One of the most significant thing that aspiring filmmakers must learn is to create a story with a shoe-string budget as it is always a big concern. On the lines of Robert Rodriguez's street-smart production ‘El Mariachi', below are the 7 important steps to low-budget filmmaking.
- Collaboration– You have to be extremely resourceful. Collaborate with people who are ambitious about filmmaking, just like you. Give, in order to get. If you need an editor for your film, collaborate with someone who is new and trying to make a mark or somebody who is still learning the tricks of the trade at any film making colleges in India or abroad. He would be someone who would give his best in editing your film. Similarly, if you need a sound artist, search for somebody who is young, fresh and wants to get noticed. If he wants to get noticed, he will probably work for free as well so you are sorted when it comes to budgeting. Try to get everyone on board but be very honest to tell if you don't have money. People, who still join you, would be the most passionate guys around.
- Shoot with what you have– One of the primary concerns for students is that they don't have the latest Canon 5D Mark III or that awesome stabilizer so they won't be able to shoot. Well don't wait for that next big thing to arrive, rather shoot with what you have. For instance, forget a regular DSLR, if you just have an Android phone, write a script that revolves around a guy who loves making videos on mobile phone or is a selfie lover and what if his phone captures a murder during one such recording. You can shoot the entire film from the POV of a mobile camera.
- Don't be too ‘shot-centric'– You might want to be the next Nolan or Tarkovsky and there is nothing wrong in being one but it is very important to convey a story or an idea first. While directing a film, if you have the most basic shots but you are able to convey your story, no one is going to get offended, trust me!! In ‘Superman of Malegaon' the director didn't belong to any cinema school and didn't have a budget for a crane or dolly, so he used a bullock cart and used it as a crane. Instead of a dolly, he took the tracking shots through a bicycle. So what really matters is your output, not the way you got that output.
- Utilise the ‘un-used'– Getting difficult to get permission for your next location? Well don't worry. Use the location which has been abandoned by everyone. If you want a dhaba for your next shoot, go to the outskirts of your city, find a dilapidated property, contact the owner. For him, any amount would be a significant profit for that good-for-nothing land and for you, you get the maximum from minimum. Similarly, do not throw away that old worn out jeans or that unused polythene bag. May be you can use them in your next film centered around a psychotic guy.
- Keep it ‘hush-hush'– When shooting outdoors without permissions and without any crowd management, it is essential to have a substantial amount of pre-production work. If you go out to shoot on a road and shouting instructions to your AD, it is unlikely that you end up shooting peacefully and trust me if the crowd comes to know that you are shooting a film (be it a short film or a feature film having the least desirable star cast), it can go worse than a stampede. A detailed pre-production always results in a better product. A little research on your location would help you save a lot of time and money especially if you are shooting a low-budget film. For example if you want to shoot a crowd scene, do it ‘guerrilla'* style (hiding the camera) i.e. without letting your crowd know about it. In fact, in order to get the real emotions from real people, just don't tell them that you are shooting. Make them get into a situation and then shoot them silently.
- Use your actors/extras cautiously– Don't just fill your script with actors. Always cast your actors who look like your characters. This way you can save the money on make-up. Also, cast actors who can bring in their own clothes. Save money on costumes. Finding good actors among amateurs is an art. Unless and until you have the resources and enough budget, choose your cast wisely. Essentially, in a short film of 8-10 min duration, there shouldn't be more than 2-3 actors so write your scripts according to the availability of good actors. A bad actor can spoil a very good script so just do not compromise when it comes to acting.
Also there might be scenes where you need to show a lot of EXTRAS. Now this could be tricky. It depends on your vision, your pre-production and your foreshadowing of the situation. Either you can go ‘Guerilla'* style or try to be a little street-smart. In the latter scenario, role of storyboards becomes pivotal. For instance, if you had to shoot a protest but didn't have the budget nor any man-power, this becomes a genuine problem for which one needs to find a creative solution. For this, one can use a frame where camera has low angle (high angle or eye level can reveal the actual number), play actual footage of the protest in split screen and multiply sound to create chaos by protestors.
- Avoid unnecessary verbal diarrhoea– Having problems in getting sound recorders or mics?? AVOID WRITING DIALOGUES in your script. As I always teach to my students- SHOW, DON'T TELL, make your script as visual as you can rather than dialogues. At the end of the day, we tend to forget that film is an audio-visual medium i.e. we have visuals to support our concepts. Use metaphors and allegorical references to convey the most difficult feelings. What one can do is first find own limitations both in terms of budget as well as space and time, and after that write your script. This would help to think logically and feasibly.
(*) guerrilla- Guerrilla filmmaking refers to a form of independent filmmaking characterized by low budgets, skeleton crews, and simple props using whatever is available. Often scenes are shot quickly in real locations without any warning, and without obtaining filming permits.