Filmmaking Blog Posts by Indie Film Factory

Filmmaking on a Budget: Your Guide to Producing Your First Feature Film

filmmaking on a budget

I’ll start this blog post on filmmaking on a budget with some good news and bad news. The good news first is that you are about to step into one of the most exciting career fields out there – filmmaking! The bad news is that it will be one of the most expensive art forms you will ever do! As a filmmaker who has produced, written, and directed eight feature films and handfuls of short films and has worked as a video production producer for nearly 25 years, I can tell you that I don’t regret going into this business. However, I have learned you can waste money making films and videos. 

The biggest thing to understand about production is that filmmaking on a budget is possible and can lead to creative and innovative solutions. Although it requires you to check your ego and work as efficiently as possible. The biggest key is to spend most of your money where it counts and know when to cut back. In this post, I will offer cost-saving tips to help you bring your cinematic vision to life without financially ruining your life. But before I get into these tips, please note that there should never be any cuts to safety or taking care of your cast and crew while in production. Permits and safety are paramount, and keeping folks well-fed will help you power even the most meager film and video productions. 

Filmmaking on a Budget Starts with Pre-Production

As I’ve written extensively in my filmmaking books, pre-production is the key to successful filmmaking on a budget. Outline every aspect of your production, from pre-production to post-production, in detail. This includes budgeting for locations, equipment, cast, crew, and post-production expenses. The more thorough your planning, the better you’ll make informed decisions and avoid unexpected costs. Surprise costs will ruin your day, so make sure you account for everything and leave some room for the unexpected. Oh, and the unexpected will undoubtedly happen. 

Maximize Location Resources and Lean into Your Limitations

Clint Eastwood once said, “Men (and women) must know their limitations.” Knowing your limitations is essential when filmmaking on a budget. Understanding your limitations allows you to adjust your script, props, and production plan to fit your financial reality. If you only have $10,000 to make your movie, chances are you’ll need to write out the helicopter explosion and high-speed train chase scenes, or you may have to learn CGI to offset your little budget. Get honest with yourself. Don’t overwrite yourself into an imperfect execution of a scene. Make things more logistically easy for yourself. 

Another thing to do is get creative with your location resources. Whether shooting a movie or a commercial video shoot, consider filming in available locations, such as your home or friends and family. Utilize natural light whenever possible to reduce the need for expensive lighting equipment. 

DIY Props and Sets

I am a big proponent of YouTube, and I have learned to do so much by watching tutorials. Although you should always focus on directing actors and creating a great story, there are some money-saving perks to DIY props and sets. God knows I’ve done my fair share of painting studio flats and building props. I’m sure you would love to delegate some of these tasks, but you don’t always have that luxury, especially on a micron-budget movie!

Get creative and make props and set pieces instead of outsourcing these tasks. Scour thrift stores, garage sales, and flea markets for affordable props and furniture you can repurpose for your film. Enlist the help of friends and family to lend a hand with set construction and decoration. You can achieve professional-looking results on a shoestring budget with ingenuity. 

Negotiate and Barter for Filmmaking on a Budget

There’s a thing called “soft money,” which refers to an item, sound, or service that can be traded, bartered, and exchanged for something kind. So, for example, if you need a restaurant location for your film, instead of paying a location fee, ask the owner if they can waive the location fee in exchange for a service. They may need a video or photos of their food menu. Get creative. This could help save you thousands of dollars. 

Ask for All-In Packages 

Whether you’re making a video for your business or producing a feature film, there may be value to asking for all-in packages for things like camera, lighting, and sound crew with gear. If you are line-itemizing each piece of equipment, it can add up quickly, resulting in some really over-bloated budgets. Consider renting gear yourself and hiring a crew to manage it. Many low-cost rental houses can offer better rates than what the owner-operator may charge.  

Streamline Crew Size for Filmmaking on a budget

While having a large crew may seem ideal, it can quickly blow up your budget. Instead, opt for a smaller, more efficient crew to decrease costs. Look for a crew willing to be a team player and can wear multiple hats on set, such as a producer who handles sound or a cinematographer who doubles as a grip. Keeping your crew lean and versatile will save money without sacrificing quality.

Edit your Movie Yourself

Post-production can be a significant expense for indie filmmakers, but it doesn’t have to be. There are plenty of accessible or affordable editing software options available that offer professional-level features. Research and find the editing software that best fits your needs and budget. And back to the YouTube analogy, there are tons of great how-tos on editing regardless of the software you use. Take advantage of these free resources and learn to edit. It will not only help save you tens of thousands in post-production costs and make you a better filmmaker in general.

Crowdfunding and Grants

Crowdfunding is played out. Everyone and their mother is asking for money, and it’s nearly impossible to hit your goal unless you already have a significant support infrastructure built into your plans. If you are starting cold turkey, raising smaller amounts of money for things like cast and crew labor costs, production insurance, and permits is better. These are typically costs you can’t use as soft-money trades. This is why having a perfect budget and understanding where your hard, cold cash needs to be placed is essential. 

Platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo allow you to raise funds directly from your audience, while grants from film organizations and foundations offer additional financial support. Just be sure to research each option carefully and create a compelling pitch highlighting your project’s unique aspects. Either way, you’ll need a solid pitch deck to get people’s attention. 

In conclusion, filmmaking on a budget requires you to think outside the box on every level. Your main goal as a first-time filmmaker is to create something that looks as professional as any film streaming but should also be compelling and thought-provoking. Production savviness alone cannot make you a successful filmmaker. Good storytelling and acting are the main drivers of a film’s outcome. While good lighting, production design, sound, visual effects, and editing go a long way, bad acting or a muted story will send your film to the gutter. Work on that script and refine it to be as great as possible with your meager budget.

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I hope this helps! Happy Filmmaking!


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