5 Rules For a Successful Low Budget Production
Ok, so everyone loves lists. Top ten sexiest people, Top five weight loss foods, blah blah blah etc.
Here’s my “5 Rules For a Successful Low Budget Production"
As an indie filmmaker, I’ve produced four features, three of them I’ve also directed. The first three have found distribution, my most recent, “The Door” is currently in post production and we’re gearing up for a self-distribution release in mid October in time for Halloween - it’s a horror flick.
Obviously, you’ll need to define what success means to you personally.
Most people think of success in a monetary sense ie profit, but you might have other objectives in mind. Some people will consider a robust film festival run successful, other perhaps want to bring attention to a social matter. I recently came across the story of an indie filmmaker who’s giving away her last movie for free as a way to help promote her next film.
For the purpose of this article, we’re looking at success in financial terms.
Genre is important. Set your project up for success from the beginning, the type of movie you make will be very important. Rom-com, Western, Action, Family, Christian, Horror etc. For the most part, people feel Horror is a great low budget genre, action may be better, but it’s harder to do well on low budgets. The industry feels that comedies are difficult because “They don’t travel well” meaning that they can be hard to sell internationally. Humour doesn’t always translate, what’s funny in the US may not seem funny in Australia or Japan especially after translations and subtitles.
Family and Christian movies (especially the made for tv type) have enjoyed a lot of success in recent years.
Budget. When making a low budget indie movie, especially without recognizable names or material, keep the budget to an absolute minimum. You should have a script that can easily be made for your budget. Consider running a crowd funding campaign as a test run or “proof-of-concept” to see if your movie will attract an audience before it’s even make. NOTE: the only exception to this rule is if you find yourself in a position to attach a “Known Star", perhaps a tv personality or B-level actor who’s name can help with sales.
Less is more. Keep the number of speaking roles and locations to a minimum. Even if you get people and locations for free, they will indirectly cost you money and time. Even volunteers will need a lift to and from set, lunch etc. Free locations are great, but the more times you need to pack up and travel to a new place the less time you have to do things like light scenes, rehearse, get coverage etc.
Get through post as fast as you can. If you’re looking to make indie filmmaking a sustainable career then you’ll need to consider cash flow. People (and distributors) don’t like their entertainment to seem “dated” or stale. Audiences want what’s new and hot. Consider dating your movie as being produced the following year if it’s completed in November or December.
Build an audience. Everybody wants their movie to premiere at Sundance, win the Audience Award and sell to a top distributor for a boat-load of money, but let’s have a plan “B” in place. May I suggest that you position your movie for a possible self-release. Having a built in audience wanting to see your movie can help you find a distributor, and if you don’t land that big distro deal, you’ll at least have an audience of fans waiting for an opportunity to buy and watch your flick.
So there you have my 5 rules of low budget production. Remember, if potential profit is your main consideration, start at the script stage with a marketable genre and story that can be produced (and produced well) for your budget.
Keep the size of your cast and crew to a minimum and get through post production as fast as you can.
The market for low budget independent films changes on a dime, so be prepared with a plan “B” and build an audience for your movie to help attract distributors (who will want to capitalize on your build-in audience) or position you for a successful self-release if necessary.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to send me an email.