The Zero Budget Movie






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by Elliot Grove

Before looking for a screenplay that you can produce, it is an excellent idea to explore the possibilities you have, as a producer, to minimise costs on any items that affect the story.

Special consideration should be given to locations, actors, animals, props and wardrobe.

Obviously, items that you can get for free, or very cheaply, must be able to add to the screen production values of your film.

Once you have these items in place, then you can see what story can be built up around them. The traditional approach is back-to-front.

For example, if you have a screenplay that absolutely requires you to shoot a film on an aircraft carrier, then as a producer you must prioritise gaining free or cheap access to a suitable ship. The lo-budget approach is to write the script if and when you have free access to the aircraft carrier.

The first task in writing a lo-budget script is to list everything that you might have access to for nothing or next to nothing. If you take the traditional budget one sheet, simply list all of the available items that you know you don’t need to pay for.

0 -  Producer

This is you. Whatever you do, make sure that your living expenses are covered for at least four months.

0 - Script

You will be partnering with a writer, will you not? And most probably sharing the financial risk too. Perhaps you will write the script yourself.

0 - Actors

List all the actors you know who would work for you if there was a suitable part. Pay special attention to any child actors or animals that might be available. Common advice is to limit the cast to four or five parts, and although this could hamper your creativity. You also have to balance this against the extra cost involved: the more actors, the more expensive transportation and catering will be. Try to keep it as simple as you can without limiting your creativity.

0 - Camera

What sort of camera can you blag? What format is it? 16mm, 35mm, or DV? Is the camera available for a stretch of several weeks, or is the great deal only available on the weekends, which would affect your shooting schedule. Do you know anyone who belongs to a college film club, or film school where they might have access to free equipment? These limitations could affect the story that you will be able to tell.

0 - Make-Up

Are there any special make-up effects that will help to tell your story? Fake blood, prosthetics, wounds and wigs can add to your budget unless you can convince a talented newcomer to work for free.

0 - Wardrobe

Are there any unique wardrobe items that you have access to that would increase your production values without increasing the budget? Used clothing stores can often provide useful costumes and props.

0 - Location Fees

Which properties can you shoot in for free? What about your own home or someone else’s, your college, your children’s school or a local church.

0 - Insurance

You’ll need insurance to guarantee to the owner of the camera that you can replace it if it is lost, damaged or stolen. Your insurance broker may let you add the kit to your home contents insurance during the shoot.

0 - Crew

You are making a feature film that will further the careers of everyone involved, and they want you to pay them? Learn how to say the word ‘next’.

0 - Art Department

Props, prosthetics, special effects. Whoever the hapless art director is on your shoot will constantly be nagging you for money to buy more paint. If you can’t afford to give them any, make sure you hire an art director who has lots of contacts and favours to pull in. Search for unusual and expensive-looking items that could add to the look of the film. I once worked on a shoot near a quarry; we shot the sound, smoke and debris of the blasting and it enhanced our low-budget war feature.

0 - Transport

What transport do you have available? Robert Rodriguez had a school bus. Do you know someone with a prison truck, a delivery van, a Second World War vehicle – anything that can either facilitate the making of your movie, or can be used as a prop in the movie. Or both?


Now, armed with your list of freebies, you are ready to write a script tha yout have the budget and the resources to actually make.

Your Comments Please

Just read your piece on "Zero Budget Movie", and it didn't list music anywhere. Which is usually the case, either because music is an afterthought or you will just get by with canned music (or not paying the composer).
Just a thought.
Good ideas elsewhere in the article!!
Fletch Wiley
Round Hill, Va.

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About The Author

Elliot Grove Elliot Grove founded Raindance Film Festival in 1993, the British Independent Film Awards in 1998 and Raindance.TV in 2007.

He has produced over 150 short films, and 5 feature films. He has written eight scripts, one of which is currently in pre-production. His first feature film, TABLE 5 was shot on 35mm and completed for a total of £278.38.

He teaches writers and producers in the UK, Europe. Japan and America. He has written two books which have become industry standards: RAINDANCE WRITERS LAB (Focal Press 2002) and RAINDANCE PRODUCERS LAB (2004). His first novel THE BANDIT QUEEN is scheduled for publication in 2010.

In 2009 he was awarded an Honourary PhD by Open University.

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