This is an excerpt from my book The Indian Indie Film (or Make Your Film for rest of the world). It was written from the experience of making my debut feature film on an iPhone for ₹5 lakhs ($7,000). Now available as an eBook on Amazon.
For almost a month we’ve been looking into making your debut feature film without huge budgets or stars (If you haven’t been following, this article is a good place to start). From a bird’s eye view, here are the pros and cons of making a low budget film and what its implication on the film could be.
What is Low Budget Filmmaking?
Before going further, let me clear a confusion you might have. Low budget, no budget, micro budget, ultra low budget, available resource filmmaking—these are all confusing terms that mean different things to different people in various parts of the world. For example, a Low Budget film of Hollywood, is a Big Budget film in my state (Kerala, India) and a Mega Budget film for someone in Nollywood (Nigeria, Africa).
So let us define low budget filmmaking as the process of making a film where your budget allows only for spending on the essentials. Which can be anything from nothing, to just paying for food and travel, to differed payments to the crew, to half rates for everyone and so on. But nobody is being given hefty payments and your crew is not going to be in hundreds, but maybe 10 or 20.
Pros of Making a Low Budget Film
If you do decide to make a film for a low budget, then you stand to gain the following:
- Self reliance
Once you’ve made a film for almost nothing, compared to normal film’s budget, you gain a confidence in yourself that nothing else can provide. You now know for certain that no matter what, you can inspire a handful of other artists and pull together an entire feature film, with or without the support of an industry. You cannot gain that any other way.
- Creative freedom
Neither is there a producer you need to please, nor an audience. The only person you need to please is yourself. This gives you unparalleled freedom to experiment.
- Quick turn around
As you do not have a huge crew, you can steer your production to try out new horizons that you could not have anticipated earlier.
For us, postproduction of Munnairv took longer than a normal budget film that was shooting at the same time. We wanted the best quality, but did not have the money to hire professionals. So we ended up spending more time instead of money.
Cons of Making a Low Budget Film
Let me not paint a rosy picture with the pros alone. The following are the thorns and they can hurt you bad:
- Extremely demanding
Making a low budget film is going to test you like no other film you may make. It is going to demand every ounce of your strength, will power and persistence to pull through it. Especially so if it is your debut feature.
You do not have the ally of money to solve problems. There will be a lot of moments where you would want to throw your hands up and leave. It is only your creativity and drive that can take your through those. Most important of all is the team that you make.
- Strenuous on connections
It can be extremely demanding of your connections, both professional and personal. Your team is not going to be paid much, but they too have families to look after. They could be doing something elsewhere and making more money. But they choose to be there. You might not be rewarding them in kind, but make sure you reward them with kindness and gratitude. Also another important reason why you should choose your team wisely.
It is also demanding on your personal connections as every day of the shoot, my parents’ house was full of people. It was my parents who cooked them breakfast everyday. The house was a mess, throughout the shoot and even into postproduction. I was using the house TV as an external monitor for color correcting.
If you are asking your friends and family members to chip in funds, remember to walk a careful line. I had written about it in detail here.
Test the waters of low budget filmmaking with lesser demanding short films, before diving into a feature.
Implications on The Film
Now that you know what the pros and cons of making a low budget film are, here are other things to consider:
- No theatre distribution
It is less likely that a traditional distributor is going to want the film. They need stars to sell tickets. Unless you are yourself a star, or you somehow got a big name actor to act in your film, your film is going to be released through VOD platforms and festivals.
- No publicity
No news channel is going to follow you or your film around. You will have to build awareness and desire for your film by marketing it yourself. If you are in for the fame, you are better off making a regular budget film.
- No grand locations
Your film is not going to have exotic locations, or dance pieces. In fact it is probably only going to have a handful of locations, either those that you own, or that your friends and family do, or free public ones.
- No special effects, VFX
There is not going be any spectacular tricks in your film. No space rockets, no hi-fi gadgets or stunts or set pieces.
- Smaller version of the film
You might have written a script a certain way, but if you want to make it yourself, you might have to rewrite making compromises. Your film might not be as grand as you dreamt it to be.
- Not everyone is going to love it
And because of all of the above, your film might not look and sound like a traditional film that normal audiences are used to. Hence not everyone is going to love it.
Take these only as guidelines. If your story needs VFX and you can do spellbinding visual effects then of course your film will have those. But because you do not have the money to hire others, you might have to do it all on your own, and so spend more time instead.
What I mean to say is that you cannot have all of these without budgets for that. If you want one, you will have to sacrifice something else. If your story needs a lot of locations then you might have to pay more for travel and need more shoot days and so more money for food and so on.
Low Budget Films That Did It Right
If you think these restrictions are going to make nothing but boring film, you need to watch Robert Rodriguez’s debut low budget film El Mariachi. Here is its trailer.
It was made by just a one man crew, the director himself, when he was 23 years old. If you are looking to make a low budget debut feature, I highly recommend reading his Rebel Without a Crew. Similarly Christopher Nolan’s first film was a low budget one, called Following.
Here is a sneak peak into our debut low budget film Munnariv.
Now that you know the pros and cons of making a low budget film and you know that you can make a spectacular film inspite of the implications of the budget, I hope you can now make an informed decision. Go make it happen.
- Watch Andrew Saladino’s video essay ‘Lessons for the No-Budget Feature’ https://youtu.be/SIQxm7bNOWc
- Noam Kroll’s blog and podcasts on https://noamkroll.com/