No money? No problems: how to create a great film on a micro-budget

 Inspired by the recent rise in successful micro-budget film projects, Television Production student Luc shares his tips to create great films without a big cash budget behind you.

Published: 26/07/2019 12:06

​​​​​​​​​​Written by Luc Brown, 3rd year BA (Hons) Television Production

Great films do not always come from the multi-million dollar budgets that we’ve come to expect. From the biggest blockbusters, to local viral videos, money is not always key to a great success. 

Some of the film and TV classics that we know and love today were created on a ‘micro-budget’. Moonlight ($1.5m), Mad Max ($350,000) and Paranormal Activity ($15,000) were all produced for a relatively small budget and grew hugely popular as they were released. Now we’re seeing local micro-budget productions wow the public and the critics, with films, documentaries and adverts produced by students from the University of Gloucestershire making it big. 

Micro-budget projects can range from a few million to absolutely nothing – so how do you get started when your budget is less than you usually spend on lunch? 

Compared to the biggest cinema blockbusters which can cost upwards of 100 million dollars (Avengers: Endgame reportedly cost some $356m!), creating a masterpiece on a tiny budget can be tricky feat. When it comes to my course, TV Production, it’s all about producing the best content for little to no cost to yourself, and there are ways to get this done. 

I asked around for some tips from the professionals on how you can create the next award-winning project for as little cash as possible, so you can get started on your next project today! 

1. Network as much as possible

Creating a good network of filmmakers that you trust is an important step in planning a micro-budget. Alex Lockwood is a Gloucestershire graduate and recent director of BAFTA ‘Best Short Film’ winner '73 Cows' (2018) – a zero-budget film captured on the kit Alex and team members already had. He kindly answered my emails filled with a ton of questions! 

Alex explained to me that it’s all about offering yourself to as many other projects as possible, so "you can slowly start to build up favours". When you begin to share your talents with the community, people remember your skills and not only ask for your help on their projects but will be open to crewing your own projects. 

As a student on any media course, you have to power, ability and knowledge to lend a hand to other student - and earn some support in return. 

“I ended up trading favors rather than money. It’s a good way to build a full crew with no money”
– Alex 

2. Keeping it simple is key

As you probably already know, the most important part of any film is the story. Often, the best characters and stories come from simple ideas and simple set ups. By keeping the location, crew and props to a minimum, you are able to concentrate on the people, create the best story and keep the budget down at the same time! 

Compromising on something like the props in favour for a simpler, more effective story really works; though only when they aren’t completely necessary! 

Phil Beastall, another Gloucestershire graduate, recently went viral for his tear-jerking Christmas film, ‘Love is a Gift. The film is simple, but focuses on the right elements to ensure it hits a nerve and stays with you long after it ends. 

When talking to The Independent, Phil spokes about how the whole advert was made for £50, and that “you don't always need a huge budget, just an impactful narrative that gets the message across”. 

3. Your development is something to embrace

As up and coming filmmakers, securing funding for a project is increasingly difficult. Due to this, certain elements of a production may not go the way you would have wanted. Alex talked to me about the learning process of a filmmaker not being something to shy away from. Every filmmaker has been through this development and whilst it can be intimidating to release your film to the world, the constructive criticism and areas for improvement are all there so you can improve as a content creator. 

Productions may have gone wrong in the past, some may go wrong in the future, but as long as you take each mistake and find a positive outlook for your next production, student or professional, then you will have made great progress. 

“It’s good to not be too hard on yourself as a developing film maker, trying to be as good as you can is great, but I think too often people put too much pressure on themselves which hinders their progression.”
– Alex 

4. Be organised as early as possible

A micro-budget is also something that can apply to any media production, like a recent event for the university’s Public Lecture Series, which I was a producer on. The ‘An Audience With’ event itself was achieved for nearly no cost, with favours coming in handy and student volunteers crewing and setting up the night. The production took a lot of planning - time to make the calls and choices that lead to a success. Being organised and planning well in advance gives you plenty of chances to cut back on spending. 

The night was a huge success, and mainly thanks to my brilliant team running the show – and their excellent preparation. I was extremely grateful to have a crew that I knew I could trust, and they each saved us cash by planning the steps they needed to take, as well as the equipment and help they needed, well in advance.

5. Don’t dive into filming blind – research the location

Often you’ll find yourself facing difficult choices - ​just five minutes before they have to be made. Having the background knowledge of all the food shops, charity shops, potential back-up locations and pretty much anything you can think of will give you a massive advantage in making this instantaneous decisions. Get yourself a 1st Assistant Director who is able to tell you where the nearest shoe shop is in a heartbeat, you never know when you might need the most random things.

6. Find out which things are almost as valuable as money

As much as it sounds a little obvious, spend the time getting to know what is valuable to your team members or suppliers, and why they want to be a part of your project. Sometimes this is money, but often experience, recognition and exposure are equally important: 

  • Location fees can usually be negotiated if the business is credited and shown off to its best ability. 
  • Your future crew will want to be a part of a successful project, so having a solid narrative with a treatment and a script ready to go gives you the best chance to secure great people. 
  • Up and coming actors need work for their professional showreel, so remember to state in your casting calls that actors can use the material in their show reels.

Just don’t be afraid to ask: the worst that could happen is that you’ll get a “no”, but you’ll probably move on and find the next best thing (or even something better)! 

You've got this!​

All of these hints and tips should help you get the ball rolling in your next great idea; I know that they have all helped me in my industry experience so far! 

Remember the old saying, ‘time is money’? Well, a well-researched and organised production, with a diverse crew of many talents, can mean *less* money well spent, and more time well used. 


 

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about the author

Luc Brown

Luc is president of the Television Society and a member of the athletics clubs - and he's thinking about joining trampolining next year too! 

When we asked him about his favourite places around town, he told us he loved climbing up Cleeve Hill and hanging out at the Sandford Lido in the sunshine.