How to make (an almost) Zero Budget Film
“After the success of Taare Zameen Par Amole Gupte wanted to make a small, non-mainstream film. He borrowed money from friends and began shooting with a five-man crew in a Mumbai school. The crew shot during four-hour workshops every Saturday for a year and a half to capture all the scenes they needed. Shot using a Canon EOS 7D, the film used 170 child actors in total. After the film was completed, Gupte showed it to Karan Johar and he helped him to sign a distribution deal with Fox Star Studios.” The film was “Stanley Ka Dabba” and its box office receipt was over ₹ 5 crores.
Let’s be clear – there is no film to be made on a true ‘zero budget’; however it may be so small that compared to that of a regular film, it can be a rounding factor.
There is a certain kind of personality who would want to go this route – people who have passion and want to be free from restrictions on artistic freedom and creativity, to make something from the heart. And of course, you need to have guts and grit.
If you have all these, you may tread the difficult but exciting path of guerilla film making. If you are good, your film can be a backed by major distributors and turn into runaway box office success. If your film fails, you don’t lose much and you gain invaluable experience in making and marketing films.
So what do you need to make a film without much money?
Story is paramount. It should be honest and from your heart. If you pick up a story you “think” sells, your story could be good but never great. The difference will show in the final product. Read and re-read to ensure that you believe and truly own your story. Share it with people you trust and respect and who will give you candid feedback. You should make sure that the person whose opinion you are seeking has no skin in the game, so that the feedback is not colored in any way.
Make sure you don’t choose locations that will add to your overheads. While writing the script, keep location costs in mind, and try to minimize expenses. You can try to bypass expensive permits if you can shoot quickly and get out before anyone notices. You can also convince the authorities you are a film student working on a project. A word of caution here - DO NOT break major laws where you can land up in legal hassles. Try pushing boundaries where penalties are minor. For example, it is a strict no-no to shoot around defense establishments without prior permission. Better still, find if there are alternative locations where no permits, and therefore no money, is needed.
Digital camera has democratized film-making. Expensive film stock is no longer required. All you need is a camera with good compression. For most people, a DSLR camera gives the best balance between image quality and affordability. You can get creative and use your contacts for getting one for little or no money. If you are in touch with your film institute, see if you can borrow a camera for a few days. iPads and iPhones include good HD cameras. You can get a lot of accessories and apps to make them better for filmmaking. You can use iOgrapher to help you use iPad as a camera. Also make sure you have a hard drive large enough to store the film.
Make sure you have a good mic and mixer and a person who has technical know-how of recording. Good sound quality is imperative for a good feel of the end product. Rode Videomic Pro, though slightly expensive at a little over 20,000 rupees, is a good equipment. Again beg, borrow and hopefully not steal the equipment rather than buying a new one.
Sound is as important as images. If you can’t record live sounds, fake it. Do the background score yourself if you can. You can also get talent who have not earned fame yet, to collaborate on your project. Tapping assistants of music directors may be a good start. They will be happy to do it for the exposure a feature film provides. Click here for more resources on background score.
Ø Editing software
If you are friends with editors, they can let you use their equipment when not in use, like weekends or holidays. Also, there are many inexpensive products on the market that have good features. Some of the good editors are AVS Video Editor, Apple’s Final Cut Pro, Sony Vegas Movie Studio, Lightworks, Virtual Dub and many more.
Never choose people to work in your film if they are ill-suited for the role. It is advisable to wait till you find the right person. If you choose the right people, you will not have to spend money on making the cast look the part. India has a plethora of talented actors who will be ready to work for free, for the exposure. You can make them partners in your project.
Ø Crowdfund, for the money you will need
There are multiple crowdfunding platforms for raising money. Some are Wishberry, Start51, FundDreamsIndia and many more.
Ø Keep the team together
As a leader, you will set the direction for the team. Your leadership should reassure your team that they have a worthy captain in command. You need to be PREPARED. You can’t be scratching your head and appear you don’t know what to do at any point of time. There will be times when your best laid plans won’t work out. For each plan, you should have at least two alternatives as a fallback, if plan A fails. That way, there won’t be doubts within the team regarding your capability.
Ø Post Production
It is advisable to find a picture editor and sound mixer for a good product. There are many talented editors looking for exposure. As a film-maker you can barter exposure for work.
Ø Promote, Promote, Promote
Once you have shot, edited and mixed the film, promote it everywhere. Thankfully, promotions, too are almost zero-budget. There is YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and many more. It is imperative that you target Film Festivals both at the international and domestic circuits.
Making a film is akin to riding on a roller-coaster. You are scared only till you get in the seat. Once the ride starts, you scream your heart out but also cherish every moment of the ups and downs. And once the ride ends, you want to hop on board again. Happy riding!
1. Wikipedia page for Stanley Ka Dabba
Photo source - Flickr