THE $5,000 FEATURE FILM (Micro-Budget Filmmaking…Learn the Secrets)
by Dov S-S Simens on April 20, 2016
HAVE $5,000? PRODUCE A FEATURE FILM.
Launch your career. Produce & Direct a show-piece. And please, please, please I beg you “Do not make a Short”. Shorts only demonstrate that you know how to write some small checks and go broke….
Can you name me a short last year, of the 100,000+ made, that sold and made a profit?
Hopefully I have you thinking and pushing you and your creative mind to think “out-of-the-box”.
(Got an idea? 90-pages, 1-location, a real-time story. Got $5K. Then make it.)
Do a “Blair Witch”, a “Paranormal Activity”, a “Saw”, a “pi” (aka: No-Budget Filmmaking)… and launch your career.
The Producers, and especially, Directors, of these 4 Micro-Budget Features did…and they are now each producing or directing Big-Budget Studio Features. Start small.
Now it’s your turn and again… please stop those shorts and facebook teasers and kickstarter trailers… Make a feature and demonstrate your talent over 90-minutes that captivates a paying audience with a Primary A-Story, 3 Interconnected B-Stories, with Unique Characters at a Festival Premiere.
Stop talking like an adult and acting like a child, when it comes to the Film Business. Please, Please. Please.
Stop, when you are not a marketable name or a bankable commodity (A) sending me shorts, (B) shooting trailers, (C) pitching ideas, (D) designing posters, etc. and…I beg you, stop asking me to play Farmville and never mind what my birthday date is and, no, I really don’t desire to read your script (I apologize but it takes 3-4 hours to read & digest) if you are not part of my family or a college or army buddy… I hope you respect honesty and Yes, I’m a curmudgeon who’s making good ole “60-Minutes” Andy Rooney sound like a happy camper.
Filmmaking is simple… Life is difficult.
And, there is really only one way (that is if your parents aren’t billionaires) for anyone to break into the film business and make a living as either a Producer, Writer or Director… and that is to make a feature film; not a short; not a trailer; not a poster; not a pitch…a “feature film”… In industry lingo a “90-Minute narrative”, that gets to a major Film Festival, with a sold out premiere that has the audience standing at the End Credit Crawl and screams “Bravo. Bravo. Bravo”.
Now you are marketable.
So lets chat about 5,000 bucks, which is a realistic amount of money for anyone to procure.
PRODUCE-WRITE-DIRECT: The $5,000 Feature Film
Anyone, yes anyone, who has $5,000, $4,000, $3,000 even $2,000 can make a feature film. And, if you don’t have $2,000 then stop f*ckin’ with F-Book, get away from Farmville and get a bloody job.
Let’s take $5,000 and make a feature.
STEP-1: SCRIPT $235
SCRIPT: 90-pages, typed properly, 1-location (restaurant, bordello, courtroom, bookstore, re-union, etc) written in “real time” (aka: What happened in the last 90-minutes) like “Rope” or “2LDK”.
(Your first feature film, that you make, will not have stunts, crowd scenes, sfx, action scenes and EXT-NIGHT setups.)
To write a script… go to Staples or Office Depot and buy 500 pieces of paper. It’s called a “ream”. Actually buy 2 “Reams”.
Cost $10. Put it in your budget. 10 Bucks!
You now have $34990 left.
Now, get the proper software program, probably Final Draft9.0. Cost $185. Don’t use that tacky open source crap that is loaded with cookies and ads. However, Celtx is pretty good. Check it out at www.Celtx.com but remember “nothing is written, it’s re-written” and Final Draft is better to use for re-writes than Celtx.
You now have $4,805 in your budget left after you spend $20 registering the Treatment with the WGA and another $20 registering the Screenplay.
You now have $4,765 left.
STEP-2: CAST $700
Assuming you are smart and wrote a script (90-pages, 1-location, real time, 3-6 actors) that you can handle for $4,000…
Now let’s cast.
You need 3-6 actors for 90-minutes. Duh?! Cast On Wednesday, rehearse on Thursday, rehearse on Friday, rehearse at the location on Saturday, rehearse, at-location again on Sunday morning.
You have just had 3.5 Days of rehearsal with your actors. Ask any