Making a short film with no budget can be a stressful venture. If you’ve been a fan of film long enough, you know that there are only two ways to do anything: the easy way or the hard way. Overthinking is part is the hard way. Once you stop overthinking everything, making a short film with no budget becomes a simple endeavor.
How to make a short film with no budget? Zero budget filmmaking strives towards the use of free resources like actors, crew, and equipment around you and work backwards. Start with writing a script based on the available supply.
The easy way is to keep it simple.
- Make sure that your idea is simple enough to be explained in one sentence. The audience cares more about the concept of the story than complex action sequences.
- Write a short script. You want to make sure that you stick to simple scenes and have as little dialogue as possible. You can use any free scriptwriting software like Story Touch or Celtx.
- Send the script to your actors and fix any errors that may turn up. Then, you’ll be ready to start shooting. You may have to shoot out of order if you’re working with people who have different schedules. Discuss the shooting schedules with your team and plan effectively. It is essential to keep time, especially if you plan on using the sun as your light source when filming. Take multiple shots at one scene so that you have more to work with during editing.
- Transfer all the recorded footage to your PC or hard disk and start editing. All the hard work you did during the shoot will pay off at this point. Select the best clips from the footage and sequence them in your video editor. Also, add sound and effects to your satisfaction until the film is finished.
- Now you need to get your film in front of some eyeballs. So, invite your friends, family, and cast for a viewing. The internet has redefined film distribution. You can upload your film to Vimeo or YouTube to reach an even bigger audience.
If you don’t have the funding of big studios to make your ideas come to life, it only means you have to flex your creativity and come up with the best story you can. Use what is readily available. No-budget filmmaking requires you to use the resources around you to make a film. It is why no-budget filmmaking is also called resource filmmaking. Make a list of all the resources that you have at your disposal. It is typically a list of equipment, locations, or even favors from your friends.
A camera should be at the top of your equipment list. It doesn’t matter if it’s a DSLR or just your phone camera. Other gear on the list may be a tripod, gimble, microphone, and lights. Once you make that list, you can assess your limitations; know how to make them work for you.
The next thing you’ll need is a crew. It can comprise of boom operators, technicians, and video editors. You need to write a script that doesn’t require a big team to actualize. This is where those favors from our creative friends come into play. What matters is that you get somebody who can work for free.
Also, You should approach creatives with similar interests in filming. You can always collaborate with other indie filmmakers if you think that you might need more technical help with the project.
When you are making a no-budget film, you probably can’t afford to make casting calls or hold auditions. Working with the people around you is the next best thing to do. Try and recruit some of your friends, family, or classmates to help you in the film. Film school students definitely have an advantage.
You can also ask on social media to see if you can get interested people. Your crew should be people that you can trust and know. Because, when you are writing your script, it will be easier to come up with characters that closely resemble your crew. Doing this is crucial if you do not have access to professional actors. It will make it easier for the cast to embody their characters and make directing the film less stressful.
Afterward, you’ll need to make a list of locations that you can access for free. Resource filmmaking means that you have to work backward. Your resources will dictate your script; the locations you write in your scripts must be places over which you have control. It is always advisable that you write up a location agreement with the owners of the location at which you will be shooting. It helps in case there are any damages to property or the owner changes their mind. It helps to keep everyone protected.
When you are scouting the locations, take note of the power outlets because your equipment needs power. Lighting equipment will most likely fall in this category. Another thing to check for is the lighting of the location. You need to take note of where the windows are and how the place looks at different times of the day.
You can also carry your lighting equipment as you scout. Set up the lights at the location just as you would during the shoot to come up with an effective lighting strategy for each location. It allows you to work faster when you come back to the site to shoot the film. You will already have a good understanding of the set location.
Since you will be shooting at locations you have some control over, carry your camera and shoot some stills when scouting. It will help with the storyboard. Storyboarding is typically done as you write the script, but since you’ll be working backward, you want to take some stills that you know with what exactly what you’ll be working.
You may also stumble some shots that you didn’t think of before. Come along with one of your castmembers, if possible, so that you can establish the shots and appropriate lighting for each scene. It is easier to plan shots and generate storyboards when you are at the location.
Armed with a list of equipment, cast, and locations, you are now almost ready to start making your no-budget film. A story to glue everything together is what you need next. A good story is what will keep viewers watching.
In resource filmmaking, you want to have a script that doesn’t have many characters or involve a lot of movement between locations. It is even better if you can do everything in one place. Remember, the goal is to limit or completely eliminate any costs. Refrain from writing scenes that will require a lot of effects in post-production.
Storyboards make it easier for you to explain your vision of the film to the cast. If you can’t draw, the photos that you take at the location will help you to come up with a storyboard. When you are creating your storyboard, make sure to include camera positions, angles, and movements. Also, include character actions and positions. If your cast agrees to come with you as you scout the location, you can set up the scene and make edits to the script.
Also, include the props to be used and their positions on the shooting floor. Go over the scenes and storyboard with your crew, and check if you’ve missed anything. Storyboards will help you to save significantly on time and money. By creating your storyboards, you will learn which scenes require more attention and time. Always allocate the needed resources accordingly.
