Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How to NOT Make a Micro-Budget Feature Film

I define micro-budget features as those made for less than $200k. This correlates with SAG's definition of an Ultra Low Budget film. I have made a few micro-budget films to date and each year festivals are loaded with them.

So how should you NOT go about making them? Sometimes it's easier to talk about what not to do.

Here are areas that can be costly and what you should try to avoid when making a micro-budget film.:

1) A lot of locations - moving all around while you film takes time and money. You know how long it can take to pack a bag for an overnight trip. Imagine packing and unpacking a grip truck? Takes time, which means more shooting days, which takes more money.
2) Shooting on location where you have to fly in your actors and crew - housing, per diem, and airfare is expensive. Period. But if you have major support in a region that will give you resources and housing dirt cheap then it could be worth it. Just be careful and plan wisely.
3) Visual Effects - unless you have a friend who is able to do all of your VFX for cheap, deferred or free stay away from VFX-heavy scripts on your small film.
4) A lot of characters - actors are costly to pay and feed and house so keep the number of characters low.
5) Shots that require expensive equipment like cranes. $$$
6) Action sequences - these require time to set up shots and experienced crew who can make the shots look believable. This translates to more money needed.
7) Animals - says it all, I think: animals. And their handlers need to eat and be paid.
8) Children - says it all times infinity: children. They can't work as many hours as adults. They need a studio teacher on set who needs to be paid and their parents can be difficult. They all need to eat too. See how everything comes back to catering?
9) Stunts - again, the believability factor plays here. You want to work with seasoned stunt people on major stunts as they know how to do them safely and realistically. Experienced stunt people like to be paid well.
10) Period pieces - finding the items that indicate a certain time period can be tough and costly to buy or rent.
11) Crew - keep your crew small, which will mean keeping your equipment and lighting needs small too - which means keeping your night shoots to a minimum.
12) Night shoots - Keep your night shoots to a minimum. You tend to need light for night shoots = money.
13) Food - another reason to keep your cast and crew small. The more mouths to feed, the higher the cost to you.
14) Shooting in the water or rain or snow etc requires special equipment and crew and will slow your shoot down. And it can also increase the pay required for your actors.
15) Insurance - insurance is costly so it helps to keep your shooting days low and your risky filmmaking to a minimum.
16) Shooting days - keep the number of shooting days tight. Each day of filmming can add thousands to your budget. Don't be unrealistic though. Going over can cost you even more money than planning the proper shooting schedule.
17) Going WGA or DGA will cost you money. Micro-budget films should not be made WGA or DGA signatory. That's just my opinion as those unions will demand certain salaries and pay for pension and health and welfare for working with their members. You can find great writers and great directors who are not in the unions for your micro-budget project. Go WGA and DGA when you have a larger budget.
18) Not using pro actors. I do recommend becoming SAG signatory and using SAG actors for any sized film. It is difficult to find strong nonunion actors so save yourself a headache and time on set because they will know how to act in front of a camera and give your film a little cache by going with more seasoned and well known actors when you can.
19) Shoot any ole script - Don't shoot a crappy script because you want to make a movie. Make sure the script is AWESOME. Take your time to find the right project and make it great. That time will be extremely well spent.
20) Not paying yourself is WRONG. Even if it is deferred or as an in-kind investment or whatever. You need to be paid. You are worth it. Filmmaking is a business. Treat it so.

There are a lot more hints on how to make a micro-budget film. Perhaps I should write a book? Hmmm.


Shenan said...

Great list, thank you! I've been reading your blog for a while, but posting a comment for the first time.

IAFT said...

This information can really help me and my friends who are doing indie films. Thanks for this information.

IAFT said...

This is a helpful information for me & my friends. We are into doing indie films. Thanks for this.