"Make a Great Film with the Means Available Now"
by Johan Liedgren
As a filmmaker, I’ve worked with production budgets ranging from very large to near ethereal, so know quite a few tips and tricks when it comes to getting the most out of whatever budget you may (or may not) have.
Firstly, the goal is not for you to make a film without spending much money.
The goal should be making a great film that hasn’t been made before…and making it with the means available. No one in the audience cares how much you spent making the film.
That said, a few thoughts to share-
1. Script. 80 % is your script. Keep it to one location and just a few characters. Obvious. Yes. Often done? No. Embrace a single location and sparse simplicity. Don’t wing-clip a bigger idea. Make the big idea even bigger and figure out WHY the single location is the right, smart, and brave artistic choice.
OK, so what about the other 20%?
2. Actors. Your absolute priority once the script is finished is to get the best actors you can. If your script is awesome, equally awesome actors will want to be part of your film. And good actors don’t cost more than bad ones.
3. Crew. Many folks might work on your project for free - if it’s a great script, or if you have a solid track record. But, if you can’t deliver a good film at the end of the day, they will never work with you again. And they will tell everyone else, and they won’t work with you, either.
4. Compensation. Whether or not you can pay them, make sure your cast and crew can share in the eventual profits. Just like you, there’s no reason why others shouldn’t have an additional incentive to deliver their best work. Especially if they believe in the project. If they don’t, then maybe it doesn’t make sense for them to invest their time and talent for a share of the future profits. And then you have to pay them.
“There is no such thing as independent film.
All films have stakeholders.”
5. Shoot out each scene before you break. Always.
6. Don’t rely on daylight or weather for a full days schedule. Never.
7. Storyboard in advance. It’s a good idea. Always. And it’s your job as director. Plus, it will tell you what scenes or angles you don’t need to shoot. Paper is cheap. A day on set is not.
8. Fewer people on set is always a good thing. Lose as many bodies as you can. One great person is better than five decent ones tripping all over each other. But…
9. …don’t try to record sound yourself. This is one area you need things to work 100%. Bad sound ruins good films.
10. Edit. There’s not a sliding quality scale based on what you can pay. Either your editor can do it, or they can’t. Don’t hire the one who can’t. If you don’t know - have them cut the trailer. If the trailer is great, then you’re good to go.
11. Color correction. Cheap. Makes a big difference. Use it well. And often.
12. Marketing. Promise greatness and be specific about what makes your film worth watching right now. Don’t label your film "low-budget” or "indie” - it all sounds like excuses. We all want to see great films. Explain why yours is great and why I haven’t seen anything like it before. That’s a great promise…if it’s true. Now you better deliver on it.
And remember - it’s not about making a film on the cheap. It’s about making a great film that hasn’t been made before. Your film won’t be compared to other films done for a similar budget in the year (or any other arbitrary categories). It will be compared against all films, big and small, made throughout history and currently available at your audience’s fingertips. So make a great film.
Johan Liedgren is a director/writer based in Seattle who has worked on feature films, commercials, music videos, and television both in the US and Europe. You can learn more about him and his work here, and stream or purchase his latest film, Mother Nature, here.