Tuesday 9 October 2012

30 Tips to Help You Make Your First Zero-Budget Short Film

1. Don't say it's unpaid. Say it's a collaboration. And don't just say it, mean it. You're collaborating together to create a piece of art out of whatever means you have.

2. Think of every single place you know that you have access to that could be a location. Think about this before the script stage. Your cousin is an office manager? Your Uncle owns a taxi? Your ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend lives in a mansion? Utilise these locations in your script/film.

3. Find creative people who will get something out of your project. Your friend is an artist? Ask if she wants to design DVD covers. Your Brother wants to be a singer? Get him to sing a song about the movie and post it on YouTube to promote the project. 

4. Related to the point above -- don't do it all yourself. Part of doing a zero-budget film is that you do need to do a lot of it yourself; but delegate! Find other creative people who want to get involved. 

5. Be confident. It's your piece of art. It doesn't have to be a masterpiece, and you don't need to be intimidated by anyone -- this is your chance to create something personal.

6. Create something personal. Write from the heart

7. Write to your budget. No explosions, no car chases, no burning down buildings. 

8. If you know people who can stage explosions, car chases and buildings burning down, then by all means use them if it'll help your story (but don't break any laws and don't kill any people, not even actors).

9. Don't be afraid of actors just because it's your first movie. They need the roles, otherwise they wouldn't do it! And most of them -- some of them -- are very friendly people. 

10. Cast interesting and intriguing actors. There's only so much time in a short film to tell a story; so tell some of the story through the interesting faces you present on screen. 

11. Don't hire heaps of lights and things with cables and buttons that you don't understand. Focus on telling a story. 

12. Shoot without permission. Tell people you're students, tell people you're just taking a picture, tell people you're not filming-just-pretending-to. Or my old favourite, you say, "We are thinking about doing a film so we're just coming here to test out the light and see if it's workable". 

For some reason, people will stop you from filming but they won't stop you from filming-to-see-if-it's-the-right-place-to-film. This really works!

13. Don't spend all day getting every single angle conceivable. Think about the story you're telling -- storyboard if it helps you --- think about shooting scenes creatively in ways that support your vision, rather than covering absolutely everything ten times over. 

14. Get a few takes and then move on. 

15. Start early. Don't feel bad about it. Everyone wants to make a movie so get them up early and crack on. 

16. If on day two, your actor has quit -- don't keep ringing them up, demanding they return. At the level you're at --- justified or not-- actors will go for paid work instead, or they'll think you're amateur, or they'll be lazy and stay home. Y'know what? It's happened to everyone, find a way to keep telling your story. 

17. It's not just actors. It could be anyone. If it's YOUR MOVIE, it's going to mean more to you than the others -- so you gotta do whatever you gotta do to make it happen. 

18. If someone is working exceptionally hard to help you with YOUR VISION; then treat them to something. A chocolate bar. A bunch of flowers. A new house. Whatever you can afford. These people are extremely rare. 

19. Find lovely people to work with. 

20. Don't get stressed. 

Okay, you will get stressed. But don't drag it on for hours. 

Maybe the sound guy was late. Maybe the camera is broken. Maybe the building exploded at the wrong moment. 

But what are you going to do? Moaning and stressing doesn't bring a solution. You need to focus on finding solutions to problems as they arise. 

Sometimes we get caught up in rehashing the same old problems. Telling each person, one-by-one, oh how badly we were let down by someone or something -- but it solves nothing! Be a pro. Move on. 

21. Don't have friends on set just to have friends on set. They'll get in the way. 

22. If you have friends helping you out on the crew --- then you need to be very careful about which friends you choose. 

Explain to them exactly what they'll be doing, and let them know precisely how boring it will be. Everyone loves the idea of working on a movie, but after three days in which they've done nothing but hold a boom pole, they get bored. And then that darn pole keeps dipping into the shot.

You need people who are committed. 

23. If you have scenes where characters are eating food -- build your lunch breaks around it, so that the actors are working and eating. It saves time and money. Don't tell the actors you're doing this, they'll get grumpy. 

24. Feed everyone well -- but keep it cheap. Try make it hot if you can. Everyone likes Pasta. 

25. Do not fall in love with cast members or crew members, because if they fall in love with someone else during the production, your whole brain goes funny and your feet keep forgetting where the floor is. 

This is not a good state of mind for a director. 

26. Give praise! These people are giving their time for nothing; working as hard as they can -- and they're just as insecure as you are. Giving them specific and honest praise will help them, and the set will become rather pleasant and productive-- which is what you want, right? 

27. Ignore the temptation to say, "Well we're not far behind --- how about if we wrap now and pick up the rest when we finish tomorrow?"

That's a bad idea. Do it now. Ignore the tiredness. 

28. Ignore the tiredness -- you're making a movie! Have some caffeine and go go go make it happen --- yawn when no-one is looking--- then go go go again. 

29. Tell people every four minutes that the lights are hot; because they keep forgetting and keep burning their hands. We don't know why they do that but they do. 

30. Enjoy it. You're MAKING A FILM!!!!

Care to share?


  1. What an excellent article and in true Raindance spirit!

    1. Thanks Elliot - I definitely agree about the Raindance spirit!

  2. My most favorite one till date! :D
    imagine shooting in your ex gf's bf's mansion lol
    and i love the way the next line gets connected to the previous line!

  3. Great article! Really reminds me why I love doing this. Thanks!

  4. Awesome .. i am still expecting more .. but Great ! i am very interested to learn .. if can just refer some books and please release some notes about making a short movie .

  5. Thank you very much for writing and sharing this page. I have absolutely no film making experience but I have written a cool script that I would like to make into a short film. Whether or not it goes well (lol) it will be a wonderful experience to try. Your advice is invaluable - thank you! *HUGS*

  6. Thanks for this. I know it's over a year old, but I just stumbled upon it and I feel invigorated and motivated. I'm on the precipice of my next short and my first feature, and I can use a healthy, uplifting jolt every now and then.