Production Days | Step Five – 7 Important Steps to Making A Low Budget Film

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Film Production Days – Can you make a feature film on an ultra-low budget? There will be critics out there telling you that you can’t make a film on a low budget! It’s impossible to do, and it will turn out horribly if you try!

Making a feature film on a low budget is not easy. Some moments during the film production may cause you to have a mental breakdown and throw everything you created into a huge bonfire and watch it burn. 

But don’t let that stop you from chasing your dreams and completing a film project.

This is the fifth article in my series of the 7 steps to making a film on a low budget. I will discuss, in separate posts, steps that filmmakers should do to make a successful film regardless of the budget.

In this post, we will discuss the topic of film production days.  How To Shoot Your Film. 

If you have missed any of the steps to making a low budget film before reading this post, you can click one of the following posts below:

The production stage is where the scenes are shot, and most of the work takes place.
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First Day Of Production

After months of planning and over planning, the first day of shooting has arrived. You and your crew are setting up equipment, blocking your first shot, and your cast is rehearsing and getting ready for a walkthrough of the first take, you are pumped and ready to go!

Now is the time to be a filmmaker, and start captaining the ship with your navigation plans in place and you are heading to your final destination.

There will be a moment where you feel a little self-doubt as you are drinking your first cup of coffee starting at the camera. I always feel a sense of panic before the first day of shooting. Everyone around is expecting the director to know their stuff, and there is a lot of millages to cover before the production is over within the time frame you budgeted for production.

But don’t worry because the first day of shooting is probably one of the best days of shooting you will have during the production. The energy is high on the set. You can feel the positive and creative vibes flowing through the crew. 

But, things can turn on a dime, and those vibes you felt on the first day, can dissipate into thin air. But, it doesn’t have to. And here’s how to prevent this from happening.

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Call Sheets

call sheet template

For a production film shoot, daily call sheets are sent the day before shooting letting all the crew know when they are to arrive on set, and the locations to go to. Call sheets are traditionally prepared by someone like the 1st AD or other production staff in the crew. But if you are running a thin crew, that will likely be you creating the call sheets. 

I have done so many call sheets in the past 10 years of filmmaking and I am learning something new each time I create one. They are not hard to do if you did all your pre-production planning before the first day of shooting. 

When organizing your call sheets, make sure they are sent to your crew at a reasonable time the night before so your crew can get a good rest for the next day of shooting without worrying about a call sheet coming in at 2 am.

Just remember that if you make a mistake on your call sheets, you can fix them. Mistakes can happen. Just make sure you have the right time and location for the first shot, and you can adjust accordingly

Click Here for a downloadable call sheet from Studiobinder.

Use FB Messenger or WhatsApp

You will need to communicate with your crew throughout the film production. The best way to communicate with your crew, and your crew to communicate with each other is by using a communication tool like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp.

This is an excellent way to keep in touch with everyone as the shoot progresses. It’s a perfect solution to update everyone instantly, and they can communicate back to you.

By creating a chat group through either one of these apps, if there’s a last-minute update, it’s easier and quicker to send a message to the group than worry with email or phone calls. 

Depending on the production schedule you are following, you never want a communication breakdown, by utilizing these apps everyone is informed and can adjust on the fly if something is wrong.

It does get annoying if other members of your crew start using the group to discuss non-production-related things, so set your boundaries at the start that any conversation via these apps is for production only, not for socializing after the day is over.

Audio Is Key

vlogging microphones

Having good audio in your film is just as important as a great screenplay. 

You could have the best camera available to you, the best lighting conditions to create the atmosphere you want, and your actors could give the best performances of their careers, but if you have bad audio, all is lost.

You need your audience to hear what the actors are saying. You need your audience to hear background sounds that are another character in your film. 

Plus, with the incredible audio recorders that are available today that record incredible sound, audiences are used to great audio, and they want to hear it in your film. 

Have you ever watched a youtube vlogging clip that had horrible sound? If you did, how long did it take before you switched off? A vlogger could give a blueprint on how to achieve world peace, but if you can’t hear them because of bad audio, all it is lost. Goodbye World Peace!

So, I can’t stress this enough, capture excellent audio for your film. 

Stay On Schedule

Pre-Production | Step Four - 7 Important Steps to Making A Low Budget Film

We all know as filmmakers to stick to a schedule. Why do you think they are made in pre-production?

But, I have been part of many productions where the schedule is not being followed, and end ups with everyone filming until 4 am when the scheduled finish was 6 pm. If you are following the 21-day plan and you are constantly going over time, you could lose the energy and creativity from your crew and weaken your production. 

If this begins to happen, you need to step back and look at your schedule again. Ask yourself if you are being too ambitious with your schedule, or did you not strip down enough in pre-production?

I know it’s tough to figure out how long things will take to film. Plus, if you don’t have much filming experience then it could be even harder. So stripping down your production to the bare minimum in pre-production becomes even more important. 

