How To Make A Movie With No-Budget: Pre Production Aspects
Updated: Dec 11, 2021
An Analysis by Colored Glasses On Team
This Article is in consideration with our first independent production and the experience gathered therein. Colored Glasses on was just an idea on paper when five mad people conceived it into an entity which then resulted in several years of capturing exquisite imagery and executing ideas. It’s quite strange that what is taught in a film school varies quite differently from executing film projects. The same light sources, scripting, storyboarding, production elements which one learns in a film School becomes difficult to handle while making a film on a shoe string or no budget. The difference is time, money and comfort. While learning in film school, you get to rejoice and appreciate films adored in childhood we are not concerned about the fact that film is a commercial medium it involves Money!!; next big thing why would someone lend you Money when you are new to the medium. This is the only reason why have seen a resurgence in Independent film makers around the world showcasing what they can bring to the industry. The argument is whether you can make a film without a budget or not. The answer is Yes! Now, one can easily challenge this notion that a film involves well paid actors, renting locations, production costs, Equipments cost – Video and audio, Travel expenses, Crew cost and so much more. It is so that even before thinking about creating a particular shot you can think of a hundred reasons that it won’t happen. So why should someone try it in the first place? Well it is the love for cinema and the immense appreciation for it that drives us into making a film. We at colored glasses on were quite sceptical about our first independent production “The Lazarus Herofication” which is yet to get on floor and is going through the post-production process.
To claim that this flick was made with no budget is futile it involved a lot of money but the cost cutting was immense. Our Screenwriter back tracked the whole thing. Which means choosing certain locations and based upon them write the whole script. Rather, than to write liberally about the narrative and then recreating each bit. The film involved several locations and elements like a church now how do you get to shoot inside a church! So the other important element is to understand the administrative aspects of film making. Before we start on to specify the whole process to shoot a film on no budget, there is one major consideration which should be kept in mind. A film requires a team. This won’t be a team as huge as one hired by film studios but it has to have certain key members like; a cinematographer, sound engineer, Editor and finally a film director. This corresponds with the team of colored glasses on we just have an additional cinematographer or first Assistant Cameraperson who is quite efficient and shares the workload. Now, most independent film makers are doing the work by themselves which can happen to if you are someone like Rima Das, Director “Village Rockstars”. The setback of this is you won’t have people around to support and Challenge. The key is “Challenge” and it is an important part of the learning process it is quite important when you are starting out in this wonderful medium. So how to gather a team which will challenge you?
The easiest way is to go to a film school meet likeminded people who are crazy about cinema, create one big pot and embark on your film making journey. If this is not the case which it is not mostly, than ask your close friends, does not matter what professional background they have because film is a medium where every stream of knowledge is applicable. If they don’t know about the gear give them workshops about it and don’t worry if it is something they are not verse about. The important aspect is marrying aesthetics with technology. You will have to share most of the technical burden on the shoot but that’s how it goes for an independent film maker who wants to make movies. When you do things on your own in such projects you get to learn immensely about the craft not just one but various aspects. Like Christopher Nolan says
“Film making is the art form of mediocrity, because you cannot learn everything but only some aspects of each element involved in it."
This was not the case for our Colored Glasses On team because we had members who are technically and aesthetically well acquainted. So the Director was not burdened with each and every other element involved in conceiving the project. Now let’s come back to the pre production aspects of shooting on a low budget. The first element is the Screenplay before deciding how to make it is important to know what to make. The Screenplay requires a lot of reading as specified by the great Werner Herzog;
Read, Read, Read, Read, Read, Read, Read, Read...if you don’t read you can never be a film maker.
It is not just reading but watching films and taking inspirations from them. That is the only way it is done says “Patty Jenkins”. You revisit the masters before you as they did in their own time. Only a single word can be the core of your screenplay like “Trauma”. People in the Industry will encourage that a short film should be simple enough based on limited locations and a simple screenplay. Do not shell yourself into this petty thought expand your horizon try and write a complex script and work around things to make it happen. Choose a location close to your home, where it is feasible to reach and beware of the red tapism too.
Now there is only one rule to writing a good script give the audience what they want but not in the way they are expecting it.
