How to make a low-budget film

How to make a low-budget film

By Olivia Humphreys 15/11/11

If you're making a film, chances are that you've got a shoe-string budget. Instead of seeing that as a hindrance, turn it into a positive: Ideas Fund Shorts winner (2010) Olivia Humphreys gathers some tips from fellow filmmakers on how to make your pennies go further...

Plan ahead

Having a low budget makes planning even more crucial, argues filmmaker Vinay Patel: “Storyboard the hell out of your picture. Thinking is free, and stops you wasting time on location. Even if you don’t stick to it, it’s good to have an idea of how the scene will work in the edit, lest you find yourself dealing with dreaded (and expensive) reshoots.” This is a good approach for documentary as well, according to filmmaker Dieter Deswarte: “It’s important to know what story you want to tell when you start filming. It will help you avoid shooting too much, which will reduce costs in your production and post-production periods’”


Make the most of what you have

“Don’t go splurging your cash on big-ticket items that you’ll only use for a couple of seconds,” advises Vinay. “To quote Robert Rodriguez: ‘When I did El Mariachi I had a turtle, I had a guitar case, I had a small town and I said I’ll make a movie around that.’ All turned out well in the end for him.” Remember that bargaining is expected, says Raindance founder Elliot Grove: “Saving money is easy: You just need to ask. The old adage, ‘You don't ask, you don’t get’ certainly applies to filmmakers as well, and remember the other adage: ‘God invented the rate card for first timers’.”


Go to bed late and wake up early

“You can shoot almost anywhere if nobody else is awake and it will look like you've had it blocked off just for your shoot,” says Charlie Henniker. “It was painful, but shooting late at night at a bus stop for the last short film I worked on got great results. We all got home at 2am on a Monday, but we got the shots we wanted.”


Keep your crew happy

Vinay: “Don’t scrimp on food. With a low-budget film, there’s a lot of temptation to put all the money you have up on the screen, but you should never let yourself get to the position where you can’t afford to keep your crew fed. They will be working long, hard hours and likely for free because they love you and/or your idea. But they’ll get tired and stressed: the least you can do is to make sure they’re not famished.” Charlie thinks it’s best to avoid large crews: “With a low budget, you’ll get the best results with a small group who all know the project (and the changes it goes through) inside out, rather than a large unit that need briefing and organising a lot of the time.”


Reward your supporters in unexpected ways

“For the last film I worked on we needed a crowd of extras to sit in silence at a comedy gig – so we just put on a comedy gig,” explains Charlie. “Anyone who wanted to come got in for free, in exchange for spending 15 minutes being filmed as background to a short scene. We had some great comedians who knew us and wanted to contribute, so they turned up and did a show for free. We gave everyone involved some cake too, just for good measure.”


Read more How to articles. 

Have a look at Elliot Grove’s blog, Dieter Deswarte’s website and follow Vinjay Patel on Twitter. Charlie Henniker recently finished the short film Groucho Nietzche – find out more.

Got a great idea for a short film? Look out for IdeasTap's £5,000 Ideas Fund Shorts brief, which reopens in February 2012. Meet the last round's winners.

Image: Projet: Super 8 by Pedro fait de la Photo, available under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Closing Update

11595 Page views

Most popular
Our past collaborators