How to Shoot a Short Film on a Zero Budget

I always sound like a pessimist when talking about making a film.  The truth is that 99 percent of movies never get made.  Out of the good ones that do get made, 99 percent never make any money.  Unless you are luckier than a leprechaun at the end of a rainbow with a rabbit’s foot in his pocket, you are probably not going to make money with a zero budget film. 


However, if you are doing a passion project and are looking to make a film as a hobby, then there are plenty of options to take.


#1: A Good Story


The most important aspect of any film is the story.  People will watch a poorly made film with a great story, but most likely will walk out of one that has good production value, but lacks a compelling narrative.  There is a ‘roller coaster’ ride effect of some films that have value in spectacle, but you can’t make those with no budget. 


The great thing about writing a script and learning to create a story is that it’s free!  Look up Syd Field and Joseph Campbell to start creating good stories.


#2: Volunteers


Second, you need volunteers since I assume you are not paying for a crew.  Competent crew members take a lot of convincing, so throw away your creative cap and put on your social butterfly outfit.  Beg, barter, or trade with people to help you out.  Friends and family are a good way to start, but be careful because they will likely ask you to return the favor in the future.


#3: A Film Crew


For the crew, you will need a few main positions.  Director, Assistant director, cinematographer, producers, production designers, cameramen, sound designers, a handful of grips and editors.  The more the merrier, as long as they are productive and not a distraction.  If you are really going shoestring, you just need a director, cinematographer and producer.  The director or DP (cinematographer) can double as a cameraman and/or soundman.  The producer can take the AD’s (assistant director’s) role.


#4: Equipment and Locations


After the crew is set, you need to secure equipment and locations.  Get the best equipment you can get your hands on and the best locations possible.  If worse comes to worst, you can use your iPhone camera and your apartment.  Again, the story should be the most important aspect of your film.


#5: Actors


Actors are pretty easy to secure.  You can post auditions on sites like LACasting or NowCasting, or go to a local high school or college.  Try to get professional actors, as untrained actors will destroy your film.  Again, actors are easier than you think to get because the market is flooded.  They will work for free or for food.


#6: a Shooting Schedule


Set a shooting schedule and film all of your scenes.  Don’t film in chronological order, you should film based on the most efficient schedule.  Break down your script into separate locations and film all of the scenes that take place at those locations.  This is a rule of thumb, but usually ends up being the most efficient.


#7: Editing Equipment


Next, you will need to edit your project.  Enlist a tech savvy friend, or if you have a computer you can use iMovie or any video editing program.  Professionals use Avid, Final Cut or Adobe Premiere.  Make sure you do some sound design by adding music, dialogue, background noise and foley.

#8: Acknowledge Murphy’s Law


Independent films, especially zero budget ones, are bound by one universal rule: Murphy’s Law.  This law states that “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”  Prepare for the lead actors to drop out, vital equipment to break, rain on your shoot date — the works.  Remember that all filmmakers go through what you are experiencing and you should push through despite all setbacks.


In the end, having a completed film is having a legacy that can never be destroyed.


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