There are always hidden costs when it comes to making films; setbacks and surprises are inevitable. The best way to avoid these being detrimental to production is by planning ahead and understanding the things you can control. We chatted to Joe Ollman, a multi-award-winning and BAFTA Cymru nominated Writer and Director, to get some of his top tips on making a film on a Budget.
Ollman has directed three incredible short films; Throw Me to the Dogs, Meat on Bones and Bitter Sky - in co-production with BFI Network.
You don’t need a huge budget to make a great film. Just take a look at our list of the best low budget films that became blockbusters, to see some examples.
1. Use skeleton crews!
Do you really need that extra runner? Do you need a make-up artist, or can the talent do their own make-up? Does your DOP need two assistants? Can crew members double up on roles? Figure out the minimal amount of crew you need and try to make it work. I’ve worked with a DOP, a camera assistant and a sound recordist, which can sometimes be all you need. Plus, you’ll find the more people you have on set, the longer things can sometimes take. This might mean that you have to step into a producer's shoes, run the set as a 1st AD, do a little art direction or even swing a boom - but this could be a great opportunity to learn more skills!
2. Find a crew and cast with a passion for the project!
Crew and cast costs are often the biggest expense in your budget. Whilst I’m not usually an advocate for not paying people, if you get a crew of like-minded passionate filmmakers, who are willing to work for little to no payment - then that’s going to cut your costs significantly. Work with friends, family and young filmmakers who are looking to break into the industry. Ironically, it’s often the case that crews work harder when they’re working for free! If your crew isn’t being paid, ensure that the set is a fun collaborative environment and think of ways your team can get something out of working for you - otherwise, it’s just exploitative! Let people know how grateful you are for their dedication in other ways. Good catering helps…
3. Get as much as possible for free, or for very little... and be nice!
Always try to find locations, props, costumes, and anything you can for free. Pull in favours from friends, family, and randomers. You find people are often willing to help as much as they can. Or if something is going to cost you, try and get a good deal. Hustle. In terms of equipment, rental houses are often very supportive if you’re making a short film. Find a producer or a DOP who has built a good relationship with them and guarantee that you’ll use their business for an upcoming job with a better budget. This goes without saying, but if you’re approaching people with a smile and general friendliness, then they’re more likely to help you out. Thoughtful gifts are a nice way of showing appreciation and building a good relationship, without spending a whole load of your budget.
4. Consider crowdfunding!
You may have never made a film before and therefore struggle to find financing. Crowdfunding is an excellent way to finance your film, especially for your first few shorts. Put your filmmaking skills to good use and create an entertaining crowdfunding video that perfectly encapsulates your idea. You’d be surprised about how much your friends and family are willing to support you. There are also very generous people out there who just like to invest in a good idea. If you can, find out who has financed other similar short films through crowdfunding and try to send your page to them directly, along with a nice personal message.
5. Learn to compromise!
I would always suggest trying to make the film you have envisioned, but along the way, you are going to have to make compromises. If we had the budget of a blockbuster movie, this would never be an issue - but if you are working with very little - find creative solutions to make your film more affordable. For instance, you might not be able to shoot on film, but there are some really convincing film emulation luts that you can add in post-shoot. You might not have the budget to shoot on the new Alexa, but there are plenty of affordable cameras out there (I hate it when people say you can make a film on your phone… f*ck off - YOU make a film on your phone). I would also suggest figuring out ways to rewrite the script to make it cheaper. This might mean compromising on your locations, or that special effect you wanted in the final sequence, but finding cheaper alternatives is better than not making the film at all!
Making a film on a budget is all about working collaboratively. Knowing the best ways to treat people well in place of money and getting them excited about the project is essential.
It’s important to look to filmmakers like Joe, who have done such inspiring work without huge amounts of money, to see what is possible. Immerse yourself in the world of short films, previous festival nominees and winners and understand what makes great shorts great. Limit filming locations, actors and effects by making your script pop.
Thanks so much to Joe for taking the time to give us some insights, and if you’d like more information on funding, access to grants or how Paus can help you make your film, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.