IFH 195: Top 10 Tips for Low Budget Filmmakers



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Top 10 Tips for Low budget Filmmakers

Making an indie film can be rough, especially for beginners. Many times filmmakers go off halfcocked and jump into making a film without really thinking it all through. Here are a few tips that will help you on your filmmaking journey.

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Look for character-driven stories with no stunts or effects, limited locations, a limited cast and utilize resources that you already have access to.


Spend time in pre-production. The more you can plan, the smoother your shoot will go.  Take the time to plan and save time later when it costs.


When paying people less than they’re worth -make everyone equal- one pay rate for everyone.  This helps show respect, not play favorites, and everyone will be working for one common goal.


If you go with an actor’s union, understand the full contract.  Quite often although the production terms may be reasonable, the distribution terms may be not.


Never feel that you have to use a specific camera because that’s the “hot” tech.  Not all cameras are created equal and it is the talent behind the camera that matters, not the tech itself.


Know your production and post workflow before you shoot.  This will save time, money, and frustration later.


Don’t go for “label” or commercially released music- the rights are complicated and expensive.  Find unsigned, talented artists and get permission to use their music or have them record original music for you.


Do your homework. Research your demographic and market – is there actually an audience for this film? How will you sell it? Can you visualize a poster and tagline? Knowing those before you shoot will increase your chances of success.


Every step of the way, your project will benefit from the experience of true professionals. You may not be able to afford the best in the business, but experience matters – hire the right people for the job, not just friends and family who are available.


Sound is one of the most important aspects of a movie – bad sound is intolerable, even over bad picture. Know how to capture the best sound and how to finalize it in post. If you don’t know – see tip #9.

I discuss each one of these in detail on the show. Enjoy!

