Creating a High Quality Film on a Low Budget

There is no shortage of advice for up and coming filmmakers. The question for any new film producer is: which advice to follow?

The answer? All of it. The often quoted advertising guru, John Wanamaker, said, "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don't know which half." This advice is applicable for almost any adventure.

When building a structure for producing a film can be a conundrum for even the most seasoned film maker.

As a small budget is an issue, it can take some finesse in sorting it out. Too often there may be just enough money for the "must haves," but not a lot left over for the "would like to haves."

Where to begin

It is important to step back and look at the overall design of the project. Separate out what you need for the best possible outcome. From there you can build on the various departments and see how many hats one can wear.

The following are eight tips are among the many for putting together a great film on a low budget:

1. What is the story? Many films begin with a random thought or scribbled note or cocktail napkin. Without it, nothing matters. Even a $50 million dollar film suffers due to lack of a strong narrative. Wiz bang technology is a poor substitute for a flat script. The production value does not negate the importance of the story which should be the primary focus. JMC Academy advises filmmakers to write a script that can be realistically made on a budget. Too much ambition could sink an otherwise well crafted project.

2. Production skills. Poor production will sink the film if it looks amateurish. You don't need top of the line equipment to produce a quality project. The test of your skill will be in the making of a low budget film that doesn't look it was shot on a shoestring. The advances in film technology can make all the difference.

Skills in mastering the production value are key. Working with a small budget today doesn't mean you can't get any professional visuals. Take advantage of new digital technologies that are cost effective. It is now possible for films makers to shoot and edit a film using the latest in digital equipment for a low cost.

3. Location. Locations can cost a lot of your budget, but it doesn't have to.

• You have the vision of what you want your film to express. Take your time to find just the right location. There may be some trials in terms of getting permission for some public places or interior of a business.

• Mark out as few locations as you need to make your film interesting.

• Try shooting during the day when a store or office is open instead of paying to keep it open for your shoot. Be sure you don't cause any problems or interfere with operations.

• Take advantage of city shots to add dimension to the film.

4. Equipment. Get a hold of the best equipment you can afford. Buy if necessary, borrowing is better or rent if you need to. Be sure you have a steady hand. It's best if you put a camera on a dolly or a steady cam. Try doing overhead shots. It can mask that you don't have a crane.

5. Lighting & Sound. Nothing screams louder of a poorly produced indie film than bad audio and lighting. Unfortunately, too many film makers on a low budget sacrifice light and sound for other elements. Background noise and poorly lit scenes take away of the all-important story lines.

6. Casting. Don't be shy about asking actors to climb on board with your "lower" budget film. You might be surprised that they see your film as a way to break out for some skills they want to master. If you don't have the connections to the big names, don't sacrifice the film for less-than-famous actors. Set up a casting call and spend a few days auditioning actors that are willing to work within your budget or for free.

7. Budget Reality Check: Be sure everyone on the team is aware of the budget. Are they willing to double up at the motel? Can they afford to work for less? Nothing is more uncomfortable than a crew member who didn't factor in the time and fee adequately. It only takes one person to cast a pall on the film because they didn't realize the impact on their time commitment and the finances.

8. Designing the Shot. How you design your shots is not a budget issue, but an artistic one that will make a major difference in the quality of the film. It's something you learned in film school, but may not think about in the adrenaline rush of producing your own project: The Fibonacci rule of thirds. These rules and an artistic eye make the difference in a well-crafted film and one that appears slapped together without thought to the balance of a scene.

When the pieces and parts have been collected, think big. Don't let your low budget film dictate how you see the project. Low budget doesn't have to mean low quality or diminished investment.