pre-pro How to Choose an Affordable No-Budget Project?

Hello,

I am weighing up my options for my first fiction film (out of many ideas) and am slightly confused as to how to proceed.

My first film was a relatively successful documentary (it got into good festivals (though not the big 5), was nominated for an award, received acclaim from big titles and got distribution, albeit not with a huge company).

I then wrote my first screenplay, with the intention to finance it myself (at the time, I felt I could realistically raise about $70k). I showed it to some contacts who advised that it would really need as little as $140k and as much as $700k, and suggested getting an experienced producer on board. That project had/has a lot of SFX (mainly gore—it’s quasi-horror) and many locations.

Subsequently, I felt deflated about the whole thing (I can't see any film funding organizations backing it due to its subject/content, and I have very few contacts), put it on the shelf to work on other projects and decided not to go back to it until I’m in a position to either finance it myself, or wait for a point when I have more experience behind me and more contacts to fund things or open doors.

Since then, my financial situation has worsened and I will be very lucky to raise as much as $70k for another project. I could realistically put together about $35k, possibly more.

I am now looking at my slate of potential projects, trying to pick a different one that is actually doable on a tiny budget, and am wondering—what are the things to look out for when selecting a no-budget film project in order to keep costs as low as possible and make it viable?

I own most of the essential pro gear (camera, sound) and will be able to work with a skeleton crew, non-professional actors and no lights. But I am wondering what sort of elements will ramp up costs significantly (meaning that certain projects will be out of consideration).

For example—are convincing SFX very expensive? A lot of my project ideas are very over the top and have a lot of gore, creatures (as well as animals), car crashes etc. that I don't want to create digitally.

I am also wondering if quality costumes are also costly? A number of my ideas have period settings.

Sets—are even basic building projects (like bespoke cabins/huts) out of the question?

And an original score, by a quality composer?

Some of my sparest ideas look quite feasible—i.e. one or two characters, in one or two locations, with limited, or almost no, SFX etc. However, these projects are not the most appealing to me, so I am wondering how broad my options are (e.g. will it be possible to go with the projects that have some big SFX, some quality costumes etc.).

Alternatively, I could just finish screenplays of dream projects, hoping to find funding, but having spent so long with the first one (I was trying to limit myself, to an extent) for it to get stuck, I think choosing a project that I can make myself with what I have is likely the best route.

Any thoughts are greatly appreciated.
 
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Hi, BA,

To start off with since you're new here, I'll preface this with my usual comment. I am NOT a screenwriter and have never been either a director or a producer.

As a PSM and a sound designer I have encountered some very creative problem solving and done quite a bit myself. I was PSM on one project calling for a fair amount of nudity (a guy hides cameras all over his house to watch his wife having an affair). The director and the actors worked very hard on the choreography of the scenes. For example; when she was topless and running across the frame right to left she would look over her right shoulder at her lover, turning her body so her breasts did not graphically show, but it was obvious to the audience that she was nude from the waist up. The bedroom scenes were just as carefully staged.

A lot of my project ideas are very over the top and have a lot of gore, creatures (as well as animals), car crashes etc. that I don't want to create digitally.

Perhaps you could shoot more like the shower scene in Hitchcock's "Psycho", or "Jaws," where for much of the movie you only saw the effects of the shark, such as the girl at the buoy in the opening scene, the blood bubbling out of the water when the kid is attacked at the beach, etc. It's been a while since I've watched it, but I don't think we ever really saw much of the shark at all until Brody, Hooper and Quint are on the boat, right before Brody says, "I think we're gonna need a bigger boat." This later visual appearance, in addition to making the line iconic, also made the confrontation in the third act - where we still don't see the shark very much until the very end, just dragged barrels, underwater shadows and surface fins and impacts on the boat - all the more impactful on the audience.

I have no idea what your story is about, but perhaps you could approach your project that way, without revealing your monster too much. And don't ignore how much a sound design carefully planned during preproduction can help your budgeting issues. If, for example, your protagonist is being chased through the woods by a whatever, you don't have to see the whatever. You see the protagonist fleeing through trees and brush and just hear whatever is chasing him heavily crashing through the foliage with intense snarls and growls and the like. I worked on a project that used this technique. They dyed or painted a very long rope sort of camouflage, used slip knots to tie it to a series of bushes, then tied the end to a small ATV. As the ATV drove off the rope would pull on a bush, then the knot would slip off and put tension on the next one, etc. With some careful framing and cutting it very convincingly conveyed the idea of a large creature crashing through the brush in pursuit of its victim. The attack was lots of close-up quick cuts of the victim struggling, the creatures teeth and eyes, etc. plus the occasional flick of blood on the lens. Under that I Foleyed the struggle sounds, put in the creature vocalizations (I performed some of them myself; had a sore throat for two days), breaking bones, squishy noises, and victim screams. The aftermath crime scene was lots of fake blood, pieces of a Halloween skeleton and some guts from a local butcher.