Alex Ferrari 1:36
So today, we're going to talk about my top 10 tips for low budget filmmakers. There's so many things that go into making a movie, I just wanted to throw together a quick top 10 of things that really will help you along your path. Now, these are not all the tips, these are all the things you're going to need to know to make a low budget, feature film, or project of any kind. But this will definitely put you on the right path. So let's jump in. First and foremost is when you're doing a low budget feature film, tip number one, choose the right script. So many filmmakers decide to go down the path of making a feature film, and they get so ambitious, I have been guilty of this myself, if any of you guys have seen my film red princess blues, you can see how ambitious of that project that was. And I ended up spending $50,000 on a short film that did not pay off in the way I wanted it to. So I can only imagine if I would have gone down that road with a feature film version of that or whatever. But it was just too ambitious for what I was trying to do. And a lot of filmmakers make that that that terrible mistake, because they want to make this big thing they want to make a big splash they want to be Reservoir Dogs or El Mariachi or, or you know one of these big independent movies and and they think the more ambitious it is, the better it's going to be. And when you're starting out your first couple movies shouldn't be super ambitious. Sure, there are those people out there that can do that. Yes, district nine was an amazing short film. But the director Neil Blomkamp was a visual effects guy, so he had those abilities. So if you have the ability, and you have the resources to be ambitious, then go for it. You know, I have big depth in visual effects and an action and, and have resources and people that I can reach out to do things like that. But those are the resources at my disposal. If you have those and you have the experience. To use those resources properly, then by all means, go for it. But if not tried not to choose a big ambitious script, try to do something more character driven, something smaller, something with less locations, something with a smaller cast, something that you can control, and really get the most out of no stunts, no big effects, limit those locations. And again, limit the cast and utilize the resources you have access to. Tip number two is plan, plan, plan plan, spend as much time in pre production as humanly possible, the more you plan. And the more you break this story down in the project down, the easier and smoother it's going to be when you go out to shoot. The more time you take in pre production will give you the most juice out of the fruits of your labors, with your feature or your project that you're doing. Now tip number three is something I've seen so many filmmakers make a mistake on is not paying everybody the cast the crew favored nations. Now what is favored nations favored nations basically means equal pay for everyone. So if you're going to pay everyone, you're going to pay your your main actor 150 bucks to be there because you're paying them less than they're worth and that's pretty much around the entire crew and cast So if you're going to pay everybody less than they're worth, make sure you pay them all the same amount. So it doesn't show favoritism, it shows everyone respect. And it just makes everyone feel like they're all going towards a one common goal. I can't tell you how many times I've seen a director pay another actor a little bit more money, for whatever reason, and other actors find out about it on set, and it causes a problem. Same thing goes for crew, you're paying one grip 150 bucks, Japan, another grip 250, because he's more experienced, and all of a sudden That gets out on the set, it is poisonous, it is like a virus that will bring down your entire production. So pay everyone favored nations. Tip number four, carefully pick either to work with union or non union people. Now I'm I'm in the in the in the camp, that if you're going to do super low budget, sometimes you just can't afford to work with union people, whether that be on the crew side, or that work on the casting side, purely because when you're dealing with union, you're gonna have to be dealing with contracts, you're gonna have to be dealing with minimums, insurance, all sorts of other things that your budget might not be able to sustain. So be very careful when you decide to use a union player or a non union player. A lot of times working with sag ultra low budget, it is very reasonable there is paperwork, it's still a pain in the butt. But if you want to get bigger names and actors with more experience, then you might want to go down that road. And same thing goes for crew, depending on where you are in the country, you can probably get crew non union. But also you'll be surprised that a lie a lot of union guys are not working sometimes and they're willing to come out and you know, work for you on a non union show. depending if you're right to work state or not right to work state, there's all sorts of different legalities. But talk to these people, a lot of times, they'll like, Look, man, I'll come out and work for you for X dollars, you know, and don't have to worry about any of the Union stuff that you have to deal with. But that's a case by case basis. And that's something that you need to discuss and negotiate with the union crew member. And by the way, just because you're working with non union people doesn't give you an excuse or the right to treat them any worse than you would if it was a fully union show. You'd have to show them respect. You have to pay them a reasonable rate, make sure they're fed properly. All the things that go along with union, you should definitely be using on your set when you're working with actors or crew people who are union and non union regardless. Now tip number five. And this is arguably one of the more painful things I've discussed, I've devoted entire podcast episodes about this. camera technology don't think that you have to use the latest read or the hottest Alexa or whatever the latest camera is because it's the new hot tech. choosing the wrong camera can bury your production. I've seen it happen multiple times. Guys, I can't stress this enough. If you're just hiring, or just getting a red epic dragon weapon, whatever the M name, the red is at this point in the game and