A few years ago, an aspiring Wes Anderson would score a cheap super 8 camera and get to work filming whatever caught their eye. That’s how many of the best known directors today got their starts.
But “making your mark” today can be a bit more challenging.
The digital-savvy folks simply expect better production values. You’re also competing with so many more people on so many different platforms. It seems as if everyone is uploading video to YouTube, Vimeo, Smores.TV, and other hosting platforms.
Low budget or not, if you want to get noticed, you have to produce something creative and highly watchable content.
Before you start, you should identify your goals on a macro and micro level. First, what are your goals in making films and videos in general? Is it simply to get noticed for your creativity, to draw enough viewers to earn ad revenue, or as part of a marketing campaign for promoting your skills or a cause?
Next, each video should be created with a clearly defined purpose. For example, you might be interested in experimenting with a specific technique, telling a story, or demonstrating a product. By having goals, you are better able to plan, and make the best use of your resources.
Now that you have your objective in mind, here are some tips for making great videos and short films without breaking the bank.
It’s not as simple as finding the cheapest equipment you can. Yes, you can film and edit with a decent smartphone, but that might not meet your needs in the future. On the other hand, don’t waste your time investing in professional level equipment if you aren’t going to use all the features that are available.
One good option is to buy used equipment. This is a great way to get your hands on better gear for less money. Check out eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, and other online markets.
It’s got explosions, an amazing soundtrack, brilliant animation, and death defying stunts! How many times have you spent good money to see a movie full of big-budget elements only to realize it was kind of lame? That’s because these elements are often used to wow viewers, but also tend to go along with less than stellar scripts and acting.
On the flip slide, if you take the time to create a great script, really solidify your storyline, and bring on actors who are committed to doing a great job you don’t need a huge budget. In fact, some of the most well-respected and highest grossing films were low budget.
There are plenty of reasons, budgetary and otherwise to keep your film short. Are you interested in screening at local film festival? Think about shooting a short film of either fifteen or thirty minutes. That’s generally the time frames that festival organizers use.
If you’re shooting videos for Vimeo or YouTube, think of short attention spans. This is especially true if you’re shooting branded videos. Nobody wants to spend an hour watching you promote your business, not matter how good your movie is.
Shorter films cost less to produce. They are more marketable, and you are more likely to earn views and shares.
Good editing can really make or break a film shot on the cheap. If you’ve got an iPhone, there are some built-in editing features, and a lot of apps that can give your content an editorial vibe.
If you are shooting action or travel videos, there’s already good selection of gopro video editing software out there to make your content more crisp and add pro effects.
If you plan to use advanced animation techniques and special effects, then you might consider investing a bit of money in premium softw. Otherwise, consider playing around with some free or cheap editing software for now. You can always upgrade later.
There are a lot of people who would love to work on a film shoot. Film students would love to put some crew work on their resumes. Budding actors would love to get on screen just for a bit. Then there are people who simply want to cross an item off their bucket list. There are even people who look for films as a means to make some extra cash working set up and doing other jobs.
If you need crew members, ask around. Post about your film on your social media pages. Ask other filmmakers where they recruit cast and crew. You might be able to staff your film without going over budget.
Just remember that filming on a budget is never an excuse to expect people to work for free or for sub par wages. Be prepared to pay a fair wage, as you save money. There’s a difference between saving money and treating people unfairly.
Does your school have a filmmaking program, theater or auditorium, even a digital marketing program? If they do, that could be a valuable resource for you. You might be able to borrow equipment, use their editing rooms, even film on campus. Make connections with department heads, film majors, instructors, and others who might have a bit of sway.
Smart filmmakers are prepared to maximize the time they have. They’re flexible, and they avoid wasting production time. This includes:
- Filming scenes when actors are available.
- Taking advantage of events and weather conditions to get footage.
- Being prepared to change the shooting schedule if someone is ill or there are other issues.
Learn as much as you can about editing. This way, you aren’t bound to shooting your film or video sequentially. Instead, you can piece the footage together during the editing process.
Take a look at the most popular YouTube channels, and the brands that have the most recognizable videos. Even before you get too far into one of their videos you know who made the film. That’s because so many elements remain the same.
Elements such as intros, credits, and stock footage can be used over and over again. For example, if you need footage of a large crowd or city skyline, film it once and archive it. That way, if you need that again you can just recycle it. Think of it like this. If it isn’t filmed close up, there’s a good chance that you can reuse it.
It’s easier to lose a big chunk of money to expenditures that don’t seem like a big deal at the time. Everything adds up. That hotel room upgrade while you film out of town, a little too much money spent on beer, even losing a bit daylight because you sleep in can chip away at your budget. Worse, you can end up behind and not even know how or where it happened.
Keep a spreadsheet. Track your expenses. Make credit card and other payments on time. Set a budget and adhere to it. The better you stay on top of things, the sooner you will realize you are getting close to a financial, red zone. Then you can make adjustments before things go south.
Product placement in film and video isn’t something that’s only done on a grand scale. Your filmmaking project can benefit as well. Reach out to local businesses. They might be willing to help. Ask them about:
- Catering for free or at discounted rates
- Using their stores or offices for filming
- Providing their services - check out law offices and insurance companies especially
- Offering up their products for filming
In return, you can offer film credit, advertising space on posters and other promotional materials, or product placement. Be prepared to negotiate. Some people might simply want to be a part of your project. Others will want monetary compensation or exposure.
Creative filmmakers know how to wow an audience on a shoestring. Plan ahead, take a disciplined approach to filmmaking, and make the most of every opportunity. You’ll be able to successfully produce a movie without a high dollar budget.