Nov 22

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How to make ‘no-budget’ work to your benefit

“True freedom doesn’t lie in the maximization of choice, but, ironically, is most easily found in a life where there is little choice.”   —   Steve Hagen


Is a lack of funds holding you back from making your movie?


If the answer is yes, you’re not alone. Most of the time the funds never appear and the movie never gets made.


So what’s your alternative?


Make the damn thing anyway.


True, you won’t be able to rent that Red Epic. Or the Arri light kit, or offer a kick-ass craft table filled with lobster and caviar, or hire John Williams to score it. Forget about sinking that Navy cruiser in the Mediterranean with the Death Star.


You’re movie is better because of the the limitations you face.


Wow,  Brian. Not only are you an asshole, but you’re also mentally retarded!


No, I’m not. Well, yes, I’m an asshole, but I’m not mentally retarded. Mostly.



Having no budget forces you to think and act more creatively than you would otherwise. That scene on the grand staircase of a burning Malibu mansion? What if it took place in a grungy hallway in a run-down apartment building where your buddy lives in south Atlanta? Suddenly your movie has a gritty authentic feel that’s probably better than what you originally envisioned.


I’ll bet a dollar that you can’t offer a real world example.


I’ll take that dollar, bitch. On our disaster of a feature film Spin My Driedel, I wrote a scene where my hapless heroes visited a mob boss to ask for assistance in getting rid of a couple of bodies. The setting was a lavish mansion with lots of dark wood walls and floors, and expensive furniture, and the mob boss was written as an older grandma-style woman who smiled and liked to bake…and oversaw the largest narcotics trafficking ring on the east coast.


The mansion never materialized, and the actor cast as the mob-boss fell through. Time was running out – we had to shoot this scene while our other actors were still available. I posted a plea on a local film forum that we were looking for a mansion-ish house to film a scene in, and that we had no money to pay for the location. Someone responded. She didn’t own a mansion, but she did have a sprawling ranch house with a large in-ground pool and pool house, and a wide yard that overlooked a river that cut through the rolling hills of north Georgia. In addition to that, she had a daughter who was a model and aspiring actress, with experience and connections with the local theater group. We re-wrote the scene to make the mob boss a Paris Hilton-like bikini-clad clueless babe, sipping wine while basking by the poolside. She also found us actors to fill ancillary roles. And she fed us.


Hello, boys.


We wound up with some incredible looking shots with lots of production value, and all we had to pay for was the gas in my car (we stuffed our entire cast and crew in my old Ford Escort).


That’s fine, but I don’t have money to rent equipment. What now?


Stop being a bitch, bitch. Here’s how you get everything you need cheap or for free.


If you don’t have the money to rent lights, go to the hardware store. Film Riot and this Hurlblog article will show you how to make uber cheap shop lights work for you. And if you don’t have the $15 for a clamp light or two, I promise that someone you know has clamp lights. Go borrow them.


And the camera? No one gives a shit about what you shot your movie on if the story is intriguing and you shot it well. If you want 24 fps but don’t have much to spend, rent an old DVX100a. And if you don’t have money to buy or rent a camera, find someone with a nice camera to shoot it for you. Post what you’re looking for in local film forums and at colleges. A lot of people will work for meals and credit and the experience your movie offers. Just be up front that there’s no money involved. I’ll talk more about that in an upcoming post.


It seems like you’re not covering everything. Maybe you’re hiding something, like those communist Al-nazis, or whoever we’re mad at now. 


Jeesh. I’m not a goddamned textbook. But there is one more vitally important point: don’t forget audio, don’t ignore audio. Audiences will forgive a crappy picture way much more than they will shitty audio. I once rented a shotgun mic with zeppelin and muff, and a boompole, and a pair of studio monitoring headphones, for a whopping $40. Either rent it or find someone with the gear who will show up and help for free.


Our experience in finding ways to shoot with almost no budget allowed us to do a lot more when we did find funding for our other movies. The more you learn how to make things happen with no money, the greater the things you’ll achieve when you do have a bankroll behind your next movie.


Don’t allow a lack of funds, or anything else,  stop you from making your movie. 


In his book Make Your Own Damn Movie, Lloyd Kaufman says, “If you have to make your film for $250, just make it[…] move on no matter what the personal cost and get that movie made. Don’t be discouraged by money.


The only reason that you are sitting on your ass and not doing the thing you love is because you choose to sit on your ass. Get up and make something. And if you’ve already pulled a movie off for next to nothing, use the comment section below to share what you learned and experienced along the way.


Ting-a-ling, you sons of bitches.


Permanent link to this article: http://landfillfilms.com/how-to-make-no-budget-work-for-your-benefit/


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  1. Jaime

    I don’t make films, but I can still take a lot away from this post. I’ll just modify this:
    “Don’t allow a lack of funds, or anything else, stop you from making your movie.”
    To this:
    “Don’t allow a lack of funds, or anything else, stop you from whatever it is you’re trying to do.”
    Ahh, imagine the possibilities!

  2. tsambis

    I shot that scene with the leg and the mansion! Where’s my copy?

    1. Landfill Brian

      Our agreement with the UN mandated that we destroy all remaining copies…however, seems me a good address and how many copies you want and burn you some this weekend.

  3. tsambis

    I want a live audience with director’s commentary.

  4. tsambis


    1. Landfill Brian

      Anytime. As long as I’m not at work. Or at the kid’s soccer games. Or watching TV. Saturday nights are usually the easiest for me to escape.

  5. tsambis

    Last night was saturday night.

    1. Landfill Brian

      Yeah, man, sure was. Maybe there will be another one. If there is, you should like, you know, um, contact me ahead of time, and maybe we can, um, what we we’re talking about.

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