I hope that my lock-down ramble has helped. I'm sure that some more experienced IndieTalkers will chime in with other and better ideas.

Good luck!
 
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Hi, BA,

To start off with since you're new here, I'll preface this with my usual comment. I am NOT a screenwriter and have never been either a director or a producer.

As a PSM and a sound designer I have encountered some very creative problem solving and done quite a bit myself. I was PSM on one project calling for a fair amount of nudity (a guy hides cameras all over his house to watch his wife having an affair). The director and the actors worked very hard on the choreography of the scenes. For example; when she was topless and running across the frame right to left she would look over her right shoulder at her lover, turning her body so her breasts did not graphically show, but it was obvious to the audience that she was nude from the waist up. The bedroom scenes were just as carefully staged.



Perhaps you could shoot more like the shower scene in Hitchcock's "Psycho", or "Jaws," where for much of the movie you only saw the effects of the shark, such as the girl at the buoy in the opening scene, the blood bubbling out of the water when the kid is attacked at the beach, etc. It's been a while since I've watched it, but I don't think we ever really saw much of the shark at all until Brody, Hooper and Quint are on the boat, right before Brody says, "I think we're gonna need a bigger boat." This later visual appearance, in addition to making the line iconic, also made the confrontation in the third act - where we still don't see the shark very much until the very end, just dragged barrels, underwater shadows and surface fins and impacts on the boat - all the more impactful on the audience.

I have no idea what your story is about, but perhaps you could approach your project that way, without revealing your monster too much. And don't ignore how much a sound design carefully planned during preproduction can help your budgeting issues. If, for example, your protagonist is being chased through the woods by a whatever, you don't have to see the whatever. You see the protagonist fleeing through trees and brush and just hear whatever is chasing him heavily crashing through the foliage with intense snarls and growls and the like. I worked on a project that used this technique. They dyed or painted a very long rope sort of camouflage, used slip knots to tie it to a series of bushes, then tied the end to a small ATV. As the ATV drove off the rope would pull on a bush, then the knot would slip off and put tension on the next one, etc. With some careful framing and cutting it very convincingly conveyed the idea of a large creature crashing through the brush in pursuit of its victim. The attack was lots of close-up quick cuts of the victim struggling, the creatures teeth and eyes, etc. plus the occasional flick of blood on the lens. Under that I Foleyed the struggle sounds, put in the creature vocalizations (I performed some of them myself; had a sore throat for two days), breaking bones, squishy noises, and victim screams. The aftermath crime scene was lots of fake blood, pieces of a Halloween skeleton and some guts from a local butcher.

I hope that my lock-down ramble has helped. I'm sure that some more experienced IndieTalkers will chime in with other and better ideas.

Good luck!
Thanks. Subtlety isn't really my strong suit, and in most cases the SFX are so intrinsic (outside of the deliberately spare, bare bones project ideas I have) that I will need to show rather than hint. It is a good point to keep in mind for the future though.
 
I'm going to suggest spending a few bucks and grab yourself a subscription to the Film Specific website and dig in.

I have nothing to do with it in case you're wondering. It'll help you gain more clarity on the film finance/film distribution topic. It'll help you work out whether you should continue, and if so, what are the variations for your next steps.

One huge advantage you have is, you've already distributed a project.
 
I can tell you about a couple things I've done that worked with my projects and didn't work.
Doing as much of everything myself including 3d modeling, animating, prop building, camera work, sound, etc saves money but takes more time and can also reduce quality if you aren't an expert in all these things.
Writing a giant script with lots of locations and scenes to film and effects is a bad idea. After my first film Space Trucker Bruce I wrote a much more elaborate and longer script for my current movie Girl Yeti and a Spaceship and it's taking me 7-8 years to make it. I had way too many locations, shot a 3+ hour rough cut instead of editing the script more before filming, Wrote in way too many Space scenes and 3d models which all take time and so on.
For inexpensive gore and creature effects take a look at some of the first films by directors like Sam Rami and Peter Jackson. They did pretty awesome stuff for little or no money. I recently dressed up a plastic skeleton with torn clothes, fake blood and a few pieces of grilled chicken and shot it illuminated at night with flashlights. It turned out pretty good and cost like $20.
 