Plus, if you don’t factor in the build-up time for equipment, the teardown of equipment after a scene is shot, and everything else in between, it eats up time! So, prepare in pre-production everything that can happen will happen and act accordingly. 

Adapt & Improvise

In my blog post, How to Make a Smartphone movie guerrilla-style, if you use small cameras like a smartphone or mirrorless camera, you can shoot in locations you never thought was possible compared to Larger cinema cameras.

The film Tangerine, which was shot with an iPhone, was filmed on busy streets with passersby’s not even paying attention to filming going on around them. And that doesn’t stop with just filming on busy streets.

If your screenplay doesn’t involve major action sequences that require choreographed rehearsals if you are sneaky enough to get the shot, do it.

Also, there is no harm in asking if you can use a location for a shot. What is the worst thing that could happen, they say no? Ask an owner, manager, staff, almost anyone that might be able to help you with shooting at a particular location for free.

But always mention that you are shooting a super low-budget film with barely any funds to pay for gas to the crew. The minute people hear a production wanting to shoot at a certain location they think you have money. So, make sure they know you have no money and beg for help.

Use your lack of funds to your advantage

If you are working with limited funds for your production, you need to be flexible and set ready all the time. What do I mean by this?

With most standard productions that involve huge amounts of crew and equipment, one scene could take all day to shoot.

For example, if you are shooting an exterior scene in which it involves time for setting up lighting equipment, production assistant blocking off areas of the street to the public, and waiting for extras to do walkthroughs with the assistant directors, that is time and money being wasted just to get one shot.

While all of this is happening, your actors have been sitting around waiting and losing valuable energy that could be used on their performance. As a low-budget filmmaker, you can’t afford time being wasted.

For first-time directors that haven’t shot a full feature yet, do yourself a favor and cut your teeth in short films. You will understand how to change and adapt because of your limited funds and learn how to work with a small crew. So when you make a full feature, your production will be streamlined as you did with your short films.

Stay Safe On Set

Even with the largest budget film productions, someone always gets hurt. While I understand a filmmaker with a low-budget film will have to run lean with a crew, and the tempo of production will be high but don’t take risks that could jeopardize the health and the safety of your crew.

This also goes with the safety of the public around you when filming. Planning beforehand with rehearsals and walkthroughs before production and during production is key to a safe set.

Also, be aware of your actor’s feelings and comfortability during production. What I mean by this is if your actors don’t feel safe and protected during a scene, it can ruin everything you planned up to this point.

What do I mean by that? Since I write films that don’t involve scenes with intimacy between actors, I haven’t had to deal with this type of situation.

But, if you have a scene that is quite intimate between two actors, you need to be sure that both actors feel comfortable in performing the scene without feeling emotionally disgusted afterward.

There are intimacy coaches that are becoming the new normal on sets that can help actors prepare for a scene that could possibly make them feel uncomfortable in doing them. But, you won’t have the budget to add on an extra crew member to deal with this type of situation, so just avoid writing any sex scenes in your film that could ruin the mental state of your actors.

Back everything up 

Back your stuff up!!! I can stress this enough! Wherever you are storing your video and sound files, make sure to have at least one copy of them on a separate drive.

Never wait to store your files throughout the day, when your memory card in the camera or audio recording is at least 3/4 full, switch cards to new cards and back the full cards onto a portable hard drive. I would suggest two portable hard drives just in case one decides to crap out during the production.

I have been part of productions where the filmmakers lost half a day’s footage because one of the camera crew left a camera unattended and someone stole the camera without anyone noticing. This can happen on a fast-paced guerrilla-style shoot where many people are doing many things at once, and something extremely important can be forgotten.

Portable hard drives like the Lacie Rugged drives, are inexpensive and can withstand the elements while keeping your files safe.

Release Forms 

This was mentioned in one of the earlier posts of step on making a low-budget film, but it’s an important reminder to have all of your crew, locations, and whoever is part of the production to have signed release forms.

Especially if you are filming in public spaces, and you plan to distribute your film, you might need to get release forms signed by anyone who appears in a scene. If someone’s face is in shot for more than a few frames, they must sign a release form. While laws may be different from country to country in regards to this, but it’s worth doing this practice anytime your shoot.

While I can’t offer real legal advice because I am not a lawyer, but I play one on tv, but I recommend seeking legal advice to make sure about any legal issues that come with filming.

Click here For Free Talent Release Form for Film and Video Productions

In the next post of steps to low-budget filmmaking, I’ll talk about Step Six: Post-Production. It’s about putting all the pieces of the puzzle together to see if your film is a masterpiece or the possibility you might be planning for massive reshoots.

If you liked this article, please help me share it via a tweet, stumble, pin, or Facebook share would be much appreciated! 

About the author: Trent (Imdb | Youtube) has spent 10+ years working on an assortment of film and television projects. He writes about his experiences to help (and amuse) others. If he’s not working, he’s either traveling, reading or writing about travel/film, or planning travel/film projects.

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The production stage is where the scenes are shot, and most of the work takes place.
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