What can you do to make the most of the filmmaking on a small budget?
Take notes from low-budget indie films recently that hit the ground. Making movies donʼt have to be so costly. A director is free to choose the way he/she wants to make the movie. Hate to break it to you, but placing all your good looking actors and purchasing the latest recorder probably wonʼt make you the next Francis Ford Coppola. From my personal story as an image-maker now, your biggest learning experience comes from learning through your own team and yourself. So, here I am sharing some tips Iʼve learned along my years of trials and tribulations on how-to have better cinematography on a budget.
Here are some tips that can get you started:
1. Plan A Scouting Trip
Whether itʼs studio or on location, itʼs essential to prepare everything beforehand in order to create a warm and inviting space for creativity. On a studio shoot, the physical space has to be a positive working environment. Itʼs not that hard to find one as thereʼs a lot of spaces out there available for rent. Location shoots are more tricky, I would say. Always double-check if you need to book access and permission to shoot there. This can be arranged by paying a visit in advance to discuss the location permit. The last thing you want to happen is when a security guard ruined your shoot and told you to get out. Eeek!
Do this pre-production step as early as you can, so you will know what works and whatʼs not. Before choosing a set, itʼs ideal to see some options. Especially if you shoot on location, itʼs really important to get a feel of the last two or three locations to choose from. Go there by yourself, take pictures, and once you decide it, go back to do a technical scout with the production designer and director. You want to save time and money by planning ahead, to figure out how to make the most of the storytelling part of it.
2. Lighting is Everything
One of the most important things is to figure out how youʼre going to set the lighting on location. For an affordable option, nothing beats natural light. Thatʼs why itʼs best to get out of the house, be on the road, and shoot in the sunshine. If youʼre shooting outdoors, try to do it only in the morning and afternoon. Because itʼs better to shoot when the lighting is soft and there is no direct sunlight.
If you shoot during the day, itʼs important to have a Plan A and Plan B with the sun. What if it does rain? Not a problem. We can learn to use natural lights with interiors too. When you have a low budget, a large window can be your biggest friend.
High ceilings and light walls can also reflect light to get a nice soft look.
3. Bring Your Wide-Angle Lens
When you shoot on location, you canʼt move the wall around like in a studio set. You have to be incredibly prepared about all the camera positions and focal lens. Are you going to be able to go back far to get the wide shot? To make this possible, the walls of the side of the room have to allow you to go back to get that kind of wide shot. For example, if you shoot CinemaScope anamorphic with 2.35W1, in terms of height you have to go much further back to get that wide- angle option. Otherwise, youʼll find yourself shooting tight, close-up and medium most times, which can be quite bad.
4. Focus on A Strong Idea
You donʼt need an expensive camera to be the best cinematographer. You just need a good pair of eye and a story to tell. Like Chuck Palahniuk said, “Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everyone I’ve ever known.” Nowadays, if somebody said to you that thereʼs no such thing as originality anymore, Iʼm afraid that might be true. But fear not, the first idea might not be ‘authenticʼ, and itʼs okay. Develop that idea of yours with great references and mood boards. Get inspirations from music, movies, books, traveling….it could be anything. Because to create beautiful images, it involves a lot of groundwork before a shoot takes place. These references will establish the mood and creative direction. From there, itʼs so much easier to plan and arrange the location and props for the shoot.
5. Grab Aspiring Teammembers
Good teamwork really shows through in filmmaking. I personally think it is important to get everyone on the same vision and mood. Also, donʼt be afraid to voice your opinions if something needs to be altered… such as the hair is too big, we need more mascara, the buttons are falling off. Donʼt be afraid to speak up, itʼs teamwork after all. And they donʼt have to be expensive. There are a lot of talents you can find online, from Instagram to Starnow. Emerging artists need to support each other.
After that, find one strong concept that pushes you artistically. If you have too many, multiple ideas, I donʼt think itʼs great because you always get clogged when you have to translate the story visually. For example, when you watch “Une Femme set Une Femme”, by Jean Luc Godard, it was the saturation of the colors and the French flair of the 60ʼs that make it thematically brilliant. Especially when you have Anna Karina as the main actress.
If you find yourself struggling with finances for your movie career, I hope this article will be useful for you. The first years are the most difficult ones, but I promise itʼs going to be worth it, especially if you have love and passion for the things that you do. Good luck!