The Ultra Low Budget Filmmaking Basic Checklist
If there is one single way to describe how to make an ultra low budget film, it would be “Keep it simple.” Your main goal is to capture a good story. Cinematic perfection doesn’t always translate to a good movie and it’s costly to achieve it.
The following is a basic checklist for your ultra low budget film project:
- The script shouldn’t have more than 90 pages.
- Shoot 10 pages per day, unlike 3 like in a conventional production.
If you’re shooting 3 or 4 pages only (or less!!), you are not setup correctly for an ultra low budget film production, or your script wasn’t written following ultra low budget principles.
- Avoid costly and time-consuming lighting setups.
Use natural lighting techniques for 90% of the movie. I’m a huge advocate of this. With the right techniques you can achieve amazing results at a fraction of the time.
Use one or two lights max to handle tricky situations or for fills. My favorite is a Chinese lantern that you can make yourself. Add a dimmer and you’re all set.
Avoid “flatness” by having some predominant light reference in the shot.
Avoid high contrast situations. Keep a good dynamic range and then manipulate the final look in post.
Do not bring tons of equipment. Setting things up requires a large crew and time.
- Avoid special effects of any kind unless you know what you’re doing and it won’t delay your production.
- Avoid green screen shots.
There is a reason for this. You don’t want to spend six months editing your film because of tricky special effects or complicated shots. You want to edit fast and only using the shots you captured. Special effects can delay you for months and most of the time they look like crap. Remember, it’s all about the story, and a story can be told in many different ways.
- Avoid shooting dialogue in a car.
It’s a pain to get it right unless you have the right equipment. Have them stop somewhere and then they can talk. You can then shoot through the windows and place the mikes where you want them.
- Use vacant locations if possible.
If people live in the location you’re shooting, say a house, and you need to shoot there for several days, find another location. Trust me. You don’t want the homeowners watching every move and worrying about the furniture or anything else. Get them out of the house or find a vacant place.
- If you shoot outdoors avoid shooting under direct sun light.
Shoot under a tree, but not a very thick one. You want some sunlight to filter through.
- Shot hand held for most of the film but plan it well.
You want to maintain cinematic quality.
Vests and stabilization gear are fine.
- Avoid time consuming shots like dolly moves and jibes.
- Record sound in the camera and on a separate digital recorder.
- You want a small crew that is fast and effective.
DO NOT use your friends unless they have filmmaking experience.No one should be learning on the job since you don’t have time to teach or to ramp people up.
- DP (experienced)
- Gaffer/Lighting person (experienced)
- Sound mixer
- Boom operator
Yes, you need her. Let the sound guy concentrate on the levels and capturing good sound.
- Script supervisor (Very crucial)
- Props and Make Up person
- One or two people to run around (General help, errands, food, etc.)
Notes on the Script:
In order to be able to shoot 10 pages per day your script must be fined tuned.
- Minimize dialogue that requires amazing acting abilities, unless you have actors to pull it off. Otherwise you’ll end up doing many takes, which takes time.
- Let the story be the star instead.
- Intensify action and emotions.
- No special effects.
- Few locations.
- Avoid scenes in restaurants, public places or places where there are a lot of people.
Of course I broke all these rules and I paid dearly for it, but that’s how you learn, from your mistakes. The truth is you don’t have to make the same mistakes I’ve done, and yes, regardless of what some people will tell you, you can make a phenomenal movie using these principles and it’ll cost you very little. Not only that but you’ll be happier because you’ll see results every day. So while they argue against it, go make your film and then show them ☺