Make Your Film: Part 1

Zero Budget Filmmaking

Elliot Grove, Founder of Raindance Film Festival, offers Ten Ways to help you Make Compelling Content.

Valentine’s Day 2005 was a key date in the history of the movie business, Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim registered The movie business and film distribution, have not been the same since. Digital technology has made it possible for films to be shot and edited for miniscule budgets. Entire feature length films can be made for the cost of the catering budget in a traditionally funded and produced industry movie. What are the opportunities in this new world of movies? Firstly, independent filmmakers can make films more cost effectively than the majors. Secondly, because budgets are modest, independent filmmakers can afford to make a movie that fails (unlike the majors). Finally, in this brave new movie world, everyone wants in – studios, websites, traditional TV, gamers, app builders, big banks, and big brands. The studios and distributors, websites and television broadcasters all have the hardware to play movies. What they lack is the software – the movies. If you are able to make good content, you will make money. Let me show you 10 ways to make compelling content for next to nothing.

1. The Story is Everything
Nothing glues you to the screen more than a good story. If the story is there, does anyone care about the budget? Screenplays have four main elements: Firstly, the characters must have a specific goal that can be measured. If your character’s goal is to move out of London – this is a weak goal. We all want to leave London. It’s dirty, expensive and increasingly dangerous, but if your character’s goal is to leave London by noon tomorrow or else…that’s easily measured. Secondly, your story must have a setting, it can be usual or unusual. Thirdly, there are the actions of the main characters and the dialogue. A good storyteller weaves these four elements together so the seams do not show.

2. Location Location Location
There are two expensive components to a film shoot. Image capture (camera) and the locations. Moving a cast and crew is time consuming, and expensive, regardless of your budget. If you can reduce or eliminate the amount of location moves, then you are closer to reducing your budget. Locations in this scenario have a massive impact on the script. Look at some of the most interesting films over the last few decades: Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, Kevin Smith’s Clerks, and Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It. They all have one thing in common: limited locations. The trick, it seems, is to take a bunch of actors to a limited location and chop them up. Turn your limited location script (which is essentially a stage play) into a movie successfully, and you will have what the moguls in Hollywood call, talent.

3. Image Capture
Choosing the camera that suits your script and budget is simpler than ever. Two elements of any digital camera to look out for are compression and lenses. Image quality is influenced by the lenses and the number of pixels per frame (compression). The ultimate no budget camera trick is to use a little known fact of British law. The UK is covered in security cameras, and by law, if you suffer a crime, the police will request a copy of the tape from the camera owner. Race the CCTV cameras in your neighbourhood, write a screenplay, re-enact a series of “crimes” and presto – you will have your movie shot – for absolutely nothing.

4. Sound
It isn’t the look of skin on skin that turns you on in a sex scene, it’s the sound. Professional filmmakers spend much of their time considering and creating the sounds that go with their pictures. Our brains are wired in such a way that when we strain to hear what the actors are saying, the picture goes dim. Good clean sound with interesting effects is the quickest way to make your images, even those shot on your mother’s humble video camera look great.

5. The Bucks are in the Music
A fact of film revenue and distribution is that the main income streams are from the soundtracks. This is because the musicians’ unions are much stronger than the actors, writers and film unions. After your film leaves the cinema (if it was lucky to get there in the first place) the main revenue stream a movie generates is for the mechanical copyright royalties for the soundtrack. However, explaining music copyright law falls outside this short article, but briefly, filmmakers can get cheap free scores by composing and performing it themselves. Remember that there are three music copyright streams: compos­ers, lyricists and performers. Get an unsigned band to perform, or acquire the movie rights to an existing band by contacting their agent or estate if deceased. Research the track you are interested in through

6. Get Organised
Nothing is more disheartening than showing up to help out on a mate’s shoot only to spend an hour looking for a screwdriver. Disorganisation is totally unforgivable and easily preventable by advance planning. Make sure you know where everything is, and everybody shows up at the right place at the right time. If this is not within your organisational ability, partner with someone who can do this.

7. Your Friends Cannot Act
It is always tempting to get a few friends together to make a movie, but this usually leads to peril because your friends are not trained actors. They may have spent hours with a video camera in front of the mirror, but they won’t know how to act in front of a camera on a set. When your friends think they are acting well, you’ll probably be so shocked at their hammy performances that you’ll be unable to direct them without the risk of destroying your personal relationship. It’s better to advertise for actors / collaborators at local theatres and acting schools, and hold rigorous auditions. If you have a suitable script and some money, approach a casting agent who will then pimp your script and project to established actors who might be willing to do it for nothing if they like the script, their role, and have been offered a suitable cut of the profits.

8. Build a Following
In the good old days (pre-Valentine’s Day 2005) filmmakers would submit to film festivals and tour, building hype along the way until they received sufficient distribution offers to finance the next project. By making and touring films, a filmmaker could build a loyal fan base, which would guarantee them and their producers a predictable revenue stream. The explosion of social media has changed the landscape and created two types of filmmakers: those who loathe social media, and those who embrace it. Contemporary filmmakers can use social media to create a following, people who are eager to sample and appreciate their latest work. Astute filmmakers employ two producers: one who deals with the traditional production workflow, and one who deals with social media – registering domain names, Facebook and Twitter accounts.

9. Are You a Filmmaker, a Content Provider or a Communicator?
Whatever your goals are, remember that you need to decide what it is you are doing. There are filmmakers who make films and hope to cruise the festival route until they are discovered and become festival darlings. Content providers deliver movies at a price per minute. Communicators are filmmakers and content providers who have something to say using the power of moving images with excellent sound, well crafted stories and good soundtracks. Communicators will also consider a host of different mediums including short two to three minute episodes for mobiles (mobisodes) or the internet (webisodes). Gaming and phone apps are also providing interesting storytelling possibilities.

10. There’s No Such Thing as Luck
I believe that luck is earned through a combination of hard work and karma, if you maintain integrity and passion, success will surely visit you. Nothing is as powerful as a good movie. By using the medium of cinema you can influence and change lives. It’s people like you that can make a difference and make this world a better place.