An intro to indie filmmaking
What do you do when you have no savings, no inheritance, just a basic office job, you’re not in the film industry, and a major passion to make films yourself?
Well, just find a way to make them. Since 2005 I have self-financed, self-produced, written and directed, along with collaborators, friends, crowd-funders and various other strangers (some who would become friends) many short films and videos under the banner of Fix Films Ltd. All of these works have been made without recourse to industry funding bodies and have a collective budget that wouldn’t pay for a day’s catering on a standard Hollywood film production.
Aside from standard delusional madness, the key thing you need to make films is passion and organisation. Money would be great, but let’s assume you have none. I have financed my films (budgets range from £20 to £2000), with savings, friends contributing, crowdfunding, and on one occasion, a single investor. But, for your first few films, I would not spend loads of money unless you’re rich of course. In which case, ignore everything I say.
Oh, you also need an idea and a script!
I would say keep your idea as simple as possible. Can you write your idea in one sentence? I prefer genre films, but if your film is an experimental idea then at least know what emotion it is about. I like establishing genre and concept first. A recent film I made was a revenge thriller in the Tales of the Unexpected mould. I decided it would be one location with two characters. The central idea and theme were about a poisonous relationship break-up. I had a setting, concept, theme, plus the genre convention the story would have a twist in the tale. I knew exactly what I wanted to do before writing a thing.
READ MORE: 7 essential short film ideas
Budgeting and planning for your indie film
In regards to budget, the most important thing is to work within your means. You may have a wonderfully brilliant script set on the planet Zephyr 6, but unless it looks uncannily like a park or your mum and dad’s house it may be difficult to achieve this interplanetary location. Therefore, what I do is, before I have even written a script, is list everything I have available in regard to locations, people, equipment and finances. I will then either adapt a script I have to suit this or develop a new idea based around what I have available. I mean, I have written ambitious scripts and tried to raise money with them, but that has proved fruitless, so I’d rather work within my means.
If you have a one bedroom flat with a park nearby and a car, then write something that fits this. I produced many short films working with my friend directing where we would use his place in Oxfordshire or my rented London flat. My last four directed films have all been shot in the place where I live. If the characters, story and way the film is shot are interesting enough, the audience won’t really mind.
Plus, most importantly organise, structure, storyboard and rehearse. Have everything prepared for your shooting day or days. If you lack money, then keep the script simple, short and shoot on one day. If you choose NOT to do these things and want to improvise and not plan and be spontaneous then try that too. It’s just not the way I choose to do things.
How to source cast and crew
In terms of cast and crew, then I would always advise using professional actors and crew. Sites such as www.mandy.com and www.shootingpeople.org are amazing for finding cast, crew and people to collaborate with. Alternatively, network at events run by the likes of www.londonshortfilm.com/ or www.raindance.org/ in order to meet people.
Also, attend as many short film screenings as you can. There are always people to network with. You can use family and friends or if you were lucky enough to attend film school then use the people you have met there. Personally, I have always strived to pay actors and crew. However, if you enter into a collaborative agreement with the people you work with then that will save money in the overall budget.
To summarise, my brief take on independent filmmaking from a budget perspective is:
- Know your concept, location, characters and theme before you write your script.
- Don’t think you need big money to make a film. Make a film on your smartphone!
- Be passionate, organised and committed.
- Keep it simple and work within your means.
- With no budget, base a script around what locations, people and props available.
- Plan everything by storyboarding, rehearsing and listing your shooting order.
- Use professional actors and crew as long as they can collaborate within your budget.
- Network at screenings, events and festivals to meet like-enthusiastic collaborators.
Also, remember that no one knows anything, especially me. Good luck!
Paul Laight is a writer, filmmaker, blogger and wageslave. His work can be found here: