We made “Jerry,” our first feature length movie for $15,000. The small budget inspired us to get creative in executing the movie. Here are some tricks we used to pull the whole thing off.
There was no money in the budget for wardrobe so we took photographs of our cast in all sorts of combinations of their clothing. We created a folder using Dropbox that could be accessed from our mobile devices or computers that cataloged these photos so that we could look at them to pick out an outfit for each scene. Once an outfit was selected, we would text the image to the actor. That made communication very simple and allowed us to be creative with the wardrobe choice despite having financial limitations.
We purchased rechargeable batteries to use with our audio equipment. The set up was two H4n Zoom recording devices. One was dedicated to our set of lavalier microphones and the other to the boom microphone. Using rechargeable batteries saved us a fortune and they are still in our gear rotation two years later.
Check out the links below to see our entire sound package including the rechargeable battery kit.
- Powerex 8 Cell Multi-Charger on Amazon
- (4) Powerex 8 Rechargeable Batteries on Amazon
- (2) Zoom H4n Sennheiser Wireless Portable Recording System on Amazon
- Sennheiser SEMKH416UK Ultimate Shotgun Microphone Kit on B&H Photo
- Sound Devices MM-1 Pre-Amp on B&H Photo
Dropbox was a huge tool for us. It is free to use and you can get additional space by promoting it on twitter or sharing it with your friends. We had a series of shared folders where we would trade scripts, production documents, wardrobe choices, and even Final Cut Pro X project files. Thus, we never needed any paper on set and were able to employ a mostly green production.
Natural light is the best light. We worked out the majority of our scenes so that we could take advantage of the sun. That required time and patience, as we would take a couple days to sort out the best times to shoot. This often resulted in us waking up at the crack of dawn to observe the sun in any one of our locations. There were a few instances that we did need lights and so we found a basic lighting package on eBay. We purchased two, 650 watt Arriflex lights and one 1k Arriflex. Purchasing used equipment allowed us to stretch our budget, while also giving us flexibility to shoot whenever we wanted. We shot a night exterior with only those three lights and spent time working out the optimal way to use them. In addition, we purchased china balls for a softer feel in interior locations that needed a slight boost. We found both tungsten and daylight bulbs and were able to control the color temperature to our liking.
You can check ebay for used Arri lights as those deals are always changing.
Tungsten and daylight photobulbs purchased from Alzo Digital:
- (2) 85W 3200k Photobulb
- (2) 45W 3200k Photobulb
- (1) 85 watt 5600k Bulb
- (1) 45 watt 5600k bulb
- (1) 15 watt 3200k bulb
China Balls purchased from Film Tools:
- (2) 18’’ Faux Silk China Balls
- (2) 24’’ Faux Silk China Balls
- (4) Light sockets
Get A Car With A Sunroof
A car with a sunroof will enable you to get nice tracking shots of a driving car. Even better, a car with a back that opens up like a van or truck is a great dolly for low budget filmmakers. Sit in the back and track a car driving toward you or a person on a bike or any other sort of moving shot you can envision. Using a car as a dolly is a great trick especially with a small crew and limited gear. Setting up an actual dolly and track is time consuming and requires crew to put it together, not to mention costly rental items. The car is a fun way to get creative with your shots but YOU HAVE TO BE CAREFUL. Low budget filmmaking can be dangerous if you are reckless, so always be aware and considerate of everyone and everything around you.
Shooting DSLR With Prime Lenses
Shooting on the Canon 7D with Nikon prime lenses worked out great for us. We were able to find lenses on eBay at reasonable prices with high quality glass. Because these lenses were Nikon, we had to also track down EF adapter rings that would connect the Nikon mount to the Canon EOS mount on the camera body. Searching out these items afforded us quality, vintage glass at a good price. We ended up with 3 primes lenses: 24mm, 35mm, and 50mm. On rare occasion, we popped on a canon zoom 50mm-250mm when we required a longer lens.
As with most low budget filmmaking endeavors, we lost a prime location while in the trenches of production. We were prepped and ready to shoot a good portion of the story, but we didn’t let the loss get us down. Instead, we considered how we could accomplish the same story and character beats in a new location. An idea was hatched that night and after calling in a favor to some friends, we secured a new location by the next day. We could have looked at the loss as a defeat or tried to raise hell and fight it but we instead felt that there was a reason it didn’t work out and that it was best to move forward and keep on trucking.
Dual camera was something we employed from time to time. We weren’t always able to get access to a second camera but we were fortunate to when we filmed a stunt where a character was pushed into a pool. There wouldn’t be time to wait for the character to dry off to do another take or change into an alternate wardrobe so we knew we had to get it in one. The dual camera allowed us to cover the action from two angles. It also came in handy when we filmed dialogue scenes that became more improvisational, and when we had limited time to film. We used a Canon EOS Rebel T2i as it features the same sensor as the 7D.
We edited the movie on Final Cut Pro X across three different iMacs. There were four editors working on the movie and this enabled us to each tackle different sequences at a time. Final Cut Pro X is extremely easy to use with footage shot on a DSLR, making capture time a thing of the past. It is easy to organize the footage and sync it to the production sound. We purchased six 2tb harddrives which all had duplicate Final Cut Events (the raw footage and sound) so that when it came time to share an edit, all you had to send was the small project file via Dropbox, and the person on the other end could copy the project file to their computer and relink the files to view the cut. For a low budget film, we happened upon an incredibly efficient process for sharing and reviewing cuts of the film.
- iMac & Final Cut Pro X on Apple
- Lacie eSATA Hub & Apple Thunderbolt Cable on B&H Photo
- (6) Samsung 2TB Internal Hard Drive Bare Drive on Newegg.com
- (6) Rosewill Black 3.5’’ SATA to USB & eSATA External Enclosure on Newegg.com
Break The Script Down Into Sequences
Creating a feature film is a monumental task especially for a crew of six. We took this on by breaking the script down into sixteen sequences. Each sequence was treated like its own short film allowing us to focus on one section at a time so as to not get overwhelmed with the great deal of work we all had to do. Essentially, each sequence would be prepped for individually in regards to location, wardrobe, lighting, props, scheduling and rehearsals. This approach made the monumental task of executing a 94 minute feature film a little bit easier to tackle.
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