The Story – 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 second 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 focus on the story of your film.
The Story | Step Two - 7 Important Steps To Making A Low Budget Feature Film
What is the most important factor of any film project? It’s the STORY.
Regardless of the length of a film, they all start with a story that is complete from the beginning to the end. In film, your story is the blueprint that you will work with to help you create your vision on the screen.
In film, this blueprint is called a screenplay. A story/screenplay is a guide for your movie production.
When writing a screenplay for a low-budget film, require the filmmaker to be more creative than a screenwriter with an unlimited budget.
While a low-budget filmmaker developing a screenplay for production is no different than a screenwriter writing a story/screenplay for a Hollywood blockbuster because both need to be aware of the costs as they are writing this roadmap.
But for those creating a screenplay for low-budget film productions, the story you can achieve depends on what tools you have around you.
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Wherever you live, there is a huge pool of acting talent looking for exposure and will work for honorariums or expenses. If you know talented actors in your area that want to be in a movie for exposure, write your screenplay around them.
Maybe you will find a few actors in your area that have some acting chops and a certain presence on camera, and make them the lead characters. Uncover their backgrounds in their daily lives and feed them into the story/character.
Don’t write their characters with a trait that they don’t already have in real life. This way it’s easier for you the filmmaker to help them get into character before the cameras are rolling.
If a character you are writing for has their heartbroken from a past relationship, make sure the actor playing that character has had a broken heart in the past. It’s easier to draw this out from your actors if they have experienced it in real life.
Location is a major cost to production, so you have to think outside the box and find out what locations do you have access to that are free.
I have lost count on how many short films have been shot in my house. The reason is it’s a big location that can be used for several scenes and it’s cheap.
So when you are writing your story/screenplay, think about all of the locations in your area like friends’ apartments, family homes, empty car parks, empty buildings, where you work, where your friends and family work, and so on.
It’s all about being creative and thinking outside the box to find locations you can shoot at for little to no cost to you.
Another thing that you can try, if you are shooting sequences with minimal equipment like a smartphone, is to shoot guerilla-style.
Can you shoot on the street, in a hospital, or wherever without people noticing? If you can, then try to get away with it and ask for forgiveness later.
I recently shot a short film outside a jail in which we shot a prison break of the actor running out the front door of the jail.
While we were shooting, the guards were following the actor thinking they actually escaped from jail. After talking to the guards after the shot was over, we all had a good laugh, and we got the shot we wanted.
So the key to locations, when writing is to know all the cheapest locations you can use in your film. This way you can write them into your story/screenplay to cut your film costs.
What equipment do you have access to already? Is there a film co-op in your area that rents out film equipment cheap? Can you shoot your film on a smartphone?
The key to equipment is always finding the cheapest way possible to shoot your film, because it doesn’t matter what it’s shot on, if the film has a great story, amazing performances, great lighting, and good sound, it doesn’t matter what camera you use.
Look at the Blair Witch Project, that film wasn’t shot on an expensive cinema camera, it was shot on a 16mm camera and a HI8 camera. Both were extremely cheap cameras at the time, but the film went on to make a crapload of money at the box office.
Just remember that whatever equipment you do use, you will need a crew to operate it. So, write your screenplay knowing that you will be using limited equipment, so you can keep your crew to a minimum. A crew may work for cheap in your area but you still need to feed them.
Also, Avoid Special Effects! Special effects cost money and extra time in post-production to complete it.
The key to writing a story/screenplay for a zero to low-budget film is to make sure you pay attention to everything involved in making the film.
For every scene you write, you need to think about the most practical way of filming it. If you are an amateur filmmaker, it will take some time, effort, and mistakes along the way to understand how to properly make a low-budget film without extra costs and mistakes.
But, as you get more experience in low-budget filmmaking, the easier it will be to achieve the results you want.
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The key to making a low-budget story/screenplay is to forget about the big blockbuster productions you have seen growing up and focus on the assets you have around you.
Every filmmaker had to start somewhere with an ultra-low budget to gain the experience they needed to be recognized in the film world. Look at filmmakers George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Christopher Nolan, all of their first films were ultra-low budget films, and they had to be creative with the resources and funds they had, so they could achieve the results they wanted in completing their vision.
So create a script or story which will allow filming based on the lack of funds you have. You may not have the funds for your production, but if you have the right resources behind you, completing your film will be so much easier.
In the next post Step Three: The Process, I will discuss different approaches for shooting without a budget, so you can decide which one will you choose for your next low-budget production.
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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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