Setting A Budget
Once you’ve set out to create a low-budget film, you may soon start finding out that many of the things you want to include seem to be beyond the reach allowed by your budgetary constraints. Knowing how much you can and should spend and put into your indie film budget depends on several factors, which I’ll cover here in as much detail as I can.
Your first major concern in filmmaking is making sure you have the necessary gear to get the job done. You can get a used camcorder for a few hundred bucks, or borrow one from a friend or relative, but if you want a new camera don’t mess around with anything under about $350-400.
There are some tempting options on the market because they’re less expensive than that, but most of these cameras will leave you wanting in the quality department once the novelty of owning a camera wears off. Best to start out with something you know is decent and work your way up from there.
With the obstacle of obtaining a camcorder out of the way, you can pretty much go from there as far as gear is concerned. If you buy no other gear beyond the camera, you can use a few clip-on desk lamps you already have lying around as lighting and the on-camera microphone to capture sound. With simple improvised tools like this, figuring out how to configure your equipment in the way that best does the job will still take some practice.
A set of three shop lights from a hardware store will run you under $10 each and can create plenty of good lighting, and you can get a decent shotgun mic for picking up sound for under $50.
Let’s be realistic – why pay actors when you can grab your friends, right? Well, because you might not have twelve close friends whom you can call any day or night to come out and spend a few hours of their time helping you make your film.
So to entice acquaintances or other people you know to help you, offer to buy them lunch or treat them to dinner after they help you. That’s usually a better tactic than telling someone you’ll pay them $10 for three hours of work.
Just as a general piece of information for your benefit, the average working actor commands a wide range of salaries, but in order to hire one you can expect to pay somewhere between $800-2000 for a day’s work.
Behind-the-scenes people are just as important as the ones in front of the camera. If you’re interested in doing a series or comedy film and you need to hire outside script writers or joke writers to bring in fresh material, you might pay by the joke or on a per-word basis, among other forms of reimbursement.
It’s quite possible that you’d be able to get some great story or script material written for anywhere from dozens to only a couple of hundred dollars this way.
Props and Costumes
Need prop guns, swords, armor, torn clothing, makeup, high-tech gadgets, or other devices to add to your film’s believability. The first places you should check for items like these are thrift stores and toy shops, if you don’t already have a stockpile of them hidden away somewhere.
Clothes that can easily be stained, mangled, ripped, cut up, or otherwise modified can be found for almost nothing at the thrift store. And you’d be surprised what a little spray paint and some fiddling can do to make a toy into a realistic looking item. Ask your mom, girlfriend, or questionably oriented male friend for access to their makeup kit for some instant flesh paint.
Far be it from me to suggest that you pay for use of a location if you can help it, but in certain circumstances it may be necessary. If nothing else, you should at least write up a contract if you use a privately owned indoor location like a warehouse, restaurant, or place of business. To download a free sample contract, check out the Filming Locations page.
While I’m sure you’re aware that it is quite possible to spend hundreds of millions of dollars within a single film budget – and even an indie filmmaker can spend thousands – hopefully some of the tips here will help you save most of your money and still find ways of making great films.
Something I try to emphasize time and time again is that you can make a great film without computer-generated effects and big name actors. Work on your camera technique, your directing skills, and your storytelling abilities and you’ll be more than halfway toward being a great filmmaker on a meager indie film budget! The rest of this site has some fantastic information on how to do all those things and more.
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