First of all, start out with a quality story that you're passionate to tell. Then re-imagine it at your budget level. If you don't have the first, everything else is an exercise in futility. Every script comes with its own obstacles. You could spend a lifetime trying to find/develop "the perfect script."
 
Hello,

I am weighing up my options for my first fiction film (out of many ideas) and am slightly confused as to how to proceed.

My first film was a relatively successful documentary (it got into good festivals (though not the big 5), was nominated for an award, received acclaim from big titles and got distribution, albeit not with a huge company).

I then wrote my first screenplay, with the intention to finance it myself (at the time, I felt I could realistically raise about $70k). I showed it to some contacts who advised that it would really need as little as $140k and as much as $700k, and suggested getting an experienced producer on board. That project had/has a lot of SFX (mainly gore—it’s quasi-horror) and many locations.

Subsequently, I felt deflated about the whole thing (I can't see any film funding organizations backing it due to its subject/content, and I have very few contacts), put it on the shelf to work on other projects and decided not to go back to it until I’m in a position to either finance it myself, or wait for a point when I have more experience behind me and more contacts to fund things or open doors.

Since then, my financial situation has worsened and I will be very lucky to raise as much as $70k for another project. I could realistically put together about $35k, possibly more.

I am now looking at my slate of potential projects, trying to pick a different one that is actually doable on a tiny budget, and am wondering—what are the things to look out for when selecting a no-budget film project in order to keep costs as low as possible and make it viable?

I own most of the essential pro gear (camera, sound) and will be able to work with a skeleton crew, non-professional actors and no lights. But I am wondering what sort of elements will ramp up costs significantly (meaning that certain projects will be out of consideration).

For example—are convincing SFX very expensive? A lot of my project ideas are very over the top and have a lot of gore, creatures (as well as animals), car crashes etc. that I don't want to create digitally.

I am also wondering if quality costumes are also costly? A number of my ideas have period settings.

Sets—are even basic building projects (like bespoke cabins/huts) out of the question?

And an original score, by a quality composer?

Some of my sparest ideas look quite feasible—i.e. one or two characters, in one or two locations, with limited, or almost no, SFX etc. However, these projects are not the most appealing to me, so I am wondering how broad my options are (e.g. will it be possible to go with the projects that have some big SFX, some quality costumes etc.).

Alternatively, I could just finish screenplays of dream projects, hoping to find funding, but having spent so long with the first one (I was trying to limit myself, to an extent) for it to get stuck, I think choosing a project that I can make myself with what I have is likely the best route.

Any thoughts are greatly appreciated.

I think you have to right story, which could be converted to a right project.
Memento is one movie, which strikes me as one, which might not require much budget, but has great, compelling story.
Maybe you should look for such stories first.
Indeed, when I plan a movie project, the first thing is write a story which fits the budget. And then you have so much less problems :)
 
Choose stories with some social messages.
Like for example, story about some mental patient, or some sicked person. With these ideas you can develop a strong story.
The advantage is that, the location will be just one room or one building.
Or go for some thriller stories.
Or horror. That happens in a particular building or small locality.
Main aim is to reduce locations and artists.
Have a camera, tripod, gimbal, some lighting equipments ( if needed ), mic , lap and some brain. That's it.
 
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For example—are convincing SFX very expensive? A lot of my project ideas are very over the top and have a lot of gore, creatures (as well as animals), car crashes etc. that I don't want to create digitally.

As a aspiring VFX artist, I will often reccomend practical over digital, but yeah SFX can really blow up your budget. But hey, look at stuff like the original Evil Dead – almost completely practical gore and monsters on a very low budget. Though I don't know this approach would translate into modern world and cinema.
For low-budget films VFX can really be a money savior in terms of locations, background animals and people and sometimes even more exiting stuff, like explosive car crashes. It also depends on a person u find for the job, since everyone has different skills, abilites and problem-solving approaches. For example, I would happily take on a job of transforming a scene into a hellscape, but will die on a hill that gore should be practical.

As others suggested, if you don't have budget – use your brain! VFX and SFX can be made on pennies if you approach stuff creatively.
 
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