If you’re an independent filmmaker, you know the struggle of shooting on a low budget… or almost no budget. But that constraint isn’t a dead end. In fact, many filmmakers feel the challenge of a tight budget make the process more fun & creative. Many indie films made today are able to match the quality of big production houses. How do people do it? With some planning and improvisation. And you can do that too.

You can keep costs low & still make great content by including these tips in your filmmaking process:

1) Scout for budget-friendly locations

Free locations around you
Free locations around you
Beauty doesn’t always come with a big price. With a little bit of searching, cinematic-looking locations can be found at economical rates. Even if some places go over your budget, the rates can always be negotiated. And except for unique locations like a fort or a river, most common locations in your screenplay can be replaced with a less pricey alternative. All you have to do is search online. For example, the feel of an upscale café can be created even in a regular neighborhood café, with some art direction of course. This way you get the look you want without spending a lot.

2) Write with your budget in mind

Avoid last moment surprises
Avoid last moment surprises
All aspects of a film depend heavily on the script. So does production cost. Ideally, low- budget projects should have minimal characters and feature as fewer locations as possible. The focus should be to make the story as interesting as possible.
Below are some examples of successful movies featuring just two characters & one location.

Sunset Limited (2011)

Room (2015)

Also, be aware that period pieces & stories with VFX require highly skilled artists who may charge a hefty price. If you have an idea that absolutely requires VFX, then you can take some time & try building a relationship with a good VFX artist. Being on a strict budget doesn’t mean you should put a limit on your creativity. Just support it with some clever networking.

3) Choose smart over state-of-the-art

Improvise, don't compromise
Improvise, don’t compromise
Because you don’t need THE BEST camera for filmmaking. You need a camera that fits your purpose, without putting a strain on your wallet. Same goes for other equipment.

Making a good film is not about how expensive your gear is. It’s about what you do with the gear you have.
With a little bit of creativity, you can always substitute high-end gear with low-cost options. For example
– Natural light & interior lights are a great alternative to professional LED panels
– Instead of using commercial reflectors, you can stick some foil onto cardboards.
– Today’s mobile phones are capable of shooting in 4K, and are a viable alternative to cash-burning film cameras.
– Dollies can be replaced with ordinary objects like a chair with wheels.

Shooting with the jugaad mindset also helps avoid the costs of moving inventory around – because you’re always working with what’s available nearby.

4) Use royalty-free content wherever possible

Go open-source
Go open-source
The internet is filled with sites that provide free images, stock videos, background scores and sound effects. These are uploaded with a creative commons license – means you can use them for free without facing copyright problems.

Here’s a list of royalty-free websites to keep handy:

For music and scores
YouTube Audio Library https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/music
For images, videos, illustrations: Pixabay https://pixabay.com/
For sound effects: SoundBible http://soundbible.com/

Note: Some of these resources might require crediting the original creator. Do check that before downloading them.

5) Assemble the right team

The right people...
The right people…
Apart from having the skills, it’s a win-win if your team members also happen to have equipment they can share. So try and ask people you know. Friends or relatives will only be happy to lend you their equipment & their time.

And not all of your team members need to be experts. Figure out what your team can do on their own, and as much as possible, try to not use an external expert. This will help you keep the team size & cost under control.

Of course, when you absolutely need professional help, do get an expert. Don’t EVER try doing dangerous stunts yourself. Any money you save might still get spent in fixing your fractured foot.

6) Practice & master your craft

The more you polish your storyboard, and rehearse with your actors, the better the result. Always work towards quality. And to compensate for your lack of funds, put in extra work and pay a lot of attention to detail. Ultimately your audience will only praise you for making a great film. They won’t know (or care) about how much you spent. So make your film worth the watch.

Last but not the least, make the project interesting and fun

Loving what you do. That’s what matters in life, to you & everyone else. If your project is exciting to work on, many people would be willing to work on it at a lesser cost – just for the experience. So go crazy and come up with a film idea you really love. If you put some strategy into your filmmaking process, the sky is the limit!

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