How to produce a movie on a micro budget without looking cheap
Despite what some filmmaking elitists say, it is possible to produce a movie on a low budget and make it competitive in the marketplace. Here’s how it works.
There is a ton of advice out there on how to produce a movie. Most of the time, this advice does not fit the reality for most aspiring filmmakers. Without the connections, resources and or guidance, many would-be Werner Herzogs, flush out and give up on their dreams. No doubt this business is tough. But, what if there was a way to produce a movie on a scale you could manage and still be competitive in the marketplace? What if you could produce a movie for less than $30,000? Well friends, it is possible. My colleagues at ITN Distribution and I have spent the last 10 years perfecting this budgetary threshold and this information is available to you. Best of all, it has a proven track record.
Before I offer up some tips on how to produce a movie for under $30,000, one must be ready for change. Most would be filmmakers have an illusion as to what the film business is. They glorify the Sundance Film Festival, and have red carpet dreams at Cannes, yet, but while this myth of what filmmaking success is has been perpetuated by the film festival industry and Hollywood elite, there is another sub-culture of industry that is crushing it. There are hundreds of filmmakers all over the world that are shooting movies very cost-effectively and still maintaining superior quality. Best of all, these micro budget films can be profitable because they cost so little. No matter the genre, or talent you have access to, if you’re willing to think about the following steps, you could turn your backyard into your backlot!
Developing the right idea
Ideas are subjective. What is a good idea to one person my be awful for another. However, in the development process of micro budget movies, there is a ratio that my team and I use:
Marketable Genre + Interesting Story Theme + Limited Cast & Locations = Good Micro Budget Idea
The first step is to consider what genre you are wanting to produce a movie in. There are several different types of genres and sub genres. You should identify the one that speaks to your interests and budget limitations. Some genres such as horror, thriller and documentary tend to do better on smaller budget because they do not require big movie stars or budgets. You can effectively make a micro budget film in these genres, as long as you can maintain good cinematography, acting performances and sound. The moral of this step is to think about distribution and your return on investment first.
Interesting Story Theme
Once you have a decent genre selection, now it’s time to think about your theme or story idea. This is the one big idea that will be the heartbeat of your movie. I always like to say, make small movies with BIG ideas, rather than make BIG movies with smaller ideas. Hollywood already has the second one covered.
Find ideas and themes that offer wide scope and topics or situations that can really create tension in the mind, or give an audience something to reflect upon that they may have not thought of. Finding social themes or topics that surround everyday life, and turning them onto their head is a good start. I always like to start off by asking, “What if? What if the monster was really the hero? What if the government did this or that? What if aliens and the government actually had a deal to kidnap citizens?”
Although these examples may seem exhausted, I offer them as samples to get you to start asking those hard questions.
Limited Cast and Crew
As I’ve blogged and written extensively in my filmmaking books, keeping your cast size small, and your location count limited is the best way to manage a micro budget. Although I do not have a magic number for this, I typically make movies with less than 5 locations and between 4-6 actors on any given movie. By doing this, I can afford to find better actors and create better production design, shots and performances. I don’t have to run around from one location to the next. It helps me compress the story and focus on what matters.
Lastly, coming up with a good concept and idea is only the beginning of this process. From here you have to develop a good screenplay that offers your production a roadmap to success. I would start this process by finding like-minded scripts online and studying them. Take notice in how other writers handle dialog, action and pacing. You should also breakdown other successful films to see how the filmmakers kept the cinematic language strong. Here are a few movies I would investigate.
That’s all I have for you on this. I hope it helps. Enjoy your week!
Kelly Schwarze is an Emmy ® Award filmmaker who has produced 8 feature films, scores of commercials and brand films and is the author of multiple filmmaking books. He is also a member of the Rolling Stone Culture Council.