Myth: Budget limitation only affects freelance and indie filmmakers
Filmmakers and viewers can both agree that high-quality and captivatingly mind-blowing movies are the expectation. Otherwise, viewers would not be entertained or retained, and filmmakers would not get the creative recognition due to them. The general consensus, however, is that this level of quality is attached to a high budget. The truth is that budget limitation, commonly referred to as “low budget”, is a challenging reality, but it pushes filmmakers to be creative with limited resources. I am your firsthand account that filming on a low budget can produce high-quality projects, as I have been faced with this challenge from the beginning of my career right up to the date of this article.
Let me be the first to debunk the myth that budget limitation only affects freelance or independent filmmakers. Hollywood blockbuster films are not exempt from this challenge: a handful of low-budget Hollywood films are already going through my mind. For the purposes of this article, I will name one well-known movie that has African Americans drinking a considerably less amount of tea – Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” was made for $4.5 million, while a movie of this caliber should have had a budget of at least $15 million (Collider 2022). “Get Out” went on to earn $255.4 million across the globe: Peele was able to tell a story of high quality on a low budget.
The first thing about working with a low budget is actively making up your mind to work within this constraint. Expensive options can be flashy, and entice you to spend money and resources that you do not have, which can lead to you being in significant debt or unable to complete the project. Here are some useful strategies for working with a low budget without compromising the quality of your project.
Planning provides enough flexibility for the crew, cast, locations, and equipment. When being mindful of budget limitations, you can book your production crew, places, and equipment in more cost-effective ways. For example, securing equipment over the weekend or shopping around for your studio. The emphasis is on planning ahead of time because last-minute productions are usually expensive: it takes more time for tracing free resources and attracting volunteer crew or cast. Arguably, some creatives are willing to jump on a production for a small compensation, credits on the project, or merely for the overall experience, provided that the project is meaningful or seems interesting enough to them. That said, ensure you present a captivating project pitch to potential collaborators. Facebook groups, Discord and Instagram are good places to source talents and volunteers but be careful to use this strategy sparingly. You don’t want to be seen within your creative community as cheap. Spend more time in pre-production – location scouting, planning the blocking of your actors, tech prep, shot list and storyboarding – so there won’t be any downtime on the production day. Let me debunk another myth: you don’t need to rent expensive film equipment to pull off quality visuals. How your story is told will determine the choice of camera, lens, and lighting required. Don’t get carried away by the pressure and trend in the industry to use high-end cameras like the Red Vraptor and Cooke Anamorphic lenses. If your budget can afford that, great! Otherwise, there are other affordable options that will produce almost the same result without significant differences in looks, resolution and overall performance. Cameras such as Red Komodo, Black Magic, and Red Dragon are all Netflix standard approved and have been used to produce box office features and blockbusters.
Prepare for set
Take the time to plan your shoot carefully. This will help you to be more efficient and avoid costly mistakes. It is good practice to review your shot list with the crew and actors a day before the shoot. Plan a camera prep with your camera crew. Camera prep can be done at a film equipment rental house. At BC Studios, we provide a space where the film crew can carry out production and camera prep; this ensures they have all the film equipment they need in working condition and sets the production up for success. The production crew, mainly the Director, Gaffer, DP, AC and Key Grip, can gather all the gear that would be used on the production, then build and test to ensure that everything works well before the shoot date. Many things can go wrong on set with production equipment, and troubleshooting or getting a replacement on the day of the shoot will even be more expensive. Doing a camera prep before the shoot day will significantly minimize the chances of a mishap. You could say camera prep is more important than the actual shoot.
Keep it simple
It’s good to be ambitious, but keeping things simple is the way to go if you have budget limitations. The simpler the setup, the easier it will be to film with a low budget. Use natural light whenever possible, and keep the number of locations and actors to a minimum. Don’t be afraid to get creative with the equipment you have on hand. Any DSLR with a high dynamic range (HDR) and up to 4k resolution can be an excellent tool for filming, and many affordable accessories can help you get professional-looking results. Please don’t do it alone! Don’t be the Director, DP, Editor, and Colorist. Doing it alone limits perfection and creativity. Hire or outsource crew members when you’ve reviewed their portfolio and work ethic and are confident they will add value to the production.
Keep it small
The smaller the crew, the less expensive it will be. Consider recruiting friends and family, sourcing volunteers to help, or hiring freelancers willing to work for lower rates. I want to stress the importance of compensation, whether they are your friends or family. Studies have proven that financial compensation is a good motivation and impacts human behavior. People tend to provide better services when there is an expectation of pay. So, no matter how little, divide your budget and allot expenditure towards paying cast and crew. This will make them value and appreciate the opportunity more, and willing to show up when next you need them.
By following these tips, you can film a high-quality project on a low budget. If you are indecisive about the film equipment to rent for your next shoot, contact us at Budget Camera rentals (BC Studios); we are happy to help.