Chronicles of a Fledgling Filmmaker: Simple Inspiration and Filmmaking on a Shoestring Budget

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You can absolutely make a successful film with almost no budget.

Here is a true statement to start us off: You can absolutely make a successful film with almost no budget.

Yes, you’ve all probably heard that before, but I don’t hear of a lot of people who believe it. I remember being involved with a little company when I first started dabbling as a PA, and while it started out really great, somehow our crew dwindled down further and further until it was just me and the head of the production company left standing. I stuck with him, helping him develop concepts for a director for a music video shoot, scouting locations, working on some commercial shooting, but mostly writing out plot ideas for what would’ve been a whole universe of interlocking web series'. We had some very good material, unique stories that could all be watched separately but all intertwined in much the same way as the Marvel Cinematic Universe connects all of their material. Everything was all laid out for how we could go about filming this project, but we kept running into one little snag: money. 

Or, at least it was a major snag for the company head. When we were writing, we were creating stories that really wouldn’t cost too entirely much in the grand scheme of things. Instead of just jumping ahead and deciding to get the ball rolling, however, he kept insisting that we had to do all these side projects (most of which were never finished) in order to earn money for the big project. I realized after awhile that I was never actually going to get anywhere if I stuck with him, so while I appreciate all that he taught me in regards to operating a camera, and for the connections he hooked me up with, I wasn’t down with the not doing anything due to lack of funds. So, we parted ways, and it wasn’t long after that I hooked up with another company, did some writing with them, and then hit the same roadblock. It was frustrating, and I didn’t get it. I still don’t.

Guys. Money is a big part of filmmaking, but it’s not everything. You don’t have to win the lottery to make a good film. I mean, look at how popular all the big YouTube stars are, and most of them started by talking into their laptops cams. There are kids running around out there making things like “How To” videos with tips in how to create special effects, and these guys are still in middle school (and, yes, I learn from them because several of them give good advice and know their shit - who better than to make a video on how to do basic gunshot effects for no money than a kid who literally has no money?). If a kid can figure this out and make it look good, there’s no reason that adults can’t do the same.

Then there are the bigger players.

One of my first major inspirations in regards to making indie film is a company called Keychain Productions. For anyone who’s familiar with the UK’s Primeval, you’d recognize one of the founders of Keychain as Andrew Lee Potts, who played the quirky genius Connor Temple in the series. Now you might think, “Well, he’s an actor, of course he has the money to make whatever he wants.” Not with Keychain. His goal was to create good film on very little budget, succeeded in producing several of their first shorts for under $1k, shorts that went on to win awards at festivals. Little Larry was the film that introduced me to Keychain, and I’ve been a fan and avid follower ever since. Right now they’re doing a web series called Wireless that involves using stock footage and a camera mounted to a car’s dashboard, and it’s amazing. I’d say they’re my biggest inspiration when it comes to what I personally hope to achieve with my own limited source of funds. 

I was also delighted to discover more recently that music videos that have no direction or special effects at all are doing rather well for artists in Korea. I’ve become an embarrassingly hardcore k-pop fan over the past several weeks, and have since learned that it isn’t the fancy music videos that make these groups so popular. It’s the group member appearances on personal livestream videos (one popular group called BTS has over two million followers on their channel) and just running around with the cameras to make their own music videos that get the fan attention (outside of their talent, of course). Monsta X, a group that’s only a year old, has risen drastically in popularity by doing exactly this, and while their big budget music videos are definitely appealing, I’m more enamored with ones like “Gone Bad,” where you get a glimpse of the members’ actual personalities. That video basically sent a happy-squeal shockwave through the fanbase and had viewers begging to see more. All it is, literally, is a collection of clips of the boys singing their song, doing whatever they want on a camera placed in their hands. Most of these videos are even shot on cell phones! So, yeah millions of fans spawned from the members just being themselves on handheld cameras and publicizing that. Zero budget involved.

My film? No, I didn’t make it under the $1k budget, as I had to rent a cabin and hire a few people and buy some things for set design and props, but I did probably make the film for a lot cheaper than people would probably think possible for what it is. As I was watching the clips (while I was editing because I was good girl and started it up again like I promised!), I realized that I don’t know what I was so afraid of. It’s good material, and considering how little I actually spent in the long run on production costs, I’m pretty proud of how it looks.

The moral - if you’re worried about costs and that’s the one thing that’s holding you back, stop it. Use your crowdfunding sites to get your feet off the ground, pull some sneaky guerrilla-style shooting when you have to, get your friends involved to help out when you can’t hire professionals, and just make something. The more exposure you have, the better; then when you’re more popular, people will be more willing to donate funds to your future projects. Just think smart, figure out what’s in the realm of your personal budget just in case you wind up having to fund it all yourself, and go for it. If the simple videos are working without flopping for actual production studios, they can work just as well for you while you’re starting out. Just do it. You’d be surprised what you can make with virtually nothing.