It’s easy to spend money in the wrong places when shooting your own film. Any attempt to look like a “professional” must be avoided as that usually means you are spending money in all the wrong places. Concentrate on what you are getting onscreen and the most cost efficient ways to do that.
Here are ten DIY no budget tips for success:
1. Schedule shooting on weekends: three days rental for one day.
Most suppliers of camera and lighting gear will cut you a one day rate for a weekend. Pick up Friday and return Monday. Check with rental facilities to see if they offer this option. Negotiate.
2. Be prepared. Anticipate work slowdowns, actor delays, crew concerns and acts of God (and Satan!).
There will always be problems. Don’t act so goddamn surprised when things fall apart. As a producer, my job doesn’t start until there are problems. Embrace the chaos. Boogie down with the sickness. Know that how you react to a problem makes all the difference.
3. Use film software to make your job easier. It works wonders.
There’s lots of great tech out there now. Pick up Celtx or the ShotLister App to organize your shoot. Buy Gorilla Software or Fuzzlecheck to dig deeper and totally streamline your schedules and productions. Go pro with Movie Magic Scheduling and Budgeting. Organization equals success. Don’t wing it. Ever.
4. Group scheduled film based on your location and actor availability.
Break down your script and shoot out actors and locations as quickly as possible. Don’t return to a location that you don’t have to. Don’t bring back an actor you can shoot out in a day. Film every scene required at a specific location in one day as soon as possible. Leave the scene clean when you go.
5. Location scout and shoot 360 degree pictures of sites as you are writing the script.
Location scout and secure before you write or rewrite your script based on the actual shootable locales. Rewrite for clarity, geography and filming availability. Try to make each location work as two distinct locales. Can you film more than one scene there? How can you avoid unit moves? Every time you move the crew and cast you lose time. Less unit moves equals more shooting time.
6. Spend only cash at hand. No credit.
Don’t go into massive debt on your credit cards. Sell your treasures for money to spend on your film. Don’t borrow money and end up with crippling interest rates and payments. Don’t rent or purchase gear you don’t need. Return wardrobe, props and other onscreen items for department store cash refund as applicable (and legally possible).
7. Use thrift shops, Ebay and discount stores for props and wardrobe.
Show online and dumpster dive at local thrift store for all props, set decorations and wardrobe. Revise script to allow for minimal wardrobe changes. Keep your costs low by borrowing needed items. Rent props if you can. Trade, swap and barter with other film folk for needed gear. Augment sets rather than build them. Often one key item is all that is needed to define a space. Detailed props can go a long way to establishing verisimilitude.
8. Ask cast members to provide their own wardrobe and reimburse or replace if needed.
Actors have lots of clothes. Ask them to provide you options. Reimburse or replace items if they are to be bloodied or destroyed. Purchase multiples for any wardrobe destined to be trashed or used for run of show. Bag all items. Clean as required. Label them and keep in separate wardrobe bags per actor. Keep track of continuity on all paperwork, call sheets and label bags with corresponding info.
9. Food, gas and locations will be your biggest expense. Feed people well or it all falls apart.
Pizza is not an option. Healthy, energy laden meals are essential. Cases of bottled water and an industrial strength coffee machine are essential items. Reimburse actors and crew gas money always. Make sure that you have a film team that recognizes you care. Have Vegan, Veggie, and allergy free food for all. Check if your team are allergic to specific items. Feed everyone on a regular basis or pay the price. Make that one person’s sole responsibility. You’ll thank me.
10. Keep a running total of your production expenses for taxes.
Always know your “hot costs” – how much you’ve spent to date and what you have to spend next. Have a check book, a debit card and cash in your pocket for day-to-day expenses. Be prepared to cut a check on the fly or pay off a location shakedown if necessary. Just make sure you keep a list of your film expenses.
DIY filmmaking doesn’t have to be bare bones brutal. By planning, prepping, watching every penny and being flexible enough to deal with the everyday perils, you can be an efficient microcinema unit. On all my pictures, we eat well, trust one another and there are no surprises as we know well in advance what to expect and what our responsibilities are. Your job is to communicate, to collaborate and to care for your team and it will pay off onscreen every time.
Julian Grant is an award-winning filmmaker and tenured professor at Columbia College Chicago. Over the last twenty-years he’s created motion picture, television and independent feature films for a variety of distributors. Now, Julian’s actively teaching and lecturing about micro-cinema, DIY filmmaking and is available for consultation and lecture opportunities. This story was originally published over at Raindance’s blog and is republished with their permission.