Tips: A Guide to Producing Short Films on a Shoestring Budget
Whether you’re a studio-hired or independent filmmaker, securing the financial resources to get your creative idea from script to screen is always the hardest part in the filmmaking process. While it may seem like a challenging feat, fortunately, it is not an impossible one. And if there’s anything we’ve learned from the success of content creators on the internet, there are many ways to produce short-form content with little to no budget. In this guide, we’ll walk you through a few different ideas and tips on how to utilize your resources to make low-budget but high-quality short films.
Let’s Get Down to Business
It is possible to create high-quality short films on a shoestring budget if you’ve done your research and know how to utilize the resources that are already within your reach. Here are some tips for producing short films with almost no budget at all:
Use Low-Cost Locations or Write a One-Location Story
Simplicity is key when your financial resources are limited. When writing the script, one of the best ways to cut down the cost is to set the story in one location. Having too many locations in your story means dealing with high rental fees, film permits, and moving equipment and crew all over town, which is not only costly financially but also time-wise. One-location stories can lessen the number of shoot days, which can further help you save on other production costs such as transportation, and setup, as well as allow your crew to work more efficiently in a contained space.
If it’s necessary to have multiple locations, limit it to two or three, and if possible, ask for help from family and friends if you can use their space for free. Many student films operate this way because it is one of the most cost-effective and proven ways to make a short film. The key is writing a powerful story that focuses on its characters more than the plot, special effects, and spectacles.
Find Gear Rental Deals
The bulk of the budget, especially for making low-budget short films, mostly goes to equipment rental. The costs can add up easily if you write complicated scenes that would require the use of multiple cameras (especially drones), lenses, lights, and sound equipment. In the industry, many cinematographers flock to a website called ShareGrid where you can directly rent from people who already own the equipment at an affordable price. Furthermore, some cinematographers have close working relationships with rental facilities and can easily get discounts or negotiate prices and deals. If you’re lucky, you can work with a cinematographer who already owns a camera and would be kind enough to lend it to you for free or at a fraction of the cost. If renting a camera is not an option, your iPhone or high-quality smartphone can also get the job done. It’s also worth mentioning to use natural lighting as much as possible and film during the daytime in order to save on additional equipment required during night shoots.
Get Thrifty with Props and Costumes
Because you’re bringing a fictional world to life, props and costumes are crucial to making this world as real and authentic as possible. Depending on which period you set the world in, the cost would definitely go up if the story is either set in the Victorian era or in the future. However, even if you’re setting it in the present, buying new clothes or props is not necessary. There are many thrift stores in your local area that can give you the best options and deals. There are also prop houses in Los Angeles that can give you sponsored props for free, as a form of product placement. Another common practice on set is asking your crew members or actors to bring their own clothes that would best represent their characters.
Work with Family and Friends
This is a no-brainer. When you’re an emerging filmmaker and making a film with little to no budget, your best option is to ask for help from people who would gladly do you a favor or accept experience and food as compensation. It’s also beneficial to have a group of creative collaborators to grow with and support each other in your filmmaking journey. There are also numerous cast and crew job sites such as Mandy, Backstage, or Staff Me Up where you can find aspiring actors and film crew who would gladly do it for the credit. By limiting the expenses with your cast and crew, you can better utilize the money in other areas of production and post-production.
Go Virtual or Remote
If there’s anything that the pandemic has taught us in this industry, is that it’s possible to make a film from the comfort of your own home. Many films in Hollywood, especially thrillers, make use of webcams and screen recordings as narrative tools. This instantly spares you from spending on expensive camera equipment. On another note, remote filmmaking also became a go-to setup to reduce the costs on set. Those who are not physically needed on set can communicate how things could be done via video calls. In fact, many of the independent filmmakers I know (including myself) have done short and feature films remotely during the pandemic. The key is constant communication and rigorous pre-production planning to ensure everything goes smoothly during production. The same process can be said when it comes to post-production. Everything can be done through the cloud so collaboration can be done from any corner of the globe.
Filmmaking doesn’t need to be an overwhelming and daunting endeavor as long as you equip yourself with basic knowledge and practice that many independent filmmakers have learned from their own filmmaking journey. Being resourceful, adaptable, and persevering are important skills and traits that a filmmaker should have in order to be successful in this business.
We often think that having a huge budget is the only way to make award-winning masterpieces but these films such as El Mariachi (1992), Blair Witch Project (1999), Paranormal Activity (2007), For Lovers Only (2011) among others would tell you otherwise.
Instead of finding excuses to put your filmmaking dreams aside due to the lack of financial resources, put them into writing stories that match the budget or resources that are already within your reach. You’ll find that using your voice, unique perspective, and creativity are the most important resources that you already have to make a film that can capture the hearts of the audience.
CULTURE (counter, pop, and otherwise) and the people who shape it.