Making a $0 Short Film – Checklist
You can read all the books in the world, here are some of my personal favorites, and watch every filmmaking course ever made, but at the end of the day, nothing beats real-world experience. If you’ve never made a movie before, I suggest you start with a short film or a small, one-location feature. Write a short film that you can afford to shoot tomorrow by using gear, props, and locations that are free to you. Here is what you need to make a $0 budget short film: (1) A great screenplay – Make sure you go through a few rounds of rewrites and that the script adheres to the quality for which you would like to be known. Follow the tips in the writing section and do your homework. Rewrite it until you think it’s amazing!! Anything less is not acceptable. (2) Script breakdown – List all the props, locations, actors, etc. in your script. I use Celtx, but you can use a simple Excel sheet as well. Find what works for you. Check out my take on different writing software.
(3) Free location – Most no-budget shorts are shot outside, in the filmmaker’s apartment, or in a location to which they have free access.
(4) Free props – If you have access to a free prop that could make your movie look more expensive than it actually is, then you must figure out a way to use it in the script. That could be a car, a computer, a fancy sword, a rocket launcher, whatever you can get your hands on for $0. (5) Free crew – You should do what you can to make sure that you have more than one person behind the camera. If you have friends or know people who need the experience, you can bring them on board as first AC, sound mixer, makeup, etc. Don’t be afraid to ask for favors, it’s a skill that’ll save you a lot of money down the road. If you don’t know anyone, you can advertise on Craigslist or on some other social media group. There are plenty of students looking for work, and while I’m sure your ad will get some hate mail (“how dare you advertise an unpaid position?”), you’ll be surprised at how many people will actually respond positively. Those people want experience, and as long as you’re willing to give them a good work environment, they’ll work hard for you. (6) Food – Take the time to make some sandwiches for people before the shoot. Don’t ask people to work for you for more than four hours without food, even if you’re shooting in the park.
(7) Free camera – These days, any person who owns a smartphone has access to a 4K camera. And if you have no choice but to shoot on the iPhone, it’s better than to not shoot at all. There are several apps you can use as well to give you more control over your image, such as Filmic Pro (an app that allows you to rack focus, control aperture, save high-resolution MOV files, shoot in high-quality 4K mode, and more). If you have a couple of bucks to spare, rent yourself a DSLR camera and a 35mm lens. You can rent these online at sites like KitSplit and Share- Grid. (On the day I wrote this chapter, I did a quick search on KitSplit and found a Sony A7s II package with lenses and everything for $60 a day, a C100 with a Lens + Tripod for $135 a day, and an Ursa Mini kit with all the bells and whistles for $200 a day).
(8) Free permits – If you’re filming in some big cities, and you are not blocking the sidewalk, you can get an optional permit for free. All you need to do is call the Mayor’s Office and ask for an Optional Permit. If you live in New York City, you can visit their website, fill out the form online, and fax it. While Free Permits are not required by law in New York, they are going to give you a sense of legitimacy, and if anyone comes by and asks you to move – you will have the support of the city. A permit can take anywhere from a day to a few days to get, depending on how busy the city is – so you want to make the request at least a week in advance.
(9) Use available light – If you’re working on a $0 budget, you’re going to have to utilize a lot of natural light, lamps, and practical lights. You can light a scene with a street lamp, or any $10 floodlight when shooting indoors. Making a short film for no money serves as a great cinematography learning opportunity for anyone who aspires to be a filmmaker. There are countless videos on YouTube that will teach you how to beautifully light a scene with standard lights that can be found in any home. Get a silk or a collapsible diffuser to soften sunlight when shooting outdoors. You can use a sheet or buy a decent portable diffuser for $13 on Amazon.
(10) Make it FUN! – Keeping a fun work environment for everyone can be a challenge when you have to manage 85 people on a set, but when you’re dealing with a minimal cast and crew of under 10 people, the task becomes way more manageable. Keep a positive attitude, play music, crack a smile, and make a conscious effort to ensure that the people who are giving you their time and effort are having fun! This will guarantee a positive experience and a better-made end product at the end of the day.