Making a film without any money

One of the things that surprises most people when they meet me, I’ve made two documentaries – at that it seems that I have no money. I can see their faces and hear the wheels turning in their head wondering how did I make anything when it seems as if I can’t even afford a new wardrobe?

For the most part they’re right, I can’t afford a new wardrobe…yet. But that shouldn’t take away from the fact that making a film with good content doesn’t require that much of a budget if we’re talking about documentaries, or short films, or even films shot with your smart phone. I’m far from the only person who has worked with what I call a sugar-string budget (I’ll explain this term further into the post) here is a list on Flavorwire on the 10-most iconic films that were made with very little budget and managed to become cult favorites.


However, before you navigate away from my page to check out the list, I’d like to share my experiences with filmmaking on a $0 – $1,000 budget.

  1. Plan your story
    • If you don’t have a script because it’s something you’ve just come up with, don’t worry, always plan what the scene is going to look like and grab your actors (mostly friends that are more than willing to do this for free and have fun with you) and tell them about it. They’ll enjoy the day out and get the takes as you planned them out in your head.
    • If it’s a documentary that you want to make, don’t fret. From my experience it’s hard to get backing from a production company for a documentary that’s either not made or currently in production. So, while you’re doing your research, see what equipment you have and how you can work with it. Example: I have a Canon T3 Rebel and basic recording equipment for audio (an Olympus recorder) the edition of the Rebel camera that I have cannot connect a microphone without an adapter so what I do is lay over the external audio to the camera audio (a tedious task I may add) but in the end, after the extreme attention to detail and voice echo – it comes out very well. If your documentary topic requires you to travel outside the country but you can’t because you have no money? There are many technological advances that can help you record online “conferences” and download them to your hard drive so you can later edit them into your film (i.e. Google+ Hangouts, Skype, Blab, etc.) check to see what works best for you and use it – of course you must give credit where credit is due and make sure to state that one of these applications was used in the making of your film.
  2. Free editing tutorials and low cost editing software
    • You haven’t gone to film school and don’t know squat about how to edit footage? Don’t worry! There are tons of tutorials online that can help you with that. The most affordable editing software are listed here – however, my favorite are the Sony Creative Software, because they’re user friendly and the movie studio can also be used to render both MP3 and MP4’s – so that’s pretty badass I think. The basic Movie Studio 13 runs for about $50 and it’s really good to use for introduction projects like short films, documentaries, digital poems and such.
  3. Still afraid of your lack of money?
    • There is a term for low budget in the industry “shoe string budget.” I however, have coined a new term that I like to call a “sugar string budget” the budget that is so fragile and so thin that if water falls on it – it’s gone. Still, I haven’t let that stop me before. My documentaries were made with basically no money. I spent money on travel, food, some additional equipment and even though I sought funding to be able to travel to certain countries to be able to make Forced into Silence I didn’t get it. Still, I worked out how I could make the movie happen because it was such an important message that needed to be told. My next project is also being worked as a solely independent film – that most likely will have no budget in its making either.
    • If you want to make a short film or a feature film and need some capital, reach out to your friends, loved ones and tell them about the project, show them what you’re planning on making and work with them an “Executive Producer” title (with no creative rights) on the project. It also works to give them perks like VIP status on special events (i.e. private screenings, film festival screenings, etc.) as well as copies of the movie and posters. After all, they did help you make your film and that’s a great way to thank them for helping you. It also works if you agree to pay them back if you release your film on a paid streaming platform such as Vimeo on demand, Amazon, some YouTube portals, etc. make sure to get all this on paper though – usually entertainment lawyers are understandable when it comes to one being a first time filmmaker and not knowing your 1st Director from your 2nd or your Production Assistants from your Production Associates.

To end the list, I have to say that keeping movie making local as an up and coming filmmaker is easier for me and my bank account. So check with your cities, bureaus or municipalities about permits; some places have filming fees, but most don’t unless it’s a big-budget production. While others just require a permit to ensure safety of those involved in the filming – basically a document that says they knew you were filming there and that you were aware of the risks, if any, of filming on a certain place. It’s also a way to respect the authorities and will help you later on down the line when acquiring permits for your big budget projects.

Also, Raindance has these great webinars that you can stream to learn more about making your film happen with lo-to-no-budget, which you can check out here.

Well, that’s all the advice I have for now – don’t forget to share the post and follow me on Twitter @LaShawnPagan


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