How to Handle Filmmaking on a Budget

Three tips if you're just starting out in the filmmaking biz

Published on in Advice / Tips & Tricks

As a filmmaker, especially a student filmmaker, it can be a huge struggle to scrape together the funds needed to be able to create a film — it doesn’t matter on the length.

You have to think about the costs of borrowing equipment if you don’t have any, the costs of hiring a location, the costs of providing feeding your cast and crew, the costs of paying your cast and crew. If you think about it, all of these can rise up very quickly. Most filmmakers in their early stages, such as myself, start off with creating things on a low/no budget and I have been pleasantly surprised at how this can be achievable. I can already hear questions being raised on this:

What about the quality of the footage? Is it going to look good? HOW do you make it look good? Don’t you care about getting paid? And many other technical questions that follow. And of course, these are things that I consider before accepting a job or creating my own project.

Before you continue reading this, you must ask yourself. Am I in this for the money, or for the art?

I was asked this once by a lecturer, and I said both. Because it is always lovely to be paid for the hard work you do, but without that love for the art, there is no point in me being there. I have a job, I can get money that way. I don’t create things for the money (although working in a full-time film job would be THE BEST), I create things because I love the process.

So if you are one of those that are just in it for the money, perhaps skip this blog post? For those who are looking to infuse their passion into a successful filmmaking career, let's get into the tips and tricks of filming on a budget!

  1. You don’t need the most expensive gear to create quality footage.

    You’d be surprised by how AMAZING the filming quality of the camera on your phone can be nowadays. It is truly magnificent! I started off with filming my Youtube videos on my iPod (yes, it was that long ago) and then upgraded to filming on my phone before I bought my camera. And even then it isn’t the biggest, fanciest camera in the world. It’s a Canon 700D, not something like the C100 MKii which creates absolutely gorgeous quality. But my Canon 700D DOES create great quality footage. It is down to your technical skills. Do you know your basic rule of thumb when it comes to ISO, aperture, etc? Do you have a good eye for lighting and shot angles? If you master this on your phone's camera, you can already make amazing content without the need to spend hundreds of pounds on equipment.

  2. Simplicity is sometimes the best.

    Do you have an idea that is really simple? Does it not require strange locations or huge amounts of props and setups? If so, then make it! I once saw a short film which basically was two guys sat on a porch, talking gibberish, and it was the funniest thing I have seen in a LOOOONG time. It was so simple, yet so impactful! You don’t need to have the most complex of scripts, or even the most complex of ideas to be able to make a great film. Take a look at what you currently have; this could be the most basic of ideas but with a deep message behind it. How can you execute this idea without breaking the budget and your bank account?

  3. Buy only what you need.

    If we are going to discuss finances, then I’d say the best thing to think about in relation to this, is only buy what you need. In most cases, this is food and water for your cast and crew. Honestly, most cast and crew are more than happy to work on a small project without pay on the exception that they are well taken care of when it comes to paying expenses. Anything I have ever worked on, I have been fed amazingly and been taken care of by the producer/director. And when making my own things, I am very insistent that my cast and crew are fed and happy. It makes such a difference to have happy people with full stomachs versus grouchy people who just need food. Obviously, people also want a copy of the finished draft for their CVs and showreels, so supplying that will make for happy cast and crew members.

    I once worked on a set that the director decided to spend a lot on items that were not necessary… and he also miscounted how many people he had working with him that day so one person didn’t get a lunch bought for them. It had alreeady been a tiring day, and the director was already irritating everyone, so for this girl who hadn’t been supplied with lunch, she was less than impressed and she disappeared for the entire lunch hour because she was so mad. Do you see where I’m going with this?

    Feed your people, first and foremost. If it means not having that pretty ornament for your set, then forget the ornament. Unless it is VITAL to the story, as in you need that item as a KEY POINT OF FOCUS, just forget it. It is not worth it. Your cast and crew are more important than a little item that is probably gonig to be overlooked.

These tips, in my opinion, are frequently underestimated. If you have a great idea that doesn’t require technical sets/costumes/props/locations, then why put yourself through the hassle of getting ridiculous amounts of money together for it?

All you need is your idea, a great team that shares your vision of this idea, and some food on the table to give to them at lunch.

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About the Author

Rebecca Gibson
Rebecca is a passionate and dedicated camerawoman who started off her career as an actor, which has helped her to understand what can make an impactful shot, which she tries to incorporate within all of her work. She likes to bring a fun atmosphere to a film set, everyone has a better time when there are some giggles.

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