May 3, 2012
Is there such a thing as a no-budget film
The answer is no. From the moment you open your mouth to start talking about making a no-budget film to people who might join your crew, the meter starts. A lot of filmmakers don't take the most important ingredient for successful filmmaking into account; the budget. The crew has to eat. You have to have three meals a day catered. You have to have one or two hot meals, sandwiches if you work late, snacks, coffee, tea, water, and lots of cigarettes. If your crew is not going to get paid, you must at least have food and lots of it. The creative process needs nourishment.
If I had a dime for every film student who has an idea for making a no-budget film I could go and watch a movie or two this afternoon. People think it’s easy until they come to the set and see the equipment strewn around, the chaos, some of the crew meeting for the first time. They want to know how much they are going to get paid. There is no pay. You work for a credit in the film. You ask someone to help with the script. You are the producer, the director, the runner and you have a humongous amount of paperwork. You think because you got a good deal on renting a big vacant house in the woods that you can make a horror movie for free as there are only two outside scenes and no one is around asking for a film permit. What about film stock? What about lighting? What about the guy borrowing the van to pick up another crew member and they run out of petrol? And what about the food? As people stand around and talk and wait and set up shooting the first scenes, they are already waiting for a break to have coffee and muffins and sandwiches and you have no money to pay for it.
So what is this notion that one can make a no-budget film? There is no such thing. You can make a low budget film, yes, and you can make a film that costs as little as a used car, but there is no film you can make without spending money, and there is no free lunch. The clock ticks as soon as the horses are out the gate. A sharp new producer with a five-man crew made a stunning 20-minute short film which won a prize at a festival. He told me that the most important thing to budget for in any film is the food. The cost for making the short film was roughly $31,000 US. It won a prize, they watched it a hundred times, and no distributors picked it up. There were no deals. Making a film is an interesting experience, but the process is tough. You have to start off with a good script and spend months in preparation. You have to audition. You have to ask friends to star in your film. They tell their families. Everyone turns up on the set. You have to have food!