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How not to shoot a no-budget short film

05/19/2017


Shooting a no-budget short film is not as easy as one thinks, but that should not discourage you from doing it. Here are some tips from me to you to help you curb some of the mistakes I made on my first project.

Don't be jack of all trades

I cannot stress this enough. There is way too much work involved in putting a film together and if you try to do too many roles like I did (director, producer, writer, art, wardrobe, to name a few) then you're putting yourself in a tight spot. If you're directing, you're limiting the amount of time and 'zen' you need to be in a creative space by doing everything. Even if it's super low budget and you can't afford to hire "real crew" then rope your friends in for a favour and delegate! You'll be far more at ease and your less stressed self will make for a more pleasant crew member.


Don't mis-manage your time & shun preparation

This goes for all the phases of pre- to post-production. Time management is everything! If you're not administratively savvy, try to have a really good production manager, line producer and 1st AD to help, or an administratively strong friend. Schedule enough time for pre-production. I tried to do pre-production in 2 weeks for a 12 minute film. Although we managed to pull it off, I actually needed a month and it would've helped a lot particularly for casting (I'll get to that topic soon enough).

On set, you'll soon learn that time is of the essence because time is money. If you go over time, you have to pay your crew extra, if you need extra shoot days because you ran out of time, you'll have to pay extra for everything (equipment, location, cast, crew, etc.). The first way to manage your time effectively is to be very prepared for shoot days. That means have a shot list and maybe a storyboard and agree beforehand with your DoP on your shooting strategy. Secondly, always have open lines of communication with your time manager (production manager/line producer/1st AD). Make sure they are holding you accountable and you are constantly strategising about more effective ways to take certain shots or do certain set ups to be more economical with time.

Don't take team dynamic for granted

Making a film can be pretty stressful and you work long, hard hours, where you and others can become your ugly selves, so make sure you surround yourself with people who you can not take life so seriously with, and make the experience fun. Ensure that you have chosen people that you have a good rapport with and you know are committed and hard-working. Also, try to meet up and establish a rapport with the key crew that you haven't worked with before, and ensure they get the vision and are on board with it. I have had stressful shoots that were made pleasant by a fun team, and relatively smooth shoots that were made stressful by a few wayward team members.

Don't take casting lightly

Once my editor and I were sitting exacerbated in silence in the editing suite, when he blurted to me what we'd both been thinking: "Phumi I can't fix performance". Although I'd like to say I broke the record by finding one thing that can't be fixed in post, I have to hand it to my editor because he fixed A LOT of the performance issues with clever editor tricks. That being said, we had to do some drastic fixes like almost wiping out entire scenes to my trauma! There's a lot you don't have to deal with if you take the time and make the effort to find the right actors. I've gotten really lucky sometimes, but in general, this is not an area I'd suggest trying your luck in. It's the difference between being compelled to chop a whole scene, and being so in love with the performance that it's hard to figure out which areas to cut to meet whatever time requirements you have.

If you can get it funded, apply for it

If you're just starting out, self-funding a film of a relatively good level of quality can be very heavy on the pocket. If you have the money, great! If not, I highly recommend applying for funding. This will ensure that you can achieve the quality you hoped for because you are able to pay a skilled crew, pay for good actors and pay for decent equipment. This isn't me condoning a lack of discipline though. You should always try to do things as economically as possible and not encourage wastage, but not at the cost of quality.

Till next time...