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Low/No-budget feature film, how to do it properly?
  • Hey guys,

    Some friends and I are shooting our first feature film in a couple weeks. I'm the DP and using my GH2 (not sure which hack yet), but just wondering where we should prioritize any of the funds we do have? Also, I know we're not supposed to solicit on here, so I won't, but have any of you had success with Kickstarter or other crowd-funding resources? We've just put one up, but it's rather slow going.


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  • Congrats. I think VK has said it's ok to solicit if you are a member of this forum and it's your project, not some random project you saw that you liked. Worse case, he'll delete the post, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

    I'm a big fan or Robert Rodriquez's philosophy of spend nothing and use creativity to get around obstacles and problems. But I'm also a fan of comedian Adam Carolla who's said your time is valuable and you need to figure out what you're worth and is the cost saving worth the extra time you'll need to put in....example:

    Rodriquez had no proper audio recording for El Mariachi and he recorded all the dialogue afterwards with a cheap mic and tape recorder. 99% of the dialogue never synced up afterwards and he had to do a lot of editing to cover up that. Probably cost him two weeks or so of extra editing, but he was willing to pay that price since he could edit for free vs buying a proper audio setup. Also all the fast editing created a sense of movement in the dialogue that he might not have had if he didn't have to cut away.

    So you need to figure out what will cost you more time later to fix certain things that would cost you money to buy proper equipment or whatever to get it right now. But as a rule, use creativity now to overcome spending issues, then if you can't, spend the cash.

  • It´s impossible to say anything about priorities unless you describe your project and resources as detailed as possible.. what kind of film do you want? What is it about? how many friends are you? do you have experience with people bailing out? Where will you shoot? Aside from a camera; what equipment do you have / what equipment do you need?

    I have not done any Kickstarter projects and I can only talk from substantial amounts of other kinds of applications (+ substantial amounts of no-budget projects) - but the fact that you have to ask about priorities is sort of worrying for me ; if you have a clear overview on your project it´s much easier to convey your idea and what you want money for in a short ad on Kickstarter.. You have to persuade people that it is a good idea to invest in your project; not just tell them to give away money to "our first feature film".

  • Easy question. Prioritize SOUND. It's THE most frequent complaint from film festival judges. GET GOOD SOUND.

  • I think first you should watch lots of no-budget films. Many filmmakers start shooting having in mind a Hollywoodian style, however they haven't millions of dollars in their sockets...having a low budget film "culture" will help you to find a cheap but original solution for a scene. You can watch for example Man bites dog, Guy MAddin's films,Schlingensief's films...

  • Thanks a lot for the replies, guys... always good to get some advice.

    @RRRR - The film is centered around 3 actors. Our quick description is: "Teddy convinces his estranged brother, Frank, to help him track down a time machine. Then a girl shows up and complicates everything."

    We're shooting more outdoors than indoors, so on my list to purchase are: reflector(s) and a decent variable ND. I have the Voigtlander 25mm, but am really wanting to rent the Tokina 11-16mm for wide shots. And maybe one other lens.

    We're trying to get 2 audio sources for every shot. Rode Video Mic into the cam and a Shotgun Boom recorded into a Zoom H1. We'll just have to sync in post. @brianluce - I totally agree with you. Sound sets movies apart. My degree is in Audio Engineering, so even though I'm DP I'll be making sure we have an above average setup. Plus, I may be doing some sound designing in post with foley, etc.

    @AlbertZ - The director's idea for shooting style is loosely based off of The Puffy Chair. We want to get better visuals and sound, but the script is the base, and the actors will be improving a lot and letting the story develop as we shoot.

  • @CRFilms - Here's the link to our Kickstarter and the video. I wanted to make the video a bit more personal and convincing (like @RRRR said), but I was pushed for time, plus the director and actors are in LA and will be flying here to Nashville for the shoot. Our idea was just to get 500 people to give $5 which would give each person a digital copy of the film. $2500 isn't much but we're all doing this out of our own pockets and are needing to cover costs.

    One cool thing is that the director has a friend involved in Sundance, so we are trying to shoot and do post production in time to submit. Which is an incredibly quick deadline, I know :)

  • @jirab: are you / the director very good friends with the actors? If not (it´s someone you know more remotely) then it might be a good idea to make a small budget to pay them, even if it´s only a small fee. This is a good way to have someone stay more loyal to the project; since they have accepted money it´s more difficult to bail for whatever reason.

    The 5 buck idea is good, but it may have been better to aim for a bit lower supporter count. Prioritize the shoot, make sure you have as much funds available as you possibly can; it´s no fun if you have to count pennies when you notice you need something quickly.

    Camera expenses sound very reasonable. Budget for makeshift flags (you might want to take away direct sunlight) and cheap construction lights on stands for indoors shooting, I take it you don´t know anyone with lights you can borrow? (these you can bounce off walls, ceilings a.s.o. to raise ambient light)

    For now: Go all out to advertise your kick-start project, on forums like this one and in blog guestbooks a.s.o. Be strategic about it!

    For the shoot: plan as carefully as you can with the director each scene, takes, and make a shooting schedule - your time budget. If you are uncertain about things, try as best you can to figure it out beforehand. (do trials, measure, whatever you need - to be as sure as you can be).

    Then when you are done with the schedule; see if you can budget 25-50% more time for it. You will most likely need it.

    Another thing to think about before shooting is; how can you get the camera to move (whilst remaining stable) on a budget? For instance. A sky-lift can be a relatively cheap way to get into interesting camera positions; maybe you can even use it´s movement for takes... it can be easier than that: a heavy truck (if you know someone who has one) can make a great base for a long tracking shot - in the right circumstances. Scaffolding is cheap to rent and easy to set up beforehand, if you need it. Or, if you don´t want something like that – think about how you can use a static camera / simple movements to work with the story. If you do research (references) and make aesthetic decisions beforehand that work within your limits you will be in the good place of knowing what to do when on set.

