Zero Budget Filmmaking Tips

A lot of Kino filmmakers are working on a shoestring budget. But that doesn’t mean there are no costs involved. Value is being traded in the form of time, energy and expertise of all who embark on a zero budget film. So in the absence of cash, there are plenty of ways to pay for help. Here are a few tips on how to not only get the most out of your story, but also out of your cast and crew:

1. The story is everything. Nothing glues you to the screen more than a good story. If the story is there, does one really care about the budget of the film? This means ensuring that the script is complete and the best it can be. Script problems will create very costly problems throughout the production. So get honest feedback from as many people as you can from as many different backgrounds. Show it to actors, composers, editors, other directors and writers. The better the script, the more efficient the production, the better the film and the more glory for you.

2. Location, location, location. There are two expensive components to a film shoot. Equipment and the locations. Moving a cast and crew from location to location is time consuming, and expensive, regardless of your budget. If you can reduce the amount of location moves, or eliminate them altogether, then you are a huge step closer to reducing your budget. If you are shooting on location rather than in a controlled studio setting, it is important to consider the safety of the cast and crew. If you have no money and no public liability or equipment insurance, maybe take out that parkour fight scene with the machetes unless you can afford to be sued. If you can afford to be sued, get insurance. In any case, be super vigilant and ensure everyone and everything leaves your set the same way they came in. Another important thing to consider when shooting at different locations is to have a shot list that prioritises the bare minimum coverage required for telling the story, so if you’re short on time, you’ll know what to cut. If you have extra time, then you can get those luxury shots.

3. Directing is communicating. The best directors are the ones who can communicate effectively and adapt to various people’s communications styles. Know your vision and what you wish to achieve with your shots so that your cast and crew are all on the same page. Know your shot sizes, framing, angles and camera movements. Know the 180 degree rule and when you can break it. What are the rule of thirds? What is headroom? Eyeline? It’s helpful to understand what these things are before you get on a film set, so that you’re not wasting anyones time once production starts. Be sensitive to the needs of your actors and the production schedule. Some scenes are more taxing than others. Emotionally intense scenes might be best to do at the start of the day. So plan each day of shooting after consulting with your cast. Be mindful of how you communicate during the casting process, as well. “Yeah I think you’re hot enough to be in my film” is a great way of getting people to never want to work with you again.

4. Get organised. It’s tedious, but create a storyboard. Even if you draw like a 3 year old, do it. It will speed up production and help you communicate your vision clearly. During a shoot, pressure can be high and you may struggle to find the words to describe your shots. A storyboard will save you when words don’t. So relieve the pressure and your DOP will love you forever. Also, sit with your DOP beforehand and go through the storyboard. This will help them prepare and speed up the shoot. They may also offer valuable advice. It’s also helpful to rehearse with your actors beforehand. This way you’re not wasting the time of the crew during production and people will want to work with you again.

5. Respect your cast and crew. On a zero budget film, people are giving up their time and energy to help you make the best film you can make. Scheduling breaks throughout the day, and making sure everyone is well fed, will ensure that the cast and crew can reset their creative batteries, and that everyone is able to perform at their best. Working long hours with no break sucks even when you DO get paid. No breaks and no money is criminal!

6. Filmmaking is a collaborative art form. Respecting the time, expertise and enthusiasm of your crew is critical to achieving a great film. Remember, everyone on your crew wants you to do well. As the director, you have the final say over what ends up in the film, but it’s important to be open to other ideas and ensure that everyone feels comfortable to voice their opinion.

7. Less is more. Unless your shooting a story about a zombie apocalypse, a murderous villain, an action-packed adventure, or an epic fantasy tale, less is more on a zero budget film. You should be bold, but you also need to shoot within your means. Before shooting your film, you need to take into account what limited resources you have available. Props, set design, vehicles, animals, make up, wardrobe are all important details in a film, but without a budget it can be hard to have access to these. Small children and animals – avoid. They take up time and they pose all sorts of real risks. Instead, focus on the most important elements of a film: sound, image and story. Make sure your story has a clear narrative, your characters have clear goals, and there is compelling action and dialogue.

From the script to post-production, this a great case study about a 30 minute short from a DIY filmmaker.
This goes through all the usually expensive aspects of filmmaking and provides a cheap alternative.
Tips from some big names in filmmaking about their low-budget filmmaking pasts.

Below is an interview with Aussie filmmaker Claudia Pickering working in the states and who managed to pull off a $5000 USD feature length film. Amazing huh? Here is the mini-textbook on how she did it here. It’s succinct and embodies an attitude and approach to filmmaking that applies not only to low-budget filmmaking, but any-budget filmmaking –

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