Every talented filmmaker has to start somewhere. It can sometimes be a bit daunting taking on a project when you have little to no budget to work with, but you shouldn’t let that stop you! Here are our top 11 tips for filmmaking on a budget.
Let’s help you capture your creativity and channel it into a successful short film (or feature if you’re feeling ambitious). With a little ambition and a creative spark, you’ll be on the road to a successful career in the film industry in no time.
1. Consider unexpected costs
Budgeting for a short film can get expensive quickly, so it’s important to consider every last expense:
- Are you keeping your cast and crew fed and watered?
- Do you need to rent any equipment?
- Do you need to spend any money on props/costumes?
- How much do you need to spend on travel?
- Do you need to hire any other professionals or services?
- Are you considering how much you’ll need to spend to actually promote your film once it’s completed?
2. Write your script with the budget in mind
If you’re writing the script yourself, consider how much it’s going to cost you to pull everything off. Rewrite accordingly if you can. If you can’t afford to film a Hollywood car crash, don’t put it in your script. You can always add the context into other scenes.
For more information on what costs you can expect to face in the production of a short film, check out our article on the film production process.
3. Save on location costs by shooting somewhere free
Set aside a little time to scout out locations that won’t cost you anything to shoot, and keep it local to cut down on travel expenses. If you decide to film somewhere public, make sure you get the right permissions from your local authority and be sure to consider any liabilities that you might face.
This is one of our favorite tips for film students: If you’ve got some spare time on your hands, consider swapping your filmmaking skills for time at a location with high production value. You’re not just getting free location time. You’re also getting more valuable experience working with clients and extra content to add to your showreel.
4. Keep costs down by planning ahead
If you’re filmmaking on a budget and spending money on talent, crew, equipment hire, or a location; you want to be as efficient as possible with your time. Time spent overcoming your oversights will cost you in the long run. Make sure you draft up a production schedule to keep things running smoothly.
5. Don’t skimp on talent
It’s okay to cast friends and family as free talent. Just make sure they can bring your script to life. Professionals know the drill and keep things moving, keeping production costs down. If you’re a film student, you could offer to take up a role in your classmates’ projects, and ask if they’d do the same for you.
6. Don’t skimp on sound
DSLR cameras record exceptional video, but they’re not built for sound. It’s better to spend money on a decent microphone and a decent camera than buy a high-end camera and hope it will make up for poor sound. No one wants to watch a film with great cinematography if they can’t hear any of the dialogue.
7. Make the most of natural lighting
The sun is a really powerful source of budget video lighting, and best of all – it’s free! If you can get away with shooting any of your scenes outside during daylight, you can save on lighting costs. Here are 10 tips for working with only natural lighting from the New York Film Academy.
8. Make your own props
If you’re good at arts and crafts, it’s easy to turn any old rubbish into something cool to use in your scenes. Watch Josh and Kirstie tell us about how they created micro-budget props for our own Star Wars fan film – Rebellion.
9. Don’t ‘fix it in post’
Production days can be long. It’s easy to get tired and call it a day, but it’s your job you bring the script to life. If something can be ‘fixed in post’, it can probably be fixed in a quarter of the time, then and there (and will look a lot better for it). Don’t make more work for yourself and don’t devalue your production by cutting corners.
10. Embrace your creative restrictions
Learning how to work around the constraints of a project is a skill in itself. Filmmaking on a budget can hit you with certain restrictions. They can be either a burden or a blessing. It’s your job to decide which.
Approaching problems creatively is the best approach. If you’re stuck working with a single prime lens, don’t just make it work; consider how you can get creative with your shots to make them look awesome. If you don’t have a cast at your disposal, there’s plenty of inventive ways to make a short starring only yourself.
11. Save money with free editing/VFX software
HitFilm Express is a free, professional-grade video editing and VFX software, perfect for beginners and film students. It comes with over 400 visual effects and presets, unlimited tracks, and a huge online community of filmmakers and creators. Download your free copy of HitFilm Express today, or try the demo for HitFilm Pro.
Bonus Tip: Learn Blender
One of the most frustrating things about filmmaking on a budget is having to keep your aspirations small. Learning how to create photorealistic scene extensions, car chases, or physics simulations in a free 3D software like Blender can save the day when you want to think beyond your budget. Check out our free Blender course to learn how to increase your production value without spending a penny.
Our top tips for filmmaking on a budget
- Account for unplanned expenses
- Consider budget when writing your script
- Film somewhere free, or trade your skills for location
- Plan as much as possible to keep production costs down
- Don’t skimp on talent
- Budget for quality audio as well as video
- Make the most of natural lighting
- Build your own props
- Don’t “fix it in post”
- Learn how to embrace your creative restrictions
- Get your hands on free software like HitFilm Express