How to Produce a Short Film on a Budget

The online crowd-funding site Kickstarter has started to make it possible for young filmmakers to create professional quality films on much bigger budgets. However, it may not work for everyone. Some projects never reach their goals and therefore never get made because producers give up on reduced budgets. However, if you’re willing to get creative, it is very possible to produce a high-quality show worthy of the festival circuit even if crowd-funding isn’t an option.

Keep it simple

Don’t attempt to produce the next Avatar on a $1,000 budget. Keep your film to a minimum number of locations, characters and special effects. A simple story that occurs between two characters on a park bench can prove even more powerful than one that shuts down the L.A. freeway for an elaborate 10-minute car chase.

Time is money, and the shorter your film is the shorter amount of time you’ll likely spend in production. Plus, most festivals prefer to program 15 minute segments. If you submit a 20-, 30- or 45-minute show, you may have a hard time getting in without a prior recommendation.

However, if you’re under 15 minutes you might have an even better chance at getting in. Films of 10 minutes, 5 minutes and even 2 minutes are often accepted to fill extra space remaining in the program. You might even have the opportunity to expand these projects, with a bigger budget, after they gain exposure on the circuit.

Pull in favors

Find a local group interested in filmmaking and lend a hand on their projects — Meetup.com is great for this. Get involved with local theaters to meet actors.  The more you get involved with other people’s projects, the more likely they are to help out on yours. Even if you don’t know how to get started with groups like these, odds are you know a few people who would be willing to help you out for a couple of days in exchange for free pizza or other simple perks. Old classmates can serve as your crew, friends can play extras (or even leads, depending on their talent), and your alma mater may be able to help with some equipment.

Leverage credits

You’d be surprised by how many people aren’t looking for any more compensation than to see their name on the big screen. Talk to local restaurants and other vendors who could be of use to you about getting discounts or free catering in exchange for a prominent credit displayed in front of a large local crowd. You also can work with a university to offer internship credits to film and media students who work as PAs on your show.

Crew members and actors just starting out are often just looking for any kind of experience. You’re not looking for SAG members – you’re looking for part-time actors and crew members who simple enjoy being part of creative projects.

Get creative

You don’t need an ARRI kit or a RED camera to make a professional looking film. You can borrow or build your own equipment from cheaper supplies or just get creative with the resources you have.

  • Make your own soft light with cardboard, tin foil and paper.
  • Bounce soft light off of a plain white poster board, white sheets or a white tablecloth.
  • Make your own camera rigs with PVC pipe, weights, screws and washers. There are several online tutorials for building homemade steadicams, fig rigs, dolly rigs and even jibs or cranes from supplies you probably have at home.

You don’t have to have millions of dollars to make a great short film that makes it big on the festival circuit. If you’ve got a great story and you’re able to think outside the box, you and your film can compete with the pros.

Aimee McNitt About Aimee McNitt

Aimee and her husband Scott have three wonderful children, two dogs, one income and zero margin for financial error. To make their personal finances work, Aimee has become an expert at finding deals, stretching a dollar, and finding simple ways to earn extra income. She believes that a frugal life can be fulfilling and hopes to help bring financial peace into your life.

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