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How To Make A No-Budget Short Film

Updated: Jun 5, 2020

So you want to make a short film, but you don't have any money to hire talent, crew, rent gear, or gain access to cool locations? This guide can help you get started!

Many of you reading this might be in this very position. You want to make a #shortfilm, but you don’t have any money to bring your vision to life. Sometimes in order to flex our creative muscles, we have to be willing to cut back on our grand visions, scale things down a bit, and make simple, visual stories based around the resources that we already have.

Films can be made one or two ways; the traditional way with a crew, full array of gear, locations, catering, and most importantly a budget to help facilitate those things. Or, you can make it without a budget, using the gear and locations you have available to you already, and using your friends and family who are willing to work for free and act as your cast or crew (or you can do it all alone, if you can write a story that could work in that way).

Unless you have expendable income, someone willing to invest in your film idea, or you’ve been able to raise funds with crowdfunding and blasting your social media in hopes of someone donating money to your cause (which has never worked for me by the way). You’re probably going to have to use the resources you have available to you to create your film.

This method of #nobudget filmmaking is sometimes called #resourcefilmmaking. With this method you're not going to want to start off with a complicated script and story idea, but instead, you're going to want to take a look at the resources you have and work backwards, essentially writing a story around the resources that you DO have.

Okay lets break it down into a checklist of sorts of everything you need to consider before coming up with your story idea:

Filmmaking gear used for a no budget short film
You don't need a ton of gear to make a short film!

GEAR- When it comes to gear, of course at the very least you're going to need a camera to capture your film, a tripod perhaps, and hopefully a microphone to capture decent sounding audio. Whether your camera is a phone or a cheap DSLR, it doesn’t really matter. Lay out all of the gear that you have at your disposal, and that’s what you will be using for this film. If you have a friend that may let you borrow some gear, awesome, the point is that we're not spending money renting, or buying any new gear to create this film.

If you happen to just be starting out and have access to no gear whatsoever, I have two separate budget filmmaking kits that I’ve put together, a budget DSLR kit and a iPhone filmmaking kit, go check those out if you’re looking for an affordable way to get your filmmaking hobby off to a good start!

If you happen to just be starting out and have access to no gear whatsoever, I have two separate budget filmmaking kits that I’ve put together, a budget DSLR kit and a iPhone filmmaking kit, go check those out if you’re looking for an affordable way to get your filmmaking hobby off to a good start!

CREW- Be sure to only plan on having a very minimal crew when shooing a no-budget film. You're not going to have the money to hire professionals, and you're not going to have the money to feed them catering on set either. Plan on either shooting the film alone, or you can plan on having at least one other person you trust to operate your audio equipment.

Perhaps you have a friend that is interested in learning about filmmaking and you can show them the basics before and during shooing, or maybe you have a friend is familiar with filmmaking who would be willing to help you for free? Ask around on social media or call your friends and family and see who might be interested in giving you a hand, or you can go it alone!

CASTING- since were shooting this film with no money, were not going to be paying professional actors or holding a casting call, unless you have a friend that happens to be a professional actor that is willing to work for free, or you have a ton of people waiting in line to be in your movie. Chances are you going to need to take a look at the people in your daily life, family, close friends, maybe some acquaintances from your social media accounts that you think might be interested. Send them direct messages, or maybe make a public post stating what you're looking for that people can share. Once someone responds, sit down with them and have a meeting, go over some potential story ideas and see if anything comes together.

Make sure that they don’t have to try and be someone else, write a character around who they already are, especially if they have no acting experience, This will make the process easier, faster, make these in experienced actors more comfortable during the filing process, and in the end make fore more believable characters in your film.

And if you have to, you can always try to film yourself and star in your own film. It’s tough, but it can be done I have a video HERE that focuses on that, if you’re interested. 

LOCATIONS- We need to look at locations much same way as we do our casting & characters. Take a look at the locations you have readily available to you, what are the most interesting locations that you have access to, and can you shoot at them for free?

Do you or someone you know own a dilapidated old factory or house that you could use for a horror short ? Does someone you know own a diner or restaurant ? What about a posh, high-rise apartment building in the city? Each of these locations could open up a myriad of story ideas.

When thinking about a short film idea, I usually start with a location first. This can really get ideas flowing about possible story avenues, and help take your film in fun and unexpected directions.

Find someone willing to let you use a space for free, Iv’e often gained free access to awesome locations just by asking round on social media. Even if you don’t personally know the person, friends of people you may know might put you in contact with someone willing to let you use a space for free. A lot of times, people will be willing to help you out  just because they think it’s cool that you're shooting a film, and they want to be a part of it in some way.

Be sure to always draw up a location agreement that protects you and the property owner, even if you are using the space for free, that way someone can’t come back and try to sue you if something gets broken, someone gets hurt on the property, or they decide later that they don’t want you to use the location in the film after all. Just something to keep in mind.

Once you have access to the location, be sure to investigate it thoroughly before shooting. Study angles for the best shots, bring your lights and camera and do some lighting tests to see what looks best, and note the locations of power outlets, windows, doors and other small details that might help you flesh out your location to the audience later.

If you have time, get some footage or photos of the location before the day you're supposed to shoot, that way you can use the video or photos for ideas when writing your script , shot list or story boarding.

WRITING- Once you have your gear, locations, and potential cast & crew all laid out, now you can start putting together the script and story for your no budget film.

Remember to keep it short and simple, don't use too many characters & locations, and try not to write anything that’s going to require special effects, or a lot of rigorous editing work in after effects. You want to create a simple premise with a conflict, climax, and resolution. 

Remember to write characters using the people available to you, Write characters that match their personalities, and use the strengths of their natural character in your story to make them more believable.

Finally, be sure to keep the story simple enough where you and a small crew can shoot the film, (just one or two people max) or even more simple to where you can do everything by yourself.

If you would like help in putting together a shot list, I have a video dedicated to that topic along with access to a free shot list template, which you can access HERE.

And there you have it guys, If you follow these steps I think you will be able to put together a great, no budget short film that you can be proud of!

Have you ever made a no budget film? What were some of the challenges you faced? Is there anything that you would add to this list?

Let me know in the comments below!

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