I am sure there are some aspiring filmmakers out there who are intimidated by the mere thought of producing a film, not because of lack of knowledge, but lack of money. Yes, you need money to make a film, not a lot of money, but you do need money. I have produced three short films within the past two years and have gained valuable knowledge about the filmmaking process. I’ve learned that employing the right kind of people and thinking outside of the box can save you not only money, but time, and we all know that time is money.
Hire actors who will work for free. There are so many actors out there who are looking for their big break or just to build a resume. I’ve done it and so have many other famous actors and actresses when they were first starting out. It’s called paying dues. Many actors who are non-union can and will work for free because many who are talented don’t even have talent agents yet. I’ve utilized the casting websites, LA Casting and Craigslist and have found talented actors to audition for my films. Many actors will agree to work for free in exchange for meals on the set, credit, and a copy of the film. If you don’t plan to pay actors because of a low budget, make sure you have something else to offer in exchange for their talent, work, and time, such as what I listed.
A film cannot be made without a crew. The crew consists of your director, cinematography, sound person, key grip and a lighting technician. These people don’t care about being famous. Most likely, they will not work for free unless they are your friends and are doing you a favor. Pay them by the day, not by the hour, for if you end up having to keep them a little longer on the set, then you don’t have to worry about paying extra. Some crew members will negotiate their standard price, and some will not. Just make sure you have a budget set aside only for them.
Make sure the screenplay is character-driven, that the story is centered around the actions and development of the character. That will cut down on the number of locations needed to create an interesting story. Locations cost money, sometimes lots of money. I posted ads on craigslist in search of shooting locations and negotiated my price by the day. For the very first short film, I produced, I ended up using my own apartment as the location, and that saved a lot of money on production costs. Use your family or friends’ homes as a location in exchange for whatever they are asking in return. You usually won’t have to pay family and friends as much money to use their homes as a shooting location as you would a stranger. Scout for locations that don’t require a permit to shoot there. A film permit can cost upward to thousands of dollars even just for a day. Many of those places where you may can get away with not having a permit are public places such as a park, street corners, freeways. It all depends on what kind of location you need. For instance, let’s say, you need to shoot a scene in a restaurant. One of my networking colleagues was able to shoot a scene inside a restaurant during off hours in exchange for advertising in the film.
Use time wisely. If you are scheduled to start shooting at 10 am. Stick to that as close as you can. A day in the life of a filmmaker is definitely unpredictable, but control what you can control. Do not tolerate too much clowning and joking on the set from actors and crew because that wastes time, and time is money. I shot my last short film in one day. I paid for one day for shooting at the location. We were running behind schedule. I knew that if we didn’t all of the film shot in this one day, I would have to come out of pocket for another day of shooting. I was not willing to do that, because there was no more budget. I, and the co-producer, spoke to the director about making adjustments in the script so that we can stick to schedule, and also about being a bit more serious about the shoot because time was being wasted. I hated to have to do that, but when you are the one with the gold, you have to make those kind of rules.
I worked on a set one time with a director who had her mom bring in food for the cast and crew. Craft services is usually one of the biggest costs because you have to feed everyone, cast, crew and yourself. That saved her money because she didn’t have to spend a lot of money on food. Another director I worked with had a restaurant bring food to the set in exchange for having their name listed in the end credits. So yes, there are obviously some restaurants that want the advertising and are more than willing to work with filmmakers, without you having to pay them. And there are family members or maybe friends who would be honored to cook for the cast and crew. You just have to ask them.
Taking the time to research, network, think, and negotiate can keep many dollars in your pocket. These tactics are almost guaranteed to save you money. They worked for my colleages and me, therefore, they can work for you too.