Ready, Set, Action!
You are now ready to shoot. The most important thing to do is to enjoy the process. If you don’t have fun making it, I’m not sure the audience will enjoy your film. Remember not to take everything too seriously to have fun. Be open to adapting your script to include some of the off-script events that occur during the shoot. Some of the best shot scenes are always accidental and off-script.
Once have your storyboard and composition ready, setting up cameras will be a walk in the park. Make sure that you get the focus right. Avoid changing your camera setting to fix things in pre-production.
- Your shutter speed, ISO, and aperture need to remain constant throughout the shoot.
- If you are shooting any slow-motion scenes have your shutter speed twice your frame rate.
- To shoot at 48fps, set your shutter speed to 1/96, or else you will end up with messy shots.
- If there are any problems with lighting, make changes to the lighting equipment or close some windows, but avoid adjusting the camera settings.
- Another hack you can use is adjusting your filming schedule to make use of natural light.
Keep it Smooth
First and foremost, you are a storyteller. Use smooth and creative camera movements to make your shots enjoyable. If you have a tripod, you can still achieve this even if you don’t have access to a gimbal, slider, dolly, or Steadicam. The idea is to eliminate shaky footage. You can use a skateboard or wheelchair as a workaround and refine everything in post-production.
Use Sound Wisely
If there are parts in your script that prove challenging to shoot, you can move from trying to show the actions to imply them. If it is a fight scene, you can show the lead up to the fight and the actors falling from impact. Use sound, effects, and shots of the reactions from other actors to imply the parts of the story you can’t show. You can also use a recorded narration additional sound effects to describe the scene.
Enhancing the Aesthetics
When you are doing a no-budget film, the locations may not look that great. To make your movie look more professional, you can lower your camera’s aperture to blur the background so that the focus is kept on your actors. You can also look for items that will enhance your set and make it more vibrant. Adding elements that improve the color coordination of your set will make the shot look more cinematic.
Make sure to remove anything that doesn’t add to the story from the background. It is also a good idea to shoot in black and white. Besides giving your film a certain aesthetic, shooting in black and white is easier to manage.
Academy-award-winning director, George Lucas once said that seventy percent of what you see is sound. It can either make or break your movie. Ensure that you have proper sound equipment and someone who knows how to operate them, especially if you’ll be recording sound on set.
You can now finesse your shots in post-production. Having quality footage will make your work easy. You won’t have to do much to get amazing shots for your sequence. Get a computer with a decent video card to enhance the colors on your film. Get a free version software like Davinci Resolve and LUTs to help you with the color grading. By using free video editing software, you can stabilize footage that was shot handheld and is a little shaky. You can also crop out parts of a scene that don’t fit your story.
Edit your sound in a professional studio if you have access to one. Listening to the audio on studio monitors will help you know how your film will sound like in theatres. There are a few advantages that come from working with sound engineers. They can help to come up with sound effects to complement scenes in your film.
If you don’t have access to any studio or sound engineer, you can always go to YouTube and learn some audio editing techniques. Get some decent quality headphones with which to work.
Have a Backup
Create a backup system just in case anything happens. If you are submitting your film to festivals or contests, make sure to check for any technical specifications before exporting the video from your editing software. Take note of the required frame rate or subtitle format that may be specified. It is also vital for you to ensure that all music used in the film is licensed.
You can use social media to build some hype for your impending release. Get your friends, family, and crew to talk about the project online. Also, you can create a small preview or a behind the scenes video to share online. You can take it further and open social media profiles for your film and continuously release content relating to your movie.
If the high-quality demands of theatre put you off, you can upload your film to Vimeo or YouTube. In these distribution mediums, a majority of the viewers watch content on their mobile devices. So, this makes it difficult for them to notice any mistakes.
Making a no-budget film can be enjoyable. The experience gained while shooting short films will go a long way once you start working on bigger projects.
How do you write a good script for a short film?
A good story comes first. The story should be simple, concise, and sweet. The characters should have a goal they are trying to achieve or a conflict they need to resolve before the end of the film. Having a goal will keep the audience glued to the screen. Avoid having characters with vague goals like a character whose goal is to be a star.
How do you achieve goals in no-budget films?
The general rule of thumb is to have each page on the script represent a minute of the screenplay. For example, it is better to create a simple story about a character who wants to win in a game of chess. It helps to set a target that the audience can measure.
What are some excellent ideas for a short film?
The best quick film ideas are simple and are often shot with one or two characters at one location. Pay attention to real-life events and the local news network, and you may stumble on a story that you can turn into a short film. Making a parody is another way to develop ideas for short films. As long as the satire doesn’t infringe on any copyrights and is free from libel or defamation suits, you will not need to meet an entertainment lawyer.
What is the ideal length of no-budget films?
Short films of about 5-8 minutes do better than those going for 20+ minutes. No one solution fits all short films. You should also watch a lot of short films in the genre that piques your interest. It will help you learn what works and what doesn’t.
Short films that have garnered high viewership expose filmmakers to opportunities like making advertisements. There is a rising demand for short films by brands, bloggers, and media companies that want content directing viewers to their social media pages or websites.