Movie-making on a shoestring budget - A Picture for Peanuts

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Filmmaking is no longer an art savoured for the few. With low-cost and high quality equipment available, even your iPhone can help your cause nowadays, as digital technology has made film-making an accessible dream for those of us with ambitions to produce.

Impressive feature-length movies are being shot on the tiniest of budgets, supported by crowdfunding and embraced by audiences and critics alike.

You don’t need to dig deep for inspiring examples of self-made directors who have worked on a shoestring. Sin City director Robert Rodriguez made the film that launched his blockbuster career, El Mariachi, for the grand sum of $7,225 and that was back in 1992. That’s before DSLRs and before the iPhone. And that was using money raised by putting himself up for medical experiments. Where there’s a will, there’s a way and luckily, with crowdfunding opportunities, compromising your health is really not necessary today. Here are some tips for keeping your film-making budget low and quality output high:

Get strict with your script 

We all get fixated on certain ideas that we think are Palme D’Or-worthy, but any filmmaker with limited dollar needs to think long and hard before they script. A car chase scene or that backdrop in remote Iceland may be indispensable to your idea, but reality (aka budget) will dictate that you can’t be so precious. Don’t let an idea tie you down – it could mean you spend precious time raising funds when really, you can use that time being creative with your limitations.

Look around you. In your immediate surroundings and in your immediate network, you will have access to a unique mix of locations, props and skills. Use these. Whether it’s your aunt’s empty holiday home in the country which can double up as crew/cast digs or a friend with a motorbike who is willing to play your lead character, these limiting factors can inspire your story and send it in all kinds of directions. Minimize your list of things you need to get the film done and see your limitations as exciting opportunities to test your creativity.

Get Technical

With the existence of whole film festivals dedicated to films produced on an iPhone, it’s no secret that filmmaking is more technically accessible today than ever before. You don’t need much to make a movie and, particularly the availability of affordable DSLRs means that there will be a decent camera available for borrowing amongst your group of friends. Don’t, however, let this ease make you complacent - there are still some real technical costs that are unavoidable. Investing in good sound can make the difference between your film looking like the real thing or an amateur attempt.

There are low cost and second hand options available, but don’t make the mistake of thinking you can get away with the sound on a DSLR. Media storage also needs to be considered when you are filming extensively and, while hard drives will not break the bank, this could steadily add up to a surprising amount.




The exciting reality of low-budget film-making is that with minimal equipment requirements, you are a less imposing presence. For documentaries, that can mean you are less distracting to your subjects and therefore make more accurate observations, and for feature films it can mean you move faster and even get away with filming in some difficult locations.

Get Organised           

There’s nothing like a bit of bad organisation to really put back your filming schedule. Yes, organisation can be painful and it can be boring. But it’s also smart. Time is money and the amount you spend thinking ahead, planning for potential obstacles and maximising the little that you have with your crew, your equipment and your cast can add up to something game-changing. It can mean an extra few takes, an extra hour of light or an extra lens that can give value to the final product. Think the whole process through and budget for your worst case scenario. Once you know what your parameters are, it is much easier to be strict about what you have to achieve in a given day. 


The 3-Point Summary

  1. Get strict with your script.
  2. Investing in good sound can make the difference between your film looking like the real thing or an amateur attempt.
  3. Time is money so budget for your worst case scenario.

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