Yup, you read me right. It is possible to make a film without spending a dollar. Before you jump up and down and scream “This is the answer I’ve been looking for!” Be warned. It takes A LOT of creativity.
This is for the independent filmmaker, who has poured all their heart and soul into a project but can’t find a studio to back it financially. This isn’t about how to get free stuff, but rather, how to shoot your passion project and use the resources at your disposal. This takes hard work, but it also requires a humility of spirit, because you are definitely going to need to humble yourself to ask for help.
If you’re still keen to push forward, then let’s get started.
Choose Your Story Wisely
The best way to make a film without spending a dollar, is to make sure your story is simple. Think KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid. How, you ask? Take a look:
- Set the story in as few locations as possible: If you can manage to create a compelling story set in one place, perfect. This will keep petrol costs to a minimum and will mean you only have to search for one free location verses a bunch. Think of places you already have full access too (eg. A friend’s house, family owned resturant, etc.).
- Keep the characters to a minumum: The fewer actors you have on set, the more you can keep wardrobe costs down, among other cast expenses.
- Simplify the logistics: For example, if there’s a specific prop you need, make it something that will be easy to access, or something you know one of your friends has and would be willing to lend you for the film. This goes with make-up too. If for example, you create a character who dies a horrific death, you need to keep in mind ALL the logistics of what that will entail. Put on your producer’s hat and run a fine-toothed comb through the story, weeding out anything that’s just fluff, or will cost the production big bucks. Your story doesn’t have to suffer in the trim down, in fact, if you’re really putting in the hard work, it could come out even better.
Use Your Friends Wisely
Probably the most influental tool you have is the help of your friends and family. These guys are your life support so help them, help you. The more passion you show for your project, the more they’ll want to do what they can to help.
- Get your aunt to bake goodies for the craft service table: The first independent feature I worked on, we did this. I asked friends and family if they’d bake us something and it was surprising how much it kept the cost down. By the way, we had awesome snacks.
- Get your mom to make a meal: Another way to keep costs down is to ask your friends and family to volunteer making a meal. Creating a roster of people who are willing to donate a meal is a huge benefit and an easy way for friends and family to be a part of the team, even if they don’t understand all that “film stuff”.
- Ask your rich uncle to donate money: OK, maybe you don’t have a rich uncle, and I’m not really promoting you badger people who are rich, but rather to recognize another asset for independent film – crowd-funding. Set up a campaign where you can invite your friends to donate a few bucks to your project. There are several sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo that many filmmakers use to get their stories told. Personally, two feature films I’ve worked on have used Indiegogo campaigns to raise everything we needed and it was really encouraging to see how many people wanted to be a part of our adventure. Be sure to create unique perks for your sponsors too, to thank them for their support. One great perk is a Facetime chat from set. It takes work to run a campaign, but the more effort you put into it, the more you’ll raise.
Cast Your Film Wisely
Cast can make or break your film. So, cast the ones who are going to help you. Here’s some things I look for:
- As a Casting Director, one of the things I look for most out of an actors audition is “Are they going to be easy to work with?” If they’re relaxed and friendly during the audition process, easy to communicate with – both during the audition and answering emails quickly and clearly, then that’s a big point in their favor. I’ll explore why this is important in the next few points.
- Ask your cast to bring their own wardrobe. Especially if you’re referring to your film as a passion project. If you’ve cast people who are friendly and helpful, they’re more likely to do this, and remember to bring their wardrobe to set.
- Ask your cast to donate their creative equity. In other words, find actors who are willing to give their best performance for free. Ask them to donate their creativity to the project. Over the years, I’ve worked with some incredible actors who have been more than happy to work for free. It can be a big ask, but you’re also doing them a solid by giving them the opportunity to be in a feature film. It looks good on an actor’s resume to have been in a feature film.
Shoot Your Film Wisely
One minute in pre-production can save you hours in post AND save you hundreds of dollars. What tends to cost the most are the things that weren’t planned out well. To avoid this, plan everything down to the detail.
- Locations. Locations. Locations: If you’ve already taken my advice to shoot your film in as few locations as possible, well done. The next step is finding the perfect location that will sell your story. When approaching different locations, go out of the way to talk about how everyone is working for free, because they believe in the story. Be brave and polite when asking if you can shoot on someone’s property for free. You’ll be surprised how many are willing to say yes, especially if you are treating them with respect.
- Ask film students to join your crew: Film students are eager to make their break in this competitive industry. If you create a place for them to be part of your project in a real role, verses having them sign up as PA’s, you’ll find a lot of people eager to work with you and give you their best.
- Apply for grants: There are a lot out there to help filmmakers. You may discover you don’t fit all of them and that’s ok. Don’t change your story to fit the requirements, but instead look for ones that fit your project. Does your story have a unique hook that will raise awareness about something? Look for companies doing the same thing, and ask if they’ll consider being a sponsor of the film.
- DIY special effects: There are so many resources out there now to create your own special effects equipment. For The Initiative Production Company’s first film, The Umbrella, we had to find a cheap way to create rain, as a lot of the story took place in it. We didn’t have the budget to buy rain rigs, so instead, we took some initiative and built our own. This doesn’t just apply to special effects. Where you can, DIY it. Make your own apple boxes, camera rigs, etc.
There is so much you can do to make your film without spending a dollar. These are only a few options at your disposal.
The biggest advice I can give you, is to work with a good team. Find friends as crazy as you, who love film at its most basic. The more dedicated people you’ve got on your side, the better chance you’ll have at making your film without spending a dollar.
Remember, every volunteer you get, whether they’re volunteering to crew with you, be part of your cast, or just a good friend who knows how to make yummy things, be sure to thank them for helping out. They are making incredible investments in your project and that definitely deserves a standing ovation.
With that being said, the more you invest into your project the better. Set the example for others to follow. Even if all you can afford is to give a dollar toward your project, it’ll pay off in the long run because people will see your sacrifice and want to be a part of it. Don’t let closed doors and obstacles stop you. See it from the perspective of the adventure it is and finish strong.
If you have any questions or want more of this kind of article, sound off in the comments below for specific advice you want.
Good luck and have fun!