs. What is important here is to find people willing to work for nothing but still willing to give it the best performance they are capable of. It is also important to make sure that you don’t cut corners here because the actors have to fit their roles. Understand the entire casting process, from bringing the actors in to auditioning them, casting them and understanding anything that might come up with the Screen Actors Guild as a result of your choices. Also make sure to understand contracts, one of the most important things to deal with when working with actors.

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    I Know What You Need When it comes time to make a low budget film, most aspiring filmmakers choose short films to start out with. They make a great calling card, can get you noticed in film festivals and can be made for next to nothing. When working on a short film, the main goal is to produce something that costs very little in the hopes that the return will bring financing for something bigger in the future. Learn what you need to know to keep the budget on the short films affordable, from the writing of the script to the production of the film.

    Whether you are making a short film or a feature length one, there are many ways you can lower your production budget and save money. The more money you can save on specific aspects of your movie, the more you have to spread around to other areas as well. Figure out where you can tweak costs in your movie to give you the best possibility of leaving the production costs up on the screen and not somewhere it could have been avoided.

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    There are many tips and tricks to editing a film and preparing it for screenings. One of the big problems is that, in the editing stages, you need to have access to video editing equipment which can be pricey. However, once you find equipment to use, whether purchasing your own or using someone else’s, there are many ways to finish the movie without spending any more money than you have to. Learn the tips to editing and the various ways to cut costs in the editing room.

    Also, learn about ways to get some financing from someone else to help you finish post-production on your movie and ways to troubleshoot problems that might come your way. Finally, find out what to do with your movie once it is completed to get it out there for the world to see.

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    Making a movie is never an easy accomplishment - there are many people involved and many problems that must be solved with meticulously prepared steps to follow. However, for low budget filmmakers, there are corners to cut and opportunities for help, both financially and generously. When you figure out how you can save money and get as much as possible for free, a large obstacle is moved out of the way and you can get started on the road of budget filmmaking to make your cinematic masterpiece.


  • All images courtesy of author.