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Insights into Low Budget Filmmaking

First off, I would just like to start by saying there really are no rules in making a movie, especially if your budget is less than 100k. There are secrets to getting your film successfully picked up and noticed, but please note this blog won’t help you with that. The pointers I will give you might give you more insight into how to approach your creative direction with more effectiveness, but please understand me when I say this; I’m not some sort of ‘Director Guru.’ In short I am just a guy who loves to make films and has, by chance, successfully gotten noticed by Maverick Entertainment. I understand that my film has its short comings, as most do, but the end result is the most important subject here. Getting your film finished!

Here are the 5 elements I believe are super essential in helping make an awesome film.

1. Actors
2. Story/Screenplay
3. Budget
4. Format
5. Location

My first decision – Location

I’ll start off with location being that it is one of the most important aspects, especially in low budget filmmaking. Don’t get me wrong if you have a ton of cash 250k and above…then locations really won’t determine what kind of film you are going to shoot, but if you’re like me and a first time feature Director you’ll need to find REAL locations. What do I mean by REAL locations? For instance if I’m shooting a friends room and I choose to shoot someone’s home for the Interior portion of the film. I must have things on the walls. Typically when you see things that don’t look REAL in films you’ll see a room with four bare walls. Just check out any great films that shoot a room; there is stuff all over the place.

Location will determine your script/story and I believe that Low Budget films should have no more than 5 to 8 locations. For instance, for my film, Date For Hire, 70% if not more, was shot in one location. The fewer locations lends to an easy shoot that can be shot in about 14 days. Now, I’m sorry about using the term easy because we all know there is nothing easy about making a film, but we can make the process a tad bit more endurable.

What type of locations should be used? Well, using something that has room and movement is best because multiple scenes can be shot at the same place. We used a bar for the center of most of the action and we had a few added interiors and 3-4 exterior scenes. I chose the bar because my buddy owned the location and he let us shoot there for FREE!  Keyword here is FREE, but it did come with some drawbacks, like shooting from 2am-10am! I think we spent 10 of the 14 days at the bar. So, a great rule of thumb is put out feelers for your location before you make a decision  about what your story is going to be.

Now that I had a location I needed to come up with a storyline and a genre.  For me it really came down to Comedy vs. Horror.

As I was told by Maverick if you are going to do Horror you must have a few items.
1. You need a monster
2. The monster has to look scary and real
3. You can’t have a story where a bunch of people are just camping and Bam they run into zombies or something
4. Make a movie you would like to see
5. Remember there are No Rules!

Why did I decide to do a comedy? Well, I love comedies first off. That’s why I did one. Do what you love, right? I like Horror films, but I don’t LOVE them. I almost fell into the trap, where EVERYONE was telling me to do a Horror film. They’d say they are so cheap to make as well as so lucrative in the DVD market. Rule #121 Never be ruled by the mighty dollar! Second there is nothing cheap about Horror. Good Horror or good filmmaking takes time. For me I didn’t know of any make-up artists, so we would have had to spend a bazillion dollars trying to put people into make-up. And there are countless other fees and expenses that I didn’t even start to add up. But if you do know make-up artists or have the budget for one by all means shoot a Horror film, but only if you LOVE it, because after 7-14 days…you’ll get sickened by faces you have to see over and over again, especially if they look like zombies!

I could keep going on about the best way to cast a film or the best way to organize a tight budget, but you’re a filmmaker and you get the idea.  I hope my insights on location and genre have helped and just remember it really is about doing what you love.  I loved everyday working on Date for Hire and I’m super excited for its release!  September 21st 2010 my film will be available for everyone to see, support a fellow filmmaker and check it out!

~Lee Cummings (Director/Producer Date for Hire)

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