Shooting Your Film – 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 third 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 begin with the topic of how to decide the way to shoot your film.
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Deciding The Way To Shoot Your Film
Shooting Your Film – Now that you have understood your plan of attack what you want out of your film and how to write your story to keep your budget low, now is the time to plan your strategy Shooting Your Film.
With the first feature which I produced, Camping Discovery, the team spent months looking into many different ways on how we wanted to shoot the film. Were we going to shoot the film in two or three weeks? Were we going to shoot the film over a few months with breaks in between? Were we going to shoot super low budget and get the project done in 5 shooting days?
While we were thinking about how to plan our shoot, I started looking at my favorite directors on how they shot their ultra-low-budget films to get some advice to shoot Camping Discovery.
The first filmmaker I studied was Christopher Nolan. I wanted to figure out how he shot his first feature film Following. After figuring out I was not Christopher Nolan after watching the clip of Christopher Nolan discussing “Following“, I started to research other methods of shooting feature-length films, and here are the pros and cons of each method:
Oh! Before I breakdown the different methods of scheduling for shooting feature-length films here’s the clip of Christopher Nolan discussing his low-budget Feature “Following”:
Shooting Your Film – An independent feature I worked on called “All-In Madonna” was shot in 21 days. The budget was very tight for the feature, but it turned out very well and had a successful festival run.
The advantage of shooting a feature film in this time frame was how fast the production went from beginning to end. There was a clear goal in sight, and the production speed was at a pace that the crew could handle.
By the end of the 21-day shoot, most of the major scenes were shot so the editing phase could start once the film was wrapped. The bonus of continuous shooting is you can avoid scheduling problems for any principal actors.
If production is split up, an actor may take another role in the meantime and could disrupt your production if they can’t get back when shooting is restarted.
With a 21 day shoot everything is more focused, there is a goal in place and the team’s spirit tends to be high in achieving the goal of completing in the time frame projected.
Plus, with a 21-day shoot, the cast and crew, including the director, can completely sink themselves into the process of making a film.
You definitely need to prepare as much as you can in pre-production to make sure everything is checked off before the first day of shooting your film. Plus, you have to be prepared that for anything that can go wrong, and learn to fix it on the fly.
Another thing to be aware of is that when you are a low-budget filmmaker, like the director/producer, that won’t be the only role you will do on the film set. You will don many hats throughout the production. If you don’t have a production assistant handy to pick up last-minute props and pick up your principal actors on the way to set, you will be doing these tasks as well.
The key to surviving a 21-day shoot is to have enough energy from beginning to end to survive the shoot. This is the most common method of filmmaking as it’s fast, less flexible, but sometimes carries a risk.
You will have your ups and downs, and possibly have a mental breakdown in-between, but if you prepare enough beforehand, you will feel glorious at the end of shooting.
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Shooting Your Film – How intermittent filming works is that you plan to shoot your film in chunks over a longer time frame.
You can shoot in different lengths of time that suits you and the cast and crew. This is a great way to complete a film if you are working yourself to finance your film. You make some money, shoot for a few days, then repeat the cycle until the production is complete. Intermittent filming could take you a few months to complete your project, or a year.
Think of this style of filmmaking as you think of your shooting period like a mini production in itself. Think of it as shooting 15 short films over a year, some of them taking days and some just a couple of hours in the evening.
You schedule the shoot, email everyone needed, agreeing a date and time. After you have the footage needed, everyone goes home and you start planning the next section.
The best way to work a shooting schedule like this is to shoot by location availability. Break the script down into locations, and start planning.
This approach suits a zero budget situation because you can work around everyone’s day jobs or other commitments like Christopher Nolan did when shooting “Following.” If you are a filmmaker that will be wearing many hats throughout the production, this approach gives you more breathing space to step back, take a break, and then get back in again. This approach allows you to take each part of your film seriously because you can prepare each time before the next shooting date.
This process also has the benefit of flexibility. If you shoot for a day and after 50 takes things just didn’t work, you can reschedule to shoot again without too much effort. If things go terribly wrong with a 21-day shoot, the harm administered to the production can be disastrous to the production, in some cases. It’s also easier to change, adapt and modify things as you go.
It just takes longer than some want to finish a project. The harm with this style of filmmaking is that you could risk losing the main cast member, if they decide to go to another project while you wait for the next block of shooting.
Plus, you could risk your main actors looking different each time they come back to filming. One block they may have long hair, the next block of shooting they could have short hair. This could cause some major headaches in post-production.
Another disadvantage to intermittent filmmaking is that the cast and crew could lose focus on the project. You will have to be the constant cheerleader each time you do a block of shooting to get the team energized for each shooting period.
Shooting Your Film – This is the style of filmmaking that I witnessed with two films, Pitty Party and Camping Discovery, in which they were feature-length films shot in 5 days or less. This is the ultimate zero-budget movie-making method.
You get to make a feature film extremely fast. With shooting in such a fast time frame, you are cutting a lot of costs to your budget, like food and travel.
If you don’t plan right before the first day of shooting, your project is DOA before the first take. If you don’t pay attention to your daily shooting schedule and where your locations are between each move, and factor in the build-up and breakdown of equipment each time you move, it will result in unusable takes that you can’t fix in post.
Plus, when you are Shooting Your Film in such a time frame, you will be shooting for long hours. When I mean long hours, I mean 16+ hour shooting days. That can take a huge toll on you, the cast, and the crew.
I remember day four of a 7-day shoot, that the cast and crew decided to have a mutiny on set, and almost destroyed the whole production. Now, I am not talking Lord of the Flies mutiny, but they were ready to walk and not come back.
After a few hours of negotiation, the time we didn’t have, the crew went back to filming again, but things were never the same for the rest of the shoot. As a result, both films didn’t turn out to be what the directors envisioned before the start of production, and they are sitting on a hard drive somewhere with no release date in sight.
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Shooting Your Film – So that’s three basic methods to shoot a feature film on a low budget. There is no right or wrong way of shooting, you just need to be able to adapt on the fly in case situations come up that need to be fixed in a heartbeat.
In the next post of the series 7 steps to making a low-budget film, I’ll talk about Step Four: Pre-Production. The success of your film shoot depends on the exceptional organization. Find out some tips to make sure things run as smoothly as possible.
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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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