shooting 8k? Does it make sense for your project? Does it make sense for your workflow, because the bigger those cameras the more things you have to get and rent or buy to make them work properly. And then also this just the point of hiring the right people behind that camera, which is really the key you can have a great dp shoot on a five D DSLR and a compressed file and I guarantee you it's going to look much better than a guy who has no idea was never deployed before but happens to be sitting behind a 80,000 or $90,000 red it doesn't matter about the technology guys don't get caught up in that aspect of the process. hire the right people and then use the gear that they have access to or that you can have access to but don't get caught up with the 4k the 5k the red the Alexa or Blackmagic I need whatever the hottest you know camera is think about who is running that camera who are the technicians behind that camera that are going to get you the image that you need. So don't fall into that trap guys. Now this leads us into Tip number six, one of my favorite conversation pieces or workflow, understand the workflow from production all the way out to final deliverables all through post production. If you do not understand workflow you will perish you will die your movie will not get Done. Am I making myself clear guys? Understanding workflow? So what is understanding workflow mean? It means that if you have a camera, so let's say I get that red weapon, when we're going to shoot 6k on this project, okay, we're going to shoot 6k because it's the hot thing, and I got I got the red for free, and I got this dp, and he's gonna make it look amazing. Well, that's great. But do you understand how that all that raw footage is going to go into post production? How is it going to get? How is your editor going to handle that? Can your editor handle raw? Probably not? So that means you're gonna have to transcode it? How is going to how is it going to get transcoded, who's going to transcode it is it going to be to do it on set, are you going to have an assistant editor do it. So then you're going to run through all of that, and then you're going to choose the proper, you're going to choose an avid a premier DaVinci Resolve or Final Cut to edit your project in. Then once you figure out what you're going to edit in Well, the editor likes to use avid, Okay, great, whatever version of avid is he using? Okay, well, let's transcode it was let's get a transcoded and put it in and we're going to start running into now you edit your entire movie. And if you edit your entire movie, now you got to take it to an online system. So what online system you're going to use, there's multiple, there's smoke, there's the Vinci resolve, there's a baselight, there's multiple different color grading systems and online systems you're going to run to so is that avid going to work and talk to that online system well, and you're gonna be able to reconnect to the raw footage, which is massive, by the way, I'm not even talking about harddrive space, being able to even work with these monster files. This is what I'm talking about. Guys, if you don't understand the entire workflow process, you will get killed on this project, you will die You will not finish your movie. So please reach out to a post production supervisor. Reach out to somebody who has experience with workflow and talk to them for an hour, hire them for an hour, I do it all the time you can and I'll put a link in the description if you want. I consult constantly in spending an hour or two with someone like me explaining the entire workflow for you will be in valuable and save you 1000s of dollars and even possibly get your movie finished. So please understand your workflow. Now tip number seven music rights. So important filmmakers always forget about music rights, or they go after these monster songs. Because they want to have the you know, a labeled song, something that's of a popular banner of old popular song and they try to get the rights to it and it kills their budget. It just destroys their budget. And yes, it's wonderful to be able to attach a nostalgic song for your film, trust me, I've gone through this, I would have loved to have a ton of different songs on this is Meg, but it wasn't in the budget. So my advice is to approach unsigned talented artists who will either give you permission to use their songs in your movie, or they'll record original music for you, you'll be amazed at how many bands, artists out there would kill to have one of their songs in a feature film. And they'll bend over backwards not only to give you the song, but so many times they'll record fresh new songs for your film or series. So check that out and make sure you get all the contracts set up. Make sure you have the right net, make sure you have all the rights and don't fall into another little mistake guys. festival rights, a lot of times they'll go well, we'll just give you festival rights. No, you do not want festival rights for any music in your movie. Because if you do that, then let's say you go down the festival circuit you get a distributor distributor wants to distribute a film and all of a sudden now you got to go back and renegotiate with the band or with the artist to get the rights for worldwide or for whatever else you're trying to sell and it becomes a problem and then you have to start paying more and it just becomes a thing. So always ask for full rights international in perpetuity when it's attached to the movie. But of course check with an attorney when dealing with any kind of contracts in any part of your production. Now Tip Number eight, understand your market. Understand, is your film going to sell? Is it something the marketplace wants? Do your homework, research your demographic and your market? Is there an actual audience for your film? How are you going to sell that film to this audience? Can you visualize a poster or tagline for your film? Knowing this before you shoot will give you the best chance of making your money back and actually being profitable with your film. Now Tip Number nine, for God's sakes work with professionals. I mean every step of the way in your project, try to find as many true professionals as you can. If you do not have experience doing something, find professionals you can work with. Even if you do have some experience in some things, find professionals that can help you You will be able to work