    Oh, and the final piece of advice: see if you can find runners – preferably more than you think you will need. Even if you need to buy them dinner, it´s worth the extra cost, because you don´t want to bother with small things when on set.

  • Keep on going independent men!!! im also making my own movie. Takes time even if you have the money.

    Here i give you 10 min of footage from my film. The audio is not original dont pay attention and turn down the volume. Keep on going, and remember money is important, but more important is your will to end what you begin.

    i hope you get some inspiration from this. Rember takes time, but its ok.

  • Good luck, sounds like you're prepared with your sound background and the premise sounds intriguing and the idea of shooting outside is also good. You might also consider improvising some sort of diffusing tarp or butterfly to knock down the sunlight. I've seen people use surplus parachutes.

  • +1 for what @RRRR said about planning. I don't know who said it but its something like "filmmaking is 90% planning, the rest is following through with some improvisation of course" ;)

    +1 for what @brianluce said about sound. Getting good sound is not that costly any more. Don't cover mistakes with music etc... monitor when you record and work to get the mix you want.

    Also, feed your crew. A hungry, tired crew may cost you everything in the end. Pizza delivery gets old, have some friends or moms make some fresh soup/sandwiches each day. Keep water and juices on the set/locations, not just coffee.


  • Having done a few low budget projects and a kickstarter to fund one of them, I have some insight for you.

    I didn't care for kickstarter much. They took a huge percentage out of our money and then forced us to use paypal to receive it, which also took a huge chunk. They weren't very forthcoming with this information in the beginning. Make sure you read the superfine print 10 times.

    As for the budget, use it for your set, wardrobe, etc. It's no use trying to get the best picture or lighting if your set looks fake or doesn't work for your scene. Use some of it for craft services for sure, but one thing we found was to buy good foods, not junk food. Junk food slows people down and makes them tired which just makes the shoot go behind schedule and makes the days a lot longer. Don't buy things you don't need or won't consume. You'd think this is common sense but there are a lot of things that you think you need but will never use. For each person it's different, but make a list and really think hard about what you can cut. We begged, borrowed and called in favors for a lot of stuff which saved a ton of money. Also, when trying to find favors or help, NEVER promise percentage of profits or part ownership or anything like that. It's just not acceptable to lead people on like that.

    Find more than enough people to help out. You'll want more than enough because a lot of people flake out the day of shooting, have emergencies, get lost, etc. Find runners, grips, whatever. Most people don't really need to know much, you can instruct them on the fly. One thing that is imperative is either find a single person that is absolutely reliable or be that person for someone else. You'll end up leaning on each other a lot more than you can imagine. You'll also be sure to work together in the future.

    As for shooting, make sure you have backup batteries and also backup AC power for the camera. You'd think that you'll turn the camera off and conserve battery and that another battery will charge while you use one, but it doesn't actually work out that way, you'll get off task, you'll waste time, you'll reshoot scenes until that battery is dead a lot faster than you imagined, and usually before the other battery is charged.

    Lighting, try to use the sun as much as possible. Get a stack of white foam core boards and paint one side of them silver. Get a big bead board too. Sometimes you can get this foam in the insulation aisle of Lowes or Home Depot. Get double screening from the screen aisle too, this works well in place of scrim. You can get white rip-stop nylon from a fabric store, sew together a bunch of sections to make a big diffusion panel that you can hold over your talent to knock a lot of the sun down for a much cleaner shot.

    Always have a rain plan, especially if you are shooting outside. Extra tarps, evacuation plans, etc.

    And the #1 rule, plan a lot more time than you actually think you'll need. Most people try to cut the schedules really close to save time and money, but I can guarantee you that you'll need 25-40% more time than you think. You'll change your mind, the weather won't cooperate, something will break, people will be lazy, etc.

  • i don't know if this is the right place to post this but i have embarked on a similar project, in terms of using a similar crowd funding, kickstarter campaign in oder to fund a feature film project i have written. just wondered if you guys would give the very first teaser work a look over and see if it interests you enough in this kind of funding environment. looking for criticism , advice , anything. the film is about a boy suffereing from mental depression after an accident he was involved in leads to the death of his brother. and how he trys to escape it all by running from london to his idea of a simpler life in southern spain.

    heres a clip: all oppinions welcome !

  • I second the comments concerning sound and lighting. Poor sound is too often the hallmark of low budget productions when it shouldn't be. I find I can tolerate less than perfect camerawork if the sound is good however there is little more frustrating than witnessing great imagery being let down by crap audio.

  • fortunately for me my partner in crime is a specialist in audio and foley work ... so thats one less thing i have to worry about (he can stress instead)

  • @jakepowell I like it. After reading your description of the film and then watching trailer, I got a good feel for what the film might be, and would definitely be interested in watching this film. Thanks for sharing.

  • You don't say what you hope to do with the finished film, and if making it will be its own reward, don't read any further.

    [On second thought, I've deleted the rest. It's a can of worms best not opened.]

  • @jrd re post it? even if it is i would be interested in hearing it. i would definitely be interested in entering it to festivals and distributing it in some way. probably online distribution. - i confess i have no experience in this, i just think its my ambition and passion to do this properly. by properly i mean it actually becoming business as well as pleasure and creativity. @matt_gh2 thanks for the kind words, please note this is not footage from a film it is very quick tests and not a real trailer by any means . more a mood board. and my way of seeing if i think i can actually be competent enough to produce work that looks and feels authentically cinematic.

  • @jakepowell I'd say you passed the test you set up for yourself. You should definitely proceed with making the film. Have fun and proceed with passion....the quality will continue to flow from you.