ways independent filmmakers can make the most of small budgets for big results

“Here are your wives. Now how would you like to use them? ”

Whenever I embark on a new low-budget indie film, this is the mantra that comes to mind. In the summer of 2018, when I started my fifth feature, Boys vs. Girls, on a 1990 summer camp becoming a student for the first time in its 70-year history, I used the mantra as a flag.


Of course, the so-called small budget “handcuffs” are restrictive. But realistically and creatively evaluating how to get the most out of what you have is where your opportunities begin. Here are my four tips on meaningful ways to get small.

1. Think globally, act locally
We’ve heard that this applies to social and environmental justice causes, but with advances in digital technology, independent films have benefited as well.
Financiers, distributors and exhibitors still call big cities like Los Angeles, New York and Toronto their home, but that doesn’t mean their shoot has to take place in the city at prohibitive cost.

I do most of my projects in my hometown of Windsor, Ontario, and this has provided me with numerous economic and production benefits. Renting all the locations – hotel rooms, manufacturing offices and foundry trailers – would normally consume most of the budget. But in Boys vs. Girls, we rented an off-season summer camp that behaved like all three of us for a fraction of the price.

In general, I advise my students not to think about the practicalities of filming while constructing the story. However, if you know in advance what budget you will have to deal with, take a look at your city. What built-in manufacturing values ​​exist in your yard?
2. Create enthusiasm
Being excited about how much you enjoy singing may not give you Adele’s voice, however, in the movies, this is pure fuel. If you can fill your set with the cast and crew who want to be there regardless of your financial involvement, at the start of each day, you can activate the proverbial “movie generator” and know it will work until the end.

On all my movie sets, regardless of whether some people get paid high or low, doing internships or as a volunteer, I keep track of everyone’s total hours. About Boys vs. Girls, which included 30 film students enrolled at the University of Windsor.

My approach is to divide everyone’s hours by the final group total and give everyone “ownership” of the film. This means that he could have been the production assistant (PA) and would be left with a certificate authorizing him to “0.4 percent of the manufacturer’s equity”. In the years following the movie’s release, and when the movie begins to make a profit, a check for two hundred dollars may pop up in your inbox as a kind of dividend. I call this cooperative film and find it keeps everyone engaged and pushing in the same direction.
3. Spend money on morale
A Columbia University film professor explained to me how spending a few extra bucks on Coke instead of an unnamed cola not only pays for itself, but is far-reaching. Meaning: A team that worked six long hours and headed for a well-deserved lunch will have a slight subconscious boost in morale, knowing they’re drinking “the real thing” versus “I don’t care too much about you; our budget is killing us. “.

The other place this can pay dividends is to get some “recognizable” actors on set for cameo roles. For boys vs. Girls, I was able to secure the comedic talent of Colin Mochrie (Whose line is it anyway?) To play the camp manager, Roger, and Kevin McDonald (The Kids In The Hall) to play the camp keeper, Coffee . .

As soon as these comic icons appeared, the rest of the cast and crew immediately felt the excitement of “this is the real deal” and everyone’s game increased. These actors have only been on set for three days of the 16 days of filming, but their scenes are spread throughout the entire film, so for one viewer it really increases the perceived production value of the entire project.

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