How to Create a Million-Dollar Movie on a Thousand-Dollar Budget
Does digital video spell free lunch for filmmakers? As with every other deal in Hollywood, there's a catch or two. To succeed as a digital mogul, you need to have both technical know-how and the knack for some good, old-fashioned creative accounting.
Shoot Now, Pay Later
To start, the writer, the producer, and the director/cinematographer all get written agreements called deferralspromises to pay later if money ever comes. If you're making a documentary, you can follow the "reality TV" business model, which avoids using formal scripts, traditional direction, or professional actors.
Do It In DV
Next, forget about actually putting anything on film. Shoot DV, which is the new 16mm in terms of quality. HD will blow your budget, and HDV is promising, but not quite here. Going all-digital will literally save you millions. Although most theaters don't yet have digital projectors, don't worryfilm festivals accept submissions on digital media. If you get luckyand the odds are roughly 10,000 to one you won'tthen you can argue with your new best friend, the distributor, about who picks up the tab for the film transfer.
Forget Spendy Actors, Employ Serious Cut Backs
Okay, you've saved the easy money, now it's time to grind like a sleazy B-movie producer of yesteryear.
Don't pay your actors. They get deferrals, too. And, don't pay your crew. Stars and experienced craftspeople generally won't defer their wages so you'll most likely have to work with talented amateurswho may work slower, and perhaps less safely. (Be careful: Deferring wages for union actors or crew may still require you to pay workers comp and benefit contributions during shooting.)
Don't shoot in a major city. Shooting permits can cost you tens of thousands, and the cops will nail you if you don't get the permits.
Here's a really tough one: Don't feed anybody. You can afford a few bags of Cheetos, not much more. (Of course, I have no idea how you'll get anyone to show up on day two.)
The Bare Minimum
Seriously, to shoot cheap, cut back on everything. You only need:
A few actors and a small crew (but feed them)
Not much equipment (available light is a whole other subject
As few shooting days as possible.
Don't skimp on sound: Rent a boom microphone and get someone who knows how to use it. Some form of liability insurance is a good idea too, but you'll need to seek professional advice on that one.
An ultra-low-budget production might shoot for two to four nearly endless days over a long weekend. (It's been done.) More ambitious shoots, however, can follow one of two schedules:
Two seven-day weeks with no days off (14 shooting days)
Three six-day weeks with one weekend day off each week (18 shooting days). In general, adding days will multiply your expenses proportionally.
Just as a reality check, the Screen Actors Guild defines an Experimental Moviewhich permits deferrals even for name actorsas costing under $75,000. Eventually, after all the deferrals are paid, you could well have spent a good chunk of that million you tried to save.
That's the catch.
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