A simple example would be a man in Trauma who takes a small dose of Strychnine everyday to kill himself. Since the beginning of a movie of this kind the audience will be expecting that this guy will die soon enough with the dosage he is consuming. But, kill the guy in a car accident. This fulfils the audience demand and adds another layer of tragedy to the narrative. Another aspect is the three act structure which is the most basic narrative structure; The Beginning, middle and an end. Try to break loose of this notion, maybe write a story which is independent of conflict and still retains its dramatic elements. After loads of reading and watching cinema of all ages you have a script. The film maker should keep reminding himself
“More money less freedom”.
The next step is to decide the mood and tone of the film. Mood is a property of Color and tone is a property of contrast. Colored Glasses on major aim in this digital age of film making is to convey a story using these two very basic elements. Unlike in the days of filming on Nitrate stock where every element was majorly exposed white light and later tinting and toning would create the image. Nowadays, the digital cameras and their properties have taken the spectrum of colors on another level altogether. So it has become easier to incorporate the use of color in your films. For this it is important to understand the gear a person is using which is quite easy to get into in the current age. You can get loads of tutorials, videos and podcasts on such things. To have a particular color in your shot and make an impact over the audience prominently at least sixty percent elements representing the color should be there in the frame.
Now on a no budget it is too much to ask for this. But what one can really work around is the color of costumes that a character is wearing. As characters will be prevalent in the film throughout and will share major proportion of the screen space. Next step is to choose a color palette for your characters and look into your own wardrobe! Just make sure to clean them up. Next is Tone which is a property of Contrast. Contrast is quite an important element in our life if seen closely it is present everywhere. If you look around you will find hundreds of examples in the real life. Like a person smoking in front of a no – smoking signboard, a beggar begging in front of a mansion, Religious people of different background fighting over the almighty and what not. The thing is the human eye seeks contrast it looks for completeness.
Coming out from the sun to your house a person sees a red blob of light in the eyes, the blob then turns blue from the inside and later it vanishes. The reason behind being that the eye was searching for some darkness while the impression of the sun was still emplaced on the memory. This emplacement could be over several minutes as specified by Goethe. To have contrast in the frame use the available lights in a way to generate a dramatic effects. Try out positioning the character at different angles from the available light source and see for the impact it has on the scene. Look for the contrast between the character and the background. It is the aim of the masters of cinematography to light out a whole scene using available light or just a single light source. Try to do that. Don’t bother too much about the term “cinematic” it is just a perception in the mind of audience from the days when cinemascope came into existence. No shot is Cinematic and every shot is Cinematic.
Great Shots are the ones which command the audience to adhere to the most important element in the frame and if everything else in the frame leads to that most important element too then it’s a masterful shot. Next aspect is the locations. Choose locations wisely go to the restaurants and places you have visited since a long time and tell them your prospect. People will agree for it you have the ability to convince them. Just try to not be a bother in their work, shoot on days when the place is less occupied also use time wisely. If this is not the case shoot in our own home do a bit of production design or rent out cheap hotels. Modify your screenplay after choosing your location this is a thing which you have to adjust now and then because things will never happen the way you want them to. It is quite possible that not a single shot will come out in the way you thought them out. The name of the game is keep moving forward. Try to achieve perfection in the limited time you have in a particular place. The final element which will be considered here is the face value of the film; The Actors. Actors bring a lot to the table. They can create moments which you had not expected in the narrative but come out as majestic. It is all about the little moments you create while shooting as is said by “Ron Howard”.
Do not tell actors “how to do it” but tell them “what to do” and give them the liberty to act on it.
Watch street plays, plays and short films available on the net or watch them live. Cast your actors yourselves this way and it will save a lot of cost. Just show them how enthusiastic you are about the project and most of them will work without a penny. Tell them the scope of work and reach which is another element they will be attracted too. It is inevitable that people will say yes in the beginning and then back out at the last moment. Trust yourself at that particular stage and keep looking for people to work around with. You will get the right people if they are excited about the project because art is a thing to celebrate not to cherish on your own.
The next part of this series of articles will involve Production and Post-Production aspects of film making.