with find seasoned professionals see people who have been down this road before on all avenues, your dp, your production designer, actors, writers, producers, line producers, crew people now and then of course in post production, your editor, your colorist, your online editor, your post production supervisor, your all your VFX guy, whoever, all of them try to get as many professional people and experienced people as possible. You might have to pay a little bit more money, but you are paying a little bit more money for their knowledge to make sure it goes through easy. I can't tell you how many times I've had to fix films that went down this other bad road where they hired a colorist or they hired an editor who was 20 something, you know, young guy who had never really done it before. And all of a sudden they said, Yeah, yeah, we'll be able to do it, I'll be able to do it. And they took on, much bigger project that they could handle. And then a producer spent 20 $30,000 going down that road with editing and color grading and all this stuff. And at the end of the day, they don't have a product they can sell. So what do they do? They bring it to me and they're like, well, we ran out of money. I'm like, I'm sorry, I can't help you. You should have come to me first. You should have found someone like me at the beginning. You shouldn't have fallen for any you know, bananas in the tailpipe as Axel Foley says, you know I'm not gonna fall for the banana in the tailpipe you fell for it. don't hire unprofessional people do not hire inexperienced people, especially in key areas of your production. I'm telling you, I've seen it happen too many times. So please do not fall into that trap. And final tip number 10. Pay attention to sound it is the most important aspect of a movie bad sound is absolutely intolerable. Even much more so than bad picture. The audience will forgive a grainy looking just badly shot movie, but they will not forgive bad audio they will not forgive bad sound. Look at paranormal activity. Look at Blair Witch Project. These films visually did not have the highest production value in the world. But their sound was tight. Their sound was on point, you have to have good sound. So know how to capture the best sound you can onset, which is so key and it's not hard guys. I did it on this as mag you know, I was basically the sound guy on the movie as well, because I was teaching the the guy holding the boom how to record the sound. I did the research on the microphones. I did the research on the mixer on the recorder. And and I made sure to get the proper locations and do the proper things to capture the best sound possible. After you've captured that best sound, then give it to a professional sound mixer to do their job and make it sound even better. Do not I repeat, do not forget about sound just because you have a gorgeous image. If your sound sucks, which I've seen before as well on big big movies, it will depress you to your core, trust me. So please, just just record good sound. You won't regret it. I promise you. So guys, I hope these top 10 tips for low budget filmmakers helped you out. Again, all I want to do is have you guys succeed as filmmakers succeed at your journey and there's so many potholes and traps and alligator pits and moats. along the way. When you're making a movie, especially when you're making your first or second film, when you really have no idea of the landscape. These few tips that I've given you will at least help you avoid these 10 tips these 10 potholes and traps along the way. But there are so many other things. So educate yourselves as much as possible. Listen to as many of the indie film hustle podcast episodes as you can go to the blog read I talked about so much. There's so much content on the blog. There's so much content on the YouTube channel, of course, the blog, indie film, hustle.com, the YouTube channel, indie film, also.com, forward slash YouTube. And of course, this podcast. And there are many other resources out there as well. So educate yourselves as much as humanly possible. Take an online course, read a book, listen to people who've gone down the path before you don't think you're going to trail you're going to blaze a new trail in regards to how to make a movie. And you've never made a movie before guys who have done that, and girls who have done that they at least went down the path that was worn down before before they jumped over and started making a brand new path for themselves. Alright, so thank you guys. I hope this was of value to you. And if you guys want to get a little bit more education and be part of the indie film hustle master circle where you can learn filmmaking, social media marketing, screenwriting and good old fashioned hustle. Definitely check it out. Just go to indiefilmhustle.com/masterscircle. And there you'll be able to get all your information that you want to know about the master circle, as well as the community, the Facebook group, the exclusive Facebook group you get to, and you get access to me as well. So it is invaluable and I try to create a great resource here for filmmakers. We've got a lot of people that are part of that membership. And today if you sign up today, you will get the first month for just $1. So go to indiefilmhustle.com/masters circle and I hope to see you inside now if you want links to anything I talked about in this episode, head over to indiefilmhustle.com/195. And that is all for today boys and girls. I have a bunch of stuff I'm going to be working on about AFM. My AFM experience was insane I learned a ton I met a bunch of you guys out just walking the halls It was such a thrill to run into the tribe, just literally walking the halls and getting stopped. And talking and taking pictures and and just really finding out about your projects and and how indie film hustle could help you more. It was just such a great experience. Not only for that, but also just the learning process and how to you know, it's my first time actually walking all the halls at AFM and it was invaluable. So I'm going to do a special episode coming up about what I learned at AFM and what you need to do to take advantage of AFM in the coming years and what you need to do to hopefully sell your movie and make some money with your film. So as always, keep that also going keep that dream alive and I'll talk to you soon.




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