Knowing how to make movies without money is the key to your freedom
Most of us are less concerned with the question of how to make movies, and more concerned with how to find money to make those movies.
While most writers (myself among them) will tell you that their script isn’t finished because they have no time, most filmmakers (myself included) will tell you that they haven’t made a film because they have no money.
Removing money from the equation is not only the key to your creative kingdom, it’s also the smartest move when it comes to gaining skills and experience that we need.
Making several no-budget movies will prepare you to create your best work.
Your first film isn’t gonna be that good. It’s certainly not gonna be as good as the ones you’ll make later. If your first movie is unwatchable, welcome to the club. First several films are unwatchable? Umm… welcome to the club.
Be wise and take my advice: make $6 the budget of the first film that you create. Do it for fun rather than to impress, and you’ll be well on your way to having just as much fun making all the fancy films that you’ll be making down the road.
If you really insist, make your movie for under $600. But that’s tops.
Save the thousands (or millions!) of dollars for after you’ve done a lot of work and are ready to create your professional calling card.
Take the time that you need to learn how to tell stories visually, how to work with actors, and how to set up shots. Be sure to edit what you shoot because nothing will teach you more about directing than editing your own work.
A $3-million dollar movie can look like a badly made home video.
My friend, a professional AD, worked on a 3-million-dollar movie that looks like a bad student film. (Not even a good student film!)
The guy who directed it had his own money to spend, but he hadn’t put the time in to develop his chops. No amount of money will make up for lack of skill and experience.
Don’t be that guy. Develop your skills having a blast with your friends as you make $6 movies. Lots of them!
HAVE YOU MADE MOVIES WITH $6 OR LESS?
SHARE A LINK TO IT IN THE COMMENTS BELOW.
I’ll watch it and comment!
I’m adding $6 movies to the bottom of this post.
I’m leaving mine there for inspiration, but my hope is that you watch these and go: pff, I could do better. And then do better.
Ok, the $6 movie. Here’s the recipe:
How to make movies with $6 or less, the recipe:
A producing partner
Don’t leave home without it. Your first step in getting a film made is getting a friend who will do it with you. This can be a friend who is interested in doing some aspect of the work that you’re less keen on: a writer, an actor, a director.
If you want to do all those things, you can still find a co-producer who will just want to co-produce. Probably best place to find it is among the people you know. Call up your cousin Linda who never made a movie either and have fun making thousands of mistakes together.
You could also try finding your partner in crime at a local facebook group for filmmakers. But key point is: don’t do anything else until you found that person.
If you have a partner, you won’t get stuck. You’ll keep going despite all obstacles. Without a partner, even the stupidest little thing will feel insurmountable and you’ll be throwing in the towel before you finish reading this article.
If you’re working with a script, make it under 10 pages and and have it take place in one or two locations that you have easy access to.
That said, a script isn’t necessary. You can just write the essence of the story and then let your actors improvise it. The Game of the Name, at the bottom of this page, is an example of it.
Don’t wait for the best short script ever. Please don’t be brilliant. Forget being original. Definitely don’t be a trailblazer. For sure don’t be heart-wrenching. Don’t be anything spectacular. Seriously. The effort to be brilliant is the fastest road to nowhere.
Be yourself. Have fun. This is a $6 short. You’ll make more of them. The brilliance will come from practice and experience, and from you being yourself and having fun with your producing partner.
Remember that flowers grow from poop. Go make poop. Just don’t spend more than $6 on poop.
Call on your actor friends, or turn your friends into actors – the ones you think could pull it off. If you never made a film before, I strongly recommend starting with one that has only two actors in it.
You could put a posting in Backstage or Actors Access, one of those, but if the posting costs $60 then you’re $54 dollars over budget. Let’s not get crazy. The advantage to actor friends is that you don’t need to hold auditions. (I know auditions can be fun, but they’re not fun for the actors ya’ll. They’re a lot of work.)
If you don’t have actor friends and you want to be making movies, it’s time to put that task on your to-do list. Join a local acting class or directing workshop and start getting to know these crazy people. They’re fun as hell and you want to be friends with them. They’re also likely to be keen on being your producing partner, if you write their dream roles! I’m being serious.
Your $6 short is a one-day shoot. Pick a Saturday or Sunday. Decide who in your team is indispensable to you. This will likely be your producing partner (or your lead actor, if your producing partner is both.) Set a date that would work for both of you and etch it in stone. If anyone else can’t make that date, they get replaced. Stick to your date or it’ll become a moving target.
Everybody and their mother has a camera. Borrow one, or find a shooter looking to test their camera and show it off. Or use your phone camera Why not.
Watch what Kathryn Bigelow creates using the iPhone13 Pro.
Do you need to go buy an iPhone13 before you shoot something?
That’s not within your $6 budget. Whatever camera phone you have can capture a riveting story!
LIGHTING & GRIP EQUIPMENT
Just kidding. If you’re making a $6 short you won’t be using grip or lighting equipment because you don’t have the budget for the parking tickets that this kind of gear seems to require. Shoot during the day. Your lighting equipment is the sun!
You don’t have to shoot in just one location on a $6 budget. You can film in your mom’s apartment, the park, the deli, whatever. Since your crew is teeny-tiny, you are mobile. Just don’t go crazy ok? Two or max three locations that are no more than a half hour apart from each other.
SETS, PROPS, COSTUMES
There was this movement of filmmakers called Dogme that insisted on creating films shot with available lighting only (no gear!) and where all props and sets had to be found objects that already exist at the location. I mean, if you’re the creative type, and obviously you are, how fun is that? If you must: then favors, barters, on-loan, whatever.
Your film should be contemporary and your actors should be grabbing stuff from their own closets, or their friends’ closets, and come to the set wearing what the character would wear cause you don’t have the budget for “holding”. (“Holding” is a space where actors can rest, eat, get changed, etc. If you wanna sound all profesh, use the word “holding” in a sentence when discussing locations and people will be super impressed. Also use the word “locations.”)
If you wanna get into it, tell your actors to bring a duffel bag with a few different choices so you can pick and choose, but ask them if they’re cool to change outfits in the car.
the Sound conundrum
Ok, so sound is a can of worms but we gotta open that can. So here goes:
If you wanna up your budget from $6 to $260, then spend those $260 on a sound person but only if they offer to bring their gear with them at no additional cost. Package deal yo. It might take some time and legwork to find someone who knows what they’re doing for that rate, but if they like you and they’re free that day they might hook you up. (Hello facebook groups for local filmmakers.)
When it comes to on-location sound recording, reels are useless because sounds get fixed up in post-production so you’ll have no idea what they actually recorded. The only way to choose a sound person is by recommendations or references.
Two things that I’ve done with my $6 movies to deal with the sound. If you scroll below you’ll see an example of each:
Sound hack 1: Use the camera mic but shoot only indoors and not from too far away.
You’ll see an example of that below. It won’t get an Oscar for sound design, but it works well enough to tell the story. Using the camera mic outdoors is gonna be a festival of hissssss.
Sound hack 2: Make a silent movie and lay in music later.
The still above is from one of my $6 movies titled Clamor: A Silent Film About Making Noise. This was the story of a magic guitar and its goofy owner, and all of it happened to music.
Don’t snub shorts made without dialogue and entirely to music. Charlie Chaplin made hundreds of them and he’s way famous.
Confession: This $6 movie cost me $600. So yeah… That happens. Another confession: I never finished it. So yeah… that also happens. Hence my recommendation that your first film not be made for thousands of dollars or more. I’m ok blowing $600 on an amazing learning experience that will prepare me well for my professional stuff (which it did), plus I got a cool movie still out of it, so that’s not nothing.
I have an example of the “silent film” method below as well. That one was produced for $0 so there. I redeem myself by coming in at $6 under budget!
Any filmmakers out there wanna chime in with sound hacks that you’ve tried and would fit on a $6 budget? Leave your comments below to let me/us know, thanks!
You or your co-producer will operate the camera and make sure the mic on the camera is on. That’s all you need.
Ok fine, that one friend who really wants to help out can come too.
FOOD AND TRANSPORTATION
…are not in your budget. Everyone transports and feeds themselves. You all benefit by contributing just a little, and getting the experience and the film credit.
If you wanna up your budget to $26 you can include a pizza.
insurance and legal fees
Cue eye roll and read on.
It’s good practice to cut your own first several shorts. Or better yet, cut it with your producing partner. I use Premiere.
When the film is done, post it on youtube, and share it with everyone you know.
If the film is unwatchable, have a fun laugh with your producing partner as you discuss the date of your next shoot.
Unless you have some experience and know what you’re doing, don’t waste your money sending a $6 short to big name festivals where submissions are expensive. Remember: small, local, unpretentious. Deal? Deal.
Take ONE WEEK to make your $6 short from beginning to end.
If it’s your very very very first time making a film, I give you four weeks – MAX. Three of them should be spent editing. If you don’t finish it in four weeks then you have the wrong producing partner, or you took my advice too lightly and proceeded to do this without a partner. Ouchies!
Oh yeah: six DOLLARS
What do you need $6 dollars for? I have no idea. Maybe you need a coffee cup as a prop?
YOU’RE GOOD TO GO!
Filmmaking is like cooking or plumbing: the more you do it, the better you get at it. Remember that having fun and doing your best go hand-in-hand. There’s just nothing more fun than doing your absolute best.
You can, and should take, your work seriously, even if you’re making a $6 short. Fun stuff is serious business. Anything important ever made, was made joyfully.
Developing your techniques, as a writer, as a director learning to work with actors, and even in working with a camera, can be mastered with four-dollar films. You don’t need to lay down a fancy dolly track to see what kinds of possibilities open up as you move a camera across the set rather than keeping it stationary. I’ve seen my DP lay out wax paper on a table, place his camera on a stack of books, and then slide that thing across the table for that amazing looking dolly shot.
The beauty of $6 shorts is that the stakes are low and you can experiment and learn, learn, learn. There is SO much to learn!
Make several $6 short films until you feel ready to turn to relatives and friends, raise $6,000, and invest in your calling card.
If you want to make movies, you don’t need to be a slave to money.
Your greatest asset, your only real asset, are the friendships you build with other people who want to make movies too.
See you at the movies! Ela
Not to brag but My $6 movies below had a budget of $0
Evan goes dancing
This one is a memoir piece about my marriage. Evan might disagree with my perspective on it but hey, he’s not here to say so. The power of being a filmmaker…
The game of the name
I made this one for all immigrants and everyone in my family. This is our life at literally every single social gathering. Not that I’m complaining. Ok… maybe I’m a little bit complaining 😉
Watch more of my films here; ones I’ve made with more than $6 (though not much more…)
Post links to your $6 movies in the comments below.
I’d love to watch! 🍿❤️