Making a no budget feature film?

Want to make a feature film but not sure where to start? We’ve been there, and that’s why this week’s video is “9 Tips on How to Create Your First Feature Film with No Money.” Let the learning begin!

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Tip 1: Film Something That You Are Passionate About

Make a film that is “you”. The more you are invested in a project, the more fun you’ll have, and the better it will be. People are attracted to passion, and chances are you’ll attract great people to your project if you’re excited about the subject matter. A feature film is no small undertaking (our first one took 6 years to finish!), so make sure it’s a story you’d like to spend a good chunk of your life telling. You’ll sometimes need that passion to get you through the rough patches.

Tip 2: Assess Buying vs. Renting Equipment

If you rent your camera or other equipment for your film, you don’t need to make as large of a financial commitment upfront. But if you buy a camera, or other equipment, you could potentially use it to make money from other jobs after
your movie is done. We purchased a Panasonic HVX-200 for our first film, which we later used for freelance work (hey it was a hot camera at one time!). We eventually paid it off in under 2 years, so our camera budget for the movie was basically zero if you factor that in. Think about what works best for you in your long-term plan.

Tip 3: Shoot for What You Have

Use minimal locations. Use actors and people you know will be available.  If you shoot in one location with just a few actors, chances are you’ll have less scheduling conflicts, and you’ll spend less money on transportation than a more complex schedule with multiple locations and many actors. Look at movies like “Paranormal Activity” or “Reservoir Dogs” that are filmed in just one or minimal (low-cost) locations, but had very high returns on investment. If you’re making a no budget feature film keep things as simple as possible, and you’ll be glad when it gets time to film!

Tip 4: Create an Awesome Team

Work with people you trust, and don’t be afraid to delegate. You can’t do everything. Filmmaking involves a lot of very specific jobs. If you have a great cohesive team, you can get more done, and work towards a common goal. Find people that complement your skill set. If you aren’t organized, find a great organizer. If you aren’t a good editor, make sure you have one on your team to augment your skills.

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Tip 5: Determine Shooting Format

Should you shoot in HD, 4K, 8K? There’s a lot of options out there. Most movies today are still distributed in HD with 4K becoming more prevalent. Some companies are actively seeking 4K content though….so if you want to have a higher chance to sell to a distribution company like that or even Netflix, shooting in 4K can be more beneficial.

Tip 6: Create a Realistic Budget and Note Your Priorities

Creating a budget is key when it comes to how to create your first feature film with no money. Should you spend your money on a higher-end camera… or notable actors? Maybe neither…if it’s your first film, it might be a good time to experiment and build experience. But either way, make sure you choose your budget priorities, so you know where you want to spend your money to maximize your production value.

Tip 7: Be Careful with Copyrights

Don’t make a movie about something you don’t have the rights to. And don’t film logos or products or store signs that you don’t have permission to use. We’ve seen people make great movies, that were unable to sell them due to these copyright issues so be careful and do your research.

Tip 8: Have a Distribution Plan

Festivals can be great to get the word out, especially if your film makes it into a top fest with distributors eyeing the films. But if you don’t get in, you can always self or direct distribute. We have two films on Vimeo on Demand, Jules Dongu Saves the World and Skyship Chronicles. If you have a Vimeo pro account it’s free to add these On-Demand pages and you make 90% of your sales revenue after transaction costs. It’s definitely a good option for some people.

Tip 9: Set Yourself Up for Your Next Feature

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. And keep the long term in mind. Not everyone makes a box office hit their first time around. So try to create a film that you can build on. From your team to your audience… start small, and work up to the million dollar budget. Figuring out how to make a feature film with no money will be a challenge, but use it to learn as much as you can, so your next movie is even better!

These are all guidelines from our experience. What do you think are some important tips for making your first feature? What did we miss? Tell us in the comments below.

And that’s our guide on how to create your first feature film with no money.

And remember the most important tip is …to get out there and do it!

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If you have any questions about how to create your first feature film with no money, or cinematography and filmmaking questions in general, please reach out to us in the comments.

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Filmed on location at: Litewave Media in St. Petersburg, FL – Video Production Company.

Special Thanks to the St. Petersburg Clearwater Film Commission Digital Creator Program for making this web series possible.

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