A lot of us low/no-budget filmmakers are always trying to get our ideas on the screen, with little to rely on. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of people waiting in line to hand us money to make our films, either. Being an un-established filmmaker with only a handful of work to show for, I know this cycle all too well. You get a really great idea, but when it comes time to budget your script, you seem to drown in the dollar signs racking up on your computer screen (or notebook, if you are oldschool). Luck isn’t an option either, as there typically seem to be no stars in existence that favor the broke filmmaker. Fortunately for you, and me, I have some relief.
Creativity. It’s been said a million times, and will be said a million more, creativity CANNOT be learned, and CANNOT be taught. While this might hold a lot of weight, creativity is simply another word for imagination, in my opinion, and imagination is something we have all had, at least in our childhood. I suppose it may be safe to say that creativity is the term for the ability to carry your imagination into adulthood.
With all of that having been said, I cannot write your movie for you, just as you cannot write my movie for me. However, I can offer you ideas on how to work your way around a low budget using your wit, creativity, and some things you have lying around the house (*note that it is always a good idea to make sure fake blood is something you always have lying around the house).
So now you ask, “How do I take nothing, and turn it into something?” Well, that would depend entirely on circumstance, and what resources you have available to you. For me, I have all of the necessary equipment, and even a fully-loaded western movie set right down the road, but I lack the actors, or even ‘friends-turned-actors’ (who are usually never any good, but they will sometimes try their best for you), to get something done and in the can. Your situation might be different. You may have an abundance of friends waiting for you to write your next masterpiece for them to star in, but not a whole lot of places to film it in. Not to worry. I’m sure you have a house, if not your own, perhaps a friend’s or relative’s? Take that, and write a zombie picture, like Night of the Living Dead, where the characters are trapped in one house trying to survive the zombie hordes outside. Or maybe take the route of The Purge, or The Strangers, and do a home-invasion type flick, where a family, or group, are trapped in their home as psychopaths invade it, and pick them off, one by one.
Do you own a saw? A straight-razor? Chances are, you have some type of really cool potential prop laying around your house, or maybe a friend’s house. Instead of writing a story that revolves around characters or a particular location, why not use one room, and make a character’s story revolve around one cool prop? Perhaps you have a straight-razor, as mentioned above, and you decide to write a piece about a character trapped inside his own mind, with possible suicidal-tendencies, and he is debating the use of the razor to end his life? If depressing isn’t what you’re going for, try lightening the context. An older type of man who is stuck in the 50’s uses his straight-razor every day to give himself an old-fashioned shave, but one day, his routine is thrown out of sync when he loses the razor, and must be forced to move forward with the modern times, and buy a Gillette.
Okay, okay, I know some of these aren’t the best plotlines, but I’m simply trying to show that you can do a lot with nothing. Using my first short film “Numb” as example, which you can find in a link below, I took a bottle of blood, a saw, a trash bag, and my friend’s house, all of which we had just lying around, either leftover from Halloween, or rusting in the tool shed, and I made an award-nominated short with them. (Budgeted for $5.00 if you count the blood, but technically made for $0.00 since we already had that, and didn’t buy it specifically for the film).
So, these are but a few ideas and examples of how to make films for nothing, assuming you have reliable friends who won’t ditch you when you need them on set, and at least a house or back yard to film in. Obviously, the filmmaking equipment is a different matter altogether, but if you’re interested in putting together an essential kit for under one-thousand dollars, I covered that topic in an earlier article, which you can find here: https://kyleoliverblog.wordpress.com/2014/05/02/how-to-build-an-essential-filmmakers-kit-under-1000/
And here is the link to my short film “Numb” that I promised:
written by Kyle Oliver, 5/2/2014
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Kyle Oliver is an award-nominated writer/director/editor, & the owner/CEO of Vintage Image Films. You can find Vintage Image Films on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/VintageImageFilm