No Budget Filmmaking: Producing A Short Film

March 16, 2010 at 10:25 am

17 West Productions Toronto

Currently, 17 West Productions is producing 2 short films with drastically different approaches to financing.

We’re co-producing a short called Strings with UnoPark and Director Mat Cousineau.  The musical/drama is being produced in Sudbury, Ontario and boasts some extremely talent artists and performers.  Producer Ian MacDonald is hard at work making sure our budget is met and we can meet our target shooting dates this coming August.

Click here to find out more about Strings.
Check out Ian’s blog here.

No Budget Filmmaking

I’ll be at the helm of our second project, The Climb.  A film that is purposely being produced for as little as possible.

The Climb Short Film Toronto

The last film I directed carried a budget of over $12,000 that we raised ourselves.  The film, Playing Through, was an incredible learning experience for me and when it came time to deciding what I would do next, a no budget short film was welcome change of pace.

The Climb has been in pre-production since August of 2009.  We were originally supposed to make the film in September before delaying until Spring 2010. With our May shooting dates approaching quickly, I thought it would be nice to dedicate a post to how we plan to pull it off with a tiny budget.

Our main approach to The Climb is to produce a short film simply because we love to make movies. Find a weekend and some friends and have a blast being creative. A no budget approach easily lent itself to this project.

The Script

The screenplay for The Climb was written a few years ago and I’ve always been eager to see it made into a short film.  Producing the script was obviously cheap but there are difficult decisions to be made when you consider an official shooting draft of a low budget short film.

I’ve rewritten the screenplay several times to smooth out the story and all the little details. Yet, when it came time to lock the shooting draft of the script, I had to go over every single detail and truly ask myself if it was essential to the movie.

Several major cuts were made. You simply make different decisions when you know the money isn’t going to be there.  Some may see this as a negative but I consider it a chance to be creative within a set of boundaries.  This approach made the tough cuts easier.

I eliminated several scenes, locations and characters to simplify not only the production but the story as well.  The end result was a much tighter script and a more efficient way to tell the story.

Casting

There are many cheap avenues to finding actors to be in your film.  For Playing Through, we posted casting announcements on many well known sites such as Craiglist, Mandy and more…  We had press releases sent out to local papers where we were holding auditions and had an amazing turn out.

For The Climb, we decided to stick with talented actors we have worked with before. It was important to me to work with Alyssa LaPlume and Michael Clarke again because they easily fit the roles, work hard and back everything up with ability.  I’m definitely pumped they agreed to set aside a weekend to make a movie with us.  I know they are just as excited as we are.

The Climb Short Film

The Crew

The Climb has a very small crew which is huge when it comes to numbers on a spreadsheet.  We’ve once again gathered talented individuals we’ve worked with before.  Working on set will be an absolute blast with these people.

The Locations

I think creating a low to no budget short film depends highly on the locations in the script. The Climb functions well as a low budget short because it has very few locations and all of them are exteriors.  This decreases the cost because all of our locations are real places that do not require any major changes.

As a result, locations scouts will be vital to the success of the film.

We’re lucky that 70 percent of the film takes place in one park that we’ve already found.  I had been to the park several times before I started writing the script so it was easy to incorporate it into the production.

The Schedule

Eric and I broke down the script recently and decided it was very possible to pull it off in a single weekend.  Originally, we had decided to shoot the film on two separate weekends but it made sense logistically and financially to shorten the shooting schedule.

We have a small cast and crew and plan to shoot very close to my apartment so we don’t have to worry about moving the equipment and crew around too much. Everything will be accessible.

Accessibility = cheap

The script itself is basically a series of conversations between two people living on the streets so much of the shooting will center around a few key scenes.  Our plan is to shoot the difficult scenes first and accomplish the smaller scenes afterwards to make sure we spend the appropriate amount of time on the difficult scenes.

We’ve grouped our scenes together to avoid any and all complications as it relates to locations, make-up and our crew’s personal schedules.  It’s an efficient approach and we’re confident we’ll be able to get all the work done.

The Equipment

I suppose it pays to have friends who own cameras.  If you don’t have a camera or a friend that does, renting equipment is always an option but it adds a big expense to the bottom line.  I decided to extract everything we can out of the equipment we already have access to.  Again this will mean achieving a high level of creativity within a strict set of boundaries. The rest of our equipment will be comprised of tools we already have in our possession.

In the end, we just want to make a movie. We’re fortunate to be able to pull it off without having to rent anything overly expensive.

The X-Factor

In every low budget production, there is always going to be an x-factor that will cost you no matter what.  It’s the one element of the story you simply cannot avoid spending money on.  The Climb is no exception as our lead female actress will has to have tattoos on her face.  The tattoos are currently being designed by Alex Rotundo and we’re definitely not looking to save money here.  This special make-up is vital to the story.

I’ll never sacrifice story for budget concerns.  Never.

Post Production

Post is always expensive when you are dealing with a budgeted short film.  There’s really no way around it.  In this way, we are lucky again as I am a professional editor and I obviously plan on editing the film.  I’ll be using my Final Cut powered iMac as always to assemble the footage.

Now, many people out there don’t have the software or the experience to edit a film.  I recommend teaching yourself.  There are tons of options out there to edit a film cheaply.  Many computers these days come with simple editing programs.  Beyond that, there are billions of tutorial sites, books and resources out there to attain the editing skills you need.  Consider it a personal challenge or at the very least a cost saving venture.

The final step in the post process for Playing Through was color correction done by the talented Adam Hunt.  I made sure to pay attention as he worked and I’ll be doing the color correction myself in order to learn more about Final Cut’s Color.

I’m very excited about The Climb’s post-production process because it represents several skills I have to learn in order to achieve.  I’m looking forward to gaining the knowledge needed to pull it off.

It’s all about becoming a better filmmaker.

Planning

This is the single most important element when producing a no budget film. Every film production will encounter curve balls here and there.  A film with a budget can solve some of those problems without too many headaches.  A no budget film doesn’t have that luxury.

Preparation is the key. I’m about to start storyboarding the film so I can have a clear vision once we get on the set. We have rehearsals, make up tests, locations scouts and more planned in the weeks leading up to the shoot.  The trick is to stay ahead of the game.

It’s a lot of work but for me it helps that producing a short film is an absolute blast.  Whether there is a budget or not, the process is always fun.

One of my favorite quotes is:

“Find a job you love, never work a day in your life.”

Damn right.

I love being an editor and a filmmaker.  I have a need to be creative and there’s no better outlet that producing a film.