10 STEPS TO MAKE YOUR FIRST MICRO BUDGET FEATURE FILM
Updated: Jan 6
You’ve got a burning passion to make your first movie. Let’s assume you’ve made a few shorts to varied success. You’ve learned the ropes, have an understanding of the process and three or four like-minded people to crew up with.
Take stock of what you have. DO NOT focus on what you don’t have or you’ll never get there!
Read up on ‘resources filmmaking’. I mean really read up on it! Buy Chris Jones’ Guerrilla filmmaking handbook, or even better ‘the Guerrilla filmmakers movie blueprint’, and sign up to his awesome network at www.guerillafilm.com. Connect with indiefilmhustle.com and subscribe to www.youtube.com/user/filmriot.
Ok, you’re tooled up. Here come the steps to get a film going, made, and ready for festivals. The rest is up to you, my friend.
STEP ONE: PUT A LID ON IT
Set a realistic budget you can afford in 6 months to 1-year. If it’s £500 that’s okay, you’ll just be hustling your butt off at every turn. £3,000 - £5,000 is more realistic.
STEP TWO: BRAINSTORM IT
Think about the kind of movie you will be able to make with virtually nothing, except grit and the tools available to you. Think of locations you have available if you were to film today! An aunt’s country home, shop, mechanics garage, golf range, farm…
You story can only have 2 or three key cast! Keep it current… and on this planet ideally. CGI can be cripplingly expensive and if done badly looks terrible! However, there are many extremely talented VFX artists on the www.fiverr.com platform, based all over the world, who offer the same services for a fraction of the price. This also goes for logos, posters, artwork and pretty much anything you’ll need throughout production.
Try and stick to horror and thriller genres as these are pretty much the only genres that sell without named actors. Keep your script to one or two locations.
Think of using a stock footage platform like motionarray.com to add production value. It’s reasonably priced via a monthly subscription and will save you thousands in post production. Their royalty free music library is also very extensive. Motion Array is just one option. There are many out there.
Do your research! Thriller/horror movie. 2/3 actors max. 1/2 locations.
STEP THREE: BRAND IT
You have a concept. You’ve got a killer title now. You know where you’ll be filming. Get some artwork! Logo, poster, logline and a paragraph about the film to hook the fans. Set up a basic Wix website as a holding page for your project. This costs around £30 and will require £7 a month to get rid of the horrible Wix branding. You’ll need a film poster too. This is where your artful, computer design wizard, friends come in. If you don’t know any, jump on Fiverr and start hustling. £50-£100 will get you all the marketing material you need at this stage.
STEP FOUR: SCRIPT IT
You’ll need a script!
If that’s your forte then even better, but there are thousands of budding screenwriters out there who have spec scripts lying in drawers that are going nowhere. Start your shoutouts.
I listened to a fascinating podcast recently about the current state of the micro budget film industry. The advice was ‘niche up’. It’s obvious really but something I’d not thought too much about until that point. Making a zero budget film is all about stacking the odds in your favour. If your film is set in the world of horse dressage, chances are the majority of the equestrian ‘horsey’ people will be interested. A Parkour movie! A film about chess! If there’s an inbuilt online audience for your movie, it’s a damned site easier to find and attract them to your film. That’s why so many first time filmmakers make horror movies. The thirst for quality horror movies is higher than ever. Niche!
This is where my mate Blake and his adorable ginger cat comes into play. If you’re a story telling type write the script yourself. Jump on https://savethecat.com and buy the book. This will set you up with the basics of plotting out your story into simple beats, with the correct narrative arcs, plot points and the like. Please don’t think that’s all there is to it though!
Screenwriting, like any form of creative writing, is a craft that takes years to master. A good story must grab you by the soul and make you feel – especially when you don’t have the budget for guns, car chases and explosions. How many films have you watched over the years that leave you cold? Pretty much all of them are because you failed to connect with them on an emotional level. Give your script heart! Craft a story of emotional struggle, conflict and rising above insurmountable odds to come out the other side a better person.
I know it sounds cheesy, but you get my point. Grab the audience by the soul and don’t let go till the end credits. Genre! Structure! Heart and soul!
STEP FIVE: GATHER THE TROOPS
You’ll need a core crew of 4/5 people, one of which will most probably be you. You can’t mess around here as you need people with robust skills.
1st Assistant Director
Sound recordistGaffer / Lighting / Mr. Fixit
You can get away with combining roles to save costs. I highly recommend paying people a fair amount for their time. Not a ‘wage’ but a fair sweetener for their time investment. The golden rule is to keep everyone comfortable, make it fun and keep everyone very well fed with proper, nutritious, food. You’ll also need to remember other core expenses like insurances. Why risk it? Pay what needs to be paid.
STEP SIX: CAST IT
You can’t afford A list stars, unless you know one personally, or can blow someone away with an incredible script that fits their next ‘move’. Test their agent. You’ve got nothing to lose. There are several credible casting sites out there. www.starnow.co.uk is a really good platform but casting yourself will sap a lot of your time. Create your listing. Make sure you attach a script sample for actors to self-record a piece of dialogue to camera. Sift through the hundreds of applications, request the video auditions and sift through them as they roll in. Select your shortlist. Then invite your final 2/3 for each role for a final audition.
STEP SEVEN: CASTING DAY - CONCEPT SHOOT
Get your whole crew together for this audition day. Lay on a small buffet or buy in pizza. Conduct your final auditions, whilst test filming and gelling the crew. This is your opportunity to see how everyone works together, or if there’s a negative influence within your team.
When it comes to shooting your zero budget film there’s no place for diva’s, shirkers or moaners! It’s has to be positive collaboration of creative love. If there’s a weak link, fix or replace!
You choose your cast members from the final audition. You now also have some footage with them to cobble together a micro trailer. SO THINK CLEVERLY what scene to film that will work for this. Treat it like a proper filming day. Ensure you get plenty of quality stills. Do a couple of interviews against a branded backdrop. As much quality PR material you can glean from this day will help so much down the line.
STEP EIGHT: PLATFORM BUILDING
Alongside developing the script you’ll need to make sure you’ve set up your project page on Facebook, Twitter and whatever other platforms you choose. Start regularly posting and begin to build your online fan base. Invite friends to join and set up small Facebook ad campaigns to attract fans via your keywords.
STEP NINE: PR THE HELL OUT OF IT
It’s never to early to build your PR machine. I’m a great fan of the earlier the better. You know your niche and you understand the heart of your little movie. ‘a stammerer struggling to be heard’, a chronic asthma sufferer who wins the Brighton marathon’. The ‘Billy Elliot’, ‘Eddie the Eagle’, ‘Full Monty’ emotional hook. Create a compelling press release. Again, freelancers on Fiverr can help you here for very little money. Sign up to a free press release distributor, like www.issuewire.com, where you can post your first prelease free. Platforms like pressat.co.uk will send your release out to thousands of credible media outlets for around £100. As with everything else, do your research to ensure you’re getting the best value for your money and not getting ripped off.
STEP TEN: SHOOT IT
By now you will have got loads of feedback on your script and rewritten it several time to ensure it’s in the best shape possible.
A bad script will never make a great movie, but a great script will be forgiven a multitude of sins if the audience is riveted. Shoot the film.
I’ll not go into detail here as there are thousands of great interviews tutorials, do’s and don’t on YouTube to set you on the right path. Keep it fun and be the best ‘servant leader’ you can be. Finish it. Post production. Make sure you have all your deliverables, contracts, release forms in place. Get your film classified at bbfc.co.uk.
FINAL STEP: LET IT FLY
Release your little zero budget film into the festival circuit and beyond. Everything beyond this is up to your tenacity, budget, luck and PR successes.
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Peace, love and tenacity. Dom (DB Morgan Director)