Making a Movie on Little or No Budget (Part Two) – People and Money

by Chris McGinty (According To Whim .com)

I’ve already explained in Part One that I’m getting some thoughts down prior to making the movie. I might have better insight after making the movie. What I’m basing a lot of this on is my point of view from working on smaller video projects (and the bigger project known as “According To Whim Season Two”) since 1993. This is not really from the point of view of making a film, because making a film requires a budget pretty much automatically for film stock and film development. Our movie will be feature length shot on video.

People – One of your most valuable resources, and one that I feel people overlook when budgeting, is people. Let’s take me for instance. I’m not a good actor. 50% of the time I’m not all that good of a writer. I have limited ability with operating camera and directorial eye. I’m not a natural leader. So what good am I?

I show up and I work. That’s what good I am. This isn’t the best way to make a quality movie. I wouldn’t cast me in my movie in most cases, but when I’m all I have, I guess I’ll be casting me.

I spoke before about the creation of Season Two of “According To Whim.” One thing that I remember about that whole thing was that Miguel was the Holy Grail to Nathan for some reason, because Miguel has an instinct about camera and direction. Nathan asked us to clear our schedules for six days, and I mostly did. The important thing is that even though I was tired throughout most of the six days, I was there every day. Miguel had trouble making it, and Nathan was acting like the show wouldn’t get shot at first.

The thing is that Miguel is talented. Miguel’s talents are going to waste. Nathan wanted to harness that talent, and didn’t want it to go to waste. It’s understandable. At the end of the day though, Miguel doesn’t show up and work if it interferes with the rest of his life. Things happen. I get that. I don’t expect everyone to show up on time and stay for every last minute of the movie schedule. I know that is probably too much to ask, even of me. I won’t value the people who show up for an hour on Saturday and then have something more important to do though.

Nathan was already talking like Miguel has to direct the movie and run camera so it looks good, and I fully fucking disagree. I agree that if Miguel makes it that it will look good. I agree that if Miguel makes it that he should direct it and run camera along with Nathan. I don’t agree that Miguel is the Holy Grail. If Miguel doesn’t want to show up, then I really don’t care. I truly hope to have him on board, but I’d rather get the movie done.

After that, the next thing I say will probably sound weird, but don’t piss off the people who are willing to work. I’m not saying by any means to pussyfoot around them or anything. I’m simply saying that if people view you as easy to work with, they will want to work with you again. Even if they are unable to work with you again, they will want to.

You can’t please all of the people all of the time, so don’t try to. At the end of the day you have a movie to make. People who don’t show up, people who complain, people who disrupt the flow of work, and anything thing else that negatively affects your production, probably need to go.

The thing about people is that they give you options. A person can make a movie by themselves, but as the only actor and crew they are limited in the story they can tell, and are limited in camera movement. You add just one person to the mix, and you suddenly have options. You add a third person, a fourth person, etc., and you have a lot of options.

At the same time though, try not to have too many people when you can. Too many people standing around, causes people to get bored. Too many people throwing around suggestions about things that are already decided, causes distraction. When Miguel and I did the chase scene, our first day we had ourselves and four other people, and boy was it a lot to deal with since we only technically needed three that day beyond one shot that required someone, other than us and the camera person, to be driving a car.

Money – Doing a truly no budget movie is probably next to impossible. You would have to own everything prior to the production that you use in production, and you would have to presume not to amortize the cost of anything you owned that is used. It would also presume that anything that you didn’t have was donated or borrowed by or from other people. Promotion and distribution would also have to be free or donated until there was money made from the production that could be reinvested.

The question to ask yourself is how close you can get to a no budget movie. I don’t care if your final cost ends up being $100 or $100 million. How close can you get to no budget given the movie you’re making?

When Robert Rodriguez made “El Mariachi” he built his story around props and people he had access to for little or no money. When Quentin Tarantino made “Pulp Fiction” they convinced otherwise expensive actors to work for very little. Don’t presume that you have to spend money until you’ve exhausted all possibilities to not spend money.

Let me clarify something here. Hobbies typically cost you money, while jobs and businesses typically make you money. The hard one to accept is businesses. We’ve probably all had a business of some type that either failed to make us money or lost us money. Who can really call that a hobby, right?

The odd difference between a job and a business is that most people wouldn’t take a job that would lose them money, but people will sometimes put money into a business simply hoping that they will get a return.

I have tried many times to talk about the difference between failing small and failing big. Let’s look at a roulette table. The odds and payoffs range from 1 to 1 and 1 to 35, and maybe a little different with the zero and double zero to consider. The difference of failing small and failing big is that you are almost better to put one dollar on a single number, knowing that you have less than a 3% chance of your number coming up, than you would be to put $20,000 that your granny loaned you on red, knowing that you have around a 50% chance of a red number coming up. Why? Because you have so much less to lose if something goes wrong.

If you are making your first movie, first feature length movie, or just have little movie making experience, you are better to put the one dollar on a single number. You’re already taking a risk. Don’t make it a terrible risk.

So where do you get your budget if you need one? You can go into debt, I guess, but I’m not going to suggest that. I know that people have gone into debt to make their movie, and it’s paid off, but I bet that there are plenty more who have regretted it.

You can take a second job. You can find investors. You can ask for gifts from people. Probably the best way to ask gifts from people would be to make a shorter movie to begin with, burn some DVDs of the movie, and ask people to buy the DVD for as much as they are willing to help you out on your feature length project. But the main thing to keep in mind here is to not lose money on it. How close can you get to no budget? Even if you have a lot of money to throw at it, how close can you get to no budget and make the movie you want to make? If you make your movie with an eye for keeping costs down, you increase your odds.

Think about it this way. A movie that brings in millions of dollars is considered a flop if it was made for more than it made. If you make a movie for $50 and you make $100 in sales, it’s a success right? If you make a movie for $50,000 and it makes $20,000 in sales, it’s a success in number of sales and potentially the number of people who will see it, but financially, it failed.

I have more thoughts, but aside from about another 100 words this is all I have written for now. Maybe by next week, I’ll have written more.

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