Adding Value to Your No-Budget Film
Making a film is difficult, but making a film with no money feels impossible. Some of the most noticeable mistakes new filmmakers make when tackling their no-budget blockbusters are the actors, locations, props, wardrobe, and sound. This article will focus on the ones that are most visible to an audience.
1. Actors – Every filmmaker wants to work with professionals, but most of the time if there’s no budget you’re going to have to work with either non-actors, or inexperienced actors. That doesn’t mean you should cast all your friends in your film. If your friends happened to be fantastic actors, then absolutely put them in front of the camera, but if not, then take the time to hold auditions. Hold multiple auditions, accept audition tapes from people in neighboring towns, and keep auditioning until you find the right actor for the part. Once you find the right cast that are willing to work for next to nothing or even for free, then take as much time as possible to block and rehearse with them. Rehearsals help you to feel out the flow of your scenes before getting to set. It also allows time to build relationships with the people you will be working with.
When directing actors (especially ones that have never acted before) make sure you give them room to breathe. Don’t fall into the usual clichés like; “In this scene you’re extremely pissed off.” Or “When you see her your heart is filled with sorrow and grief.” These types of directions don’t work with non-actors, and might do nothing more than irritate a professional. What you’ll get is actors that look like they are trying to be pissed off or grief stricken, and that never works on film. So, instead use directions such as; “In this scene everyone is trying to talk to you at once, and you’re tired, and you can’t find your cigarettes.” That way the actor can use his/her own experiences and build up their own irritation. You could also say something like, “When you see that girl she reminds you of someone close that you lost.” These types of directions allow the actors to use their own emotions instead of giving you what they think you want. Direct the actors not their feelings.
2. Locations – Don’t shoot your film in your back yard. Unless you have a unique back yard or your film is set in a back yard exactly like yours. Don’t film in your friend’s bedroom without doing some set dressing first. Often new filmmakers just set up the camera and start rolling without taking notice of what works for the scene.
If your film is about two high school teachers that are having a love affair and trying to keep it a secret, then the scenes in their homes should reflect certain things about the characters. If you shoot it in your friend’s bedroom and he/she has posters all over the wall, and video games covering the floor, then it probably won’t fit as the location for these characters. However, if you do a little set dressing then it could work for you. Add some items that a 25-30 year old high school teacher might keep around, take out everything that doesn’t reflect the personality of the character, then put a little paint on the wall so you’re not shooting on stark white or tan, and suddenly you have a set that works for the scene.
Also, don’t be afraid to beg. Go around town and ask people to shoot in their houses or places of business. The worst thing they can tell you is no. There are restrictions when filming on locations that you don’t own. One issue you’ll face on most locations is time. You have to get in and get out as soon as possible so that the people that own the property can allow you to add value to your film, then get back to their normal lives. Get them to sign a location agreement, so you’re covered, and make sure to leave the location exactly how you found it (take photos so you know exactly where everything belongs). Good locations add lots of value to a production.
3. Props and Wardrobe – Props are an essential part of every production, but sometimes they get overlooked. Once again, if you’re making a drama about two high school teachers hiding their love affair, then using or even creating props that would work for the story is a great way to add value to your movie. Things like an open grade book, an apple, or teacher of the year award could set the scene and tell more about the characters.
Wardrobe also adds value and helps sell the believably of the scene. Don’t let your actors come to set dressed in whatever they want and jump in front of the camera. At the very least have the cast send you pictures of their wardrobe so you can pick out what is right for the scene. If they don’t have what you’re looking for, then go to a thrift store and see if you can’t get what you need. Just think about what is important for every scene and make choices that will help sell the feel of the film and serve the story.
Take the time to think about every detail that will be in front of the camera, and add value to your no-budget movie.