Every film project has a limited budget, and whether it’s $30 or $300K, you can bet filmmakers will always wish they had more to spend. Beginners may have to be frugal out of necessity, but those skills will scale up as their career develops. So here are 3 ways to be smarter when managing a filmmaking budget.
1. Write with the Budget in Mind
Naturally, saving money starts early in pre-production. Writing a 1940’s war film is going to incur some hefty costume costs unless you happen to be friends with some battle re-enactors. A screenplay with one or two main characters will allow for more expensive actors than if you have to spread your acting budget between five cast members. You’ll just have to decide which parts of the production are essential to the story, and be willing to compromise on the rest. A character-based drama set in one location with two actors is going to be the most cost effective, so why not start with that, and see what else the story needs.
2. Spend Time Networking
The age old saying “it’s who you know” totally applies to budget filmmaking. There are plenty of actors, cinematographers, and musicians out there who are willing to work for free in order to build up a show-reel. Why not help out on some student films, or offer a ‘trade’ where you both help each other on a project? Each of these experiences will lead to more networking opportunities, and there’s nothing wrong with asking one of your contacts if they know anyone for the role. Outside of cast and crew, there are even more reasons to get out there and meet people, whether it’s business / landowners who can provide locations, or even funding.
3. Spend Time, Not Money
Many beginning filmmakers think they’ll need to hire professionals to help them with their production. But with enough time and the right resources, you can teach yourself pretty much anything. If you’d like to save your budget for the production, it might be better to practice and learn editing rather than hiring a professional. Are you willing to spend hours scouring the internet for inexpensive costumes and props? Are you willing to watch some introductory classes on makeup for your actors? Collaborating with professionals does have additional benefits aside from saving time, but for many beginners it’s simply not an option.
If you’re in need some places to learn affordably, I would humbly suggest checking out my website or my channel on Youtube, where I have lots of videos discussing my journey as an independent filmmaker and tips on how to do it yourself. You can also check out the film classes available on Skillshare. They’re taught by working filmmakers like Matty Brown, who has the most Vimeo Staff Picks of all time, and Ryan Booth, a cinematographer that worked with director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu on a project for his Oscar-winning the Revenant.
It seems a shame to restrict ourselves to these frugal parameters, but often these kind of budget problems are the perfect environment for innovation. It forces us to condense our ideas and think carefully about what our story needs. Orson Welles sums it up nicely:
“The enemy of art is the absence of limitations."