Filmmaking looks like a very expensive hobby because of the various intricacies that go into production. However, the most basic and important component of filmmaking, creativity, can be derived from anywhere! See how renowned artist Stephen Hanson was driven to pursue art after watching a classmate create a mural out of bottle tops at seven years old. He said, “It was like a magic trick I was so impressed I asked if I could help him: my first job as an artist’s apprentice. After I became inspired by all kinds of things.” This shows us that creative work can be done with pretty much anything as long as you have the drive and ingenuity to succeed.
To help out, we’ve listed a few important tips and tricks when filmmaking on a budget. These aim to address the different elements you’ll need as a filmmaker— without breaking the bank.
Opt for natural lighting
Lighting can make or break a film. This is why filmmakers typically splurge on lighting equipment to create a basic three-point lighting setup and give a scene better exposure.
It is cheaper to create darkness than it is to create light. Opting for scenes in free locations when the sun is out can help you cut costs, save time and reduce equipment needs. You can even get creative with your bounce board. The Sun Block windshield cover is a favorite of DIY video artist Shani Heckman, and only costs a dollar at your local dollar store! With the right natural lighting, a reflector may be all you’ll need for a good shot.
Look for second-hand deals for equipment and props
If you need a more extensive arsenal of equipment, opting for second-hand deals can be a good solution. Many experienced filmmakers are happy to sell their preloved tools, and you can easily find good deals for light production kits and stands in online communities.
For safer transactions, you can opt to find second-hand gear on third-party platforms such as B&H or Adorama. Besides offering used videography lighting, you can buy used mirrorless cameras online at Adorama from the flagship Nikon Z9 to the highly appraised Sony Alpha a7. These show us that budget filmmakers don’t need to break the bank to access quality equipment as long as they get creative with where to look.
Similarly, budget filmmakers don’t have to spend excessively on new props. Thrift stores are known to contain an assortment of unique findings, and discount stores such as It’s a Wrap! even focus exclusively on selling props and clothing items from TV and movie sets. Otherwise, DIY projects for props may help you cut costs even further.
Cast dedicated up-and-coming actors
A popular route for filmmakers on a budget is to use friends and family as actors. While this can sometimes provide amazing results, it can easily become apparent when your actors aren’t dedicated to the craft.
Hiring aspiring actors in the form of a barter system, wherein they act for you and you provide footage for their portfolio, is an easy solution. Make sure, however, that you are honest and transparent with what the actors will receive during the casting call. This will allow you to form intimate connections in the industry that can help you build your career in the long run.
Take inspiration from the outside world
Film school can certainly help aspiring filmmakers hone their skills professionally. However, filmmakers can create impactful work by taking elements and lessons from real life. Simply take a look at the careful architectural design choices on the Financial Times from Suspiria’s director, Luca Guadagnino. As a filmmaker, Guadagnino focuses on incorporating the timeless beauty of Italianate architecture and landscape in his set designs, which adds a distinct stylishness to his work and sets it apart from the rest.
Developing your own filmmaking and set design style isn’t necessarily tied to formal training but can be honed by simply observing the world around you. Other popular directors such as Tim Burton or Quentin Tarantino also did not go to film school, and the former only developed his “Burton-esque” style after absorbing a range of pop art styles and cinematic influences in his childhood. With the right mindset and approach, you, too, can produce exciting work without a film school degree.
With these tips and tricks, you don’t have to be limited by your budget to create an amazing film. For more on cinema and film reviews, check out our other features on Close Up Culture.