Directing Micro-Budget Films

Making videos is expensive. Making feature-length films is astronomically more expensive. When we typically think of a ‘low-budget’ film, costs range somewhere around the lower millions. Even with the classification of ‘micro-budget’, that figure still graces the ten-to-hundred-thousands. By comparison to Hollywood blockbusters these are certainly much cheaper classifications, but to the average perspective filmmaker they are still very major investments.

In the sense of this post, our meaning of the term ‘micro-budget’ insinuates the spending of as little money as possible. Essentially, the goal is to pay for the equipment and then start shooting. This seems like a logistical nightmare and will ultimately become futile if our projects expand in scale at all beyond messing around with a camera at home. With that in mind, there are still many ways to cut costs and continue filming.

This all comes down to the director. Assuming that we are taking on that role, we’re going to face intense headaches, crippling fear of failure, rational pleadings to give up on the project, and an overall burden of carrying too many responsibilities. When directing micro-budget films, the director typically works alone. The credit reel gets a lot shorter, and our jobs get a lot harder.

This post is not encouragement to cut down on the quality of the project, but instead how to save money and time while working. The one benefit of being solo directors is that in place of support we get more control over our projects. But how do we utilize that control without the powerful influence of money?

Adaptability

The most important skill we will need is the willingness and readiness to adapt. No matter the amount of meticulous planning and backup plans we craft, anything and everything can fall through at the very last minute. This can vary as wildly as changing basic locations to losing a major actor halfway through filming. Many things that will befall micro-budget filmmakers could have been avoided with a larger budget, but without the ability to throw more money at the project we just have to get through it the hard way.

Adaptability is an excellent trait even in filmmakers with a solid budget, but it is crucial here. The biggest example that comes to mind is having volunteer actors. Often these are friends or acquaintances, but that personal connection only stretches so far after a few days of filming. Even if we find dedicated actors who are willing to work without pay for the moment, their personal or professional lives could jump in the way at any time, and they have no incentive to keep working on the project without getting anything in return. This will result in the necessity to move filming dates, or even recasting characters.

When going in to film any project, but longer films especially, we will need to have backup plans for everything. That is especially true with volunteer actors. While actors often determine the quality of the video, there won’t be a video if there are no actors.

Influence with Little to No Money

Going back to the benefit of being a solo director, we will have complete control over many aspects of our projects. But we need to know how to utilize that control. Every part of the video will reflect the amount of work that we put into it. The end result will show the effort (or lack thereof). Thus we will need to direct our focus wisely. The most variable parts of our projects are almost always the actors. If that is the not case in the specific video, then it is our job as the director to figure out what is the most variable part.

Even with backup plans and a will to adapt when necessary, we should always plan to ultimately go through with our original cast, location, and minor details. That requires the establishment of a good relationship with the original cast, the location suppliers, and anyone else who is involved with supplying their time or resources to our projects. Just as important as the filming and planning is establishing good relationships with the people involved. This will give us a good idea of how to work with everyone, and the levels of interest that they each hold. It will show what they want and expect from the project, and then we can use this information as we move our work along.

Without large paychecks to entice our casts and crews, we need to do a lot more work at the personal level. Typically this involves some form of repayment or reward, varying from person to person. A good example is buying everyone food for the day(s) of filming. With our free time, we might help our crewmembers with something that they want to do. Even if people agree to work with nothing in return, it’s a good idea to offer something in compensation, even if that something has no monetary value.

Working with Less

Without the power of a large budget, most of our money will be spent on getting the bare minimum by category. Sometimes that means working with poorer quality cameras or editing software than anticipated. That is the curse of having a tight budget, but skill can surpass even the worst equipment. Much like picking the areas of focus, we have to pick our areas of expertise in every part of the process, from planning to filming day. That can influence how we spend money, but also how the video turns out through the work we put in.

The idea of working with low-quality equipment is not enticing at all. Even with a small budget, the actual pieces used to record our project should be the highest priority. But in the case that they are still not sufficient in our minds, we’ll have to work with them anyway. With these scenarios, the execution of the recording itself is much more important than the quality of the video and audio. That means more planning, more takes during filming, and more dedication from everyone involved.

Working Alone

This will seem like way too much work for one person. If we’re lucky, we’ll have at least one or two helpers to delegate some tasks beyond just acting, but often that is not the case. It can become disheartening, but that is what we signed up for when we decided to film at all. If the goal is to become anything more than a micro-budget filmmaker, then this is the path to success. At this level, it’s far more about showing our skill and creativity than the impressive array of resources that we have available. It’s all the more impressive to complete something with little to no help.

Start with a vision before even wading into the slog of planning and filming. Get that vision firmly fixed, and return to it when times get tough. That is what we are working towards. Focus on one project at a time. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we can’t have multiple things in process, but our time should be dedicated to a single video at once, so that we can actually get things accomplished. It’s a lot of work and a lot of time, but it will get easier. Our influences will get stronger. And we’ll end up with more and more completed videos.

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