I’ve recently been involved in a number of discussions about low-budget filmmaking and whether or not it has a place in the NZ film scene. There are people who believe that it is an amazing idea and the only way to create a sustainable industry and others who think that low-budget filmmaking needs to stopped and should not be officially supported. Having made two low-budget features and knowing so many other people who have, I personally believe that there is a place for low-budget filmmaking as long as long as you are doing it for the right reasons and are smart about how you go about it.
Low Budget Filmmaking is not an excuse to rip people off
A smaller budget is never an excuse to rip people off, to extort, to treat people badly, or to take advantage of peoples good natures. Sure you have to make deals, sure no one is getting paid fairly, but you should be transparent and up front with those people taking the journey with you at all times. Ideally you will be looking to give up and comers the chance to step up into roles they have not had a chance to do previously. Of course this doesn’t mean that the odd experienced person won’t want to join on board for a cut rate, it just depends on the project.
Low-budget filmmaking also offers you the opportunity to learn more about the different roles and departments. For my first film I learnt how to use a camera, doing extensive study on how to get the most out of the equipment. I also learnt a lot about the art department and ensuring the project was broken down to the point that you know all the critical elements for each scene.
Your story has to suit the budget
If your creating a low budget film it is certainly helpful if the film is designed to make the most of the asethic that low-budget filmmaking supplies. Of course that is not saying that you can’t do a more ambitious project (Crackheads had around 30 speaking roles and the same number of locations), it just means that it is harder to achieve and your team needs to be much larger to allow you to pull it off. In comparasion, my first feature ‘The Richmond Family Massacre was designed to use our limited resources to their full advantage, had 12 cast members, a core crew of 3-4 a about a dozen helpers who came in from time to time. This of course makes things far more manageable.
It is also incredibly sensible to look at the types of films that will sell at a lower budget level (read genre). Of course you should always make films that you are passionate about but it may be best to leave that period drama you really want to make until your 2nd or 3rd film.
Make sure you know what your goals are
The most important thing about low budget filmmaking is to have realistic goals for the project. If you know what you want out of it from the start you are more likely to achieve your goals. For my first feature film the goal was to learn more about filmmaking, having made so many short films I wanted to learn more how to make a feature film. Don’t kid yourself, short films may teach you techniques that are transferable but a feature film is an entirely different proposition. No matter what your goal is make sure you do your research. The way you go about your project will be very different depending on what your hoping to get out of it. If you want to get festival play make sure you research what types of films get into the festivals you want to play in and what sort of filmmaking techniques they employ. If you want to make money for your next film (be very realistic here, don’t set yourself up for failure with an unrealistic goal) then make sure you know what kinds of films are selling in the marketplace and ensure you have a stellar hook. If you want to make a calling card and prove that you can do it then make sure you put the work into delivering a stellar product that highlights your talents within your limitations.
Lastly if you are going to embark on a low-budget feature project make sure you are going to make something your passionate about and get a good team around you so you can have fun. It is a difficult undertaking, but as I always say, if your not enjoying yourself your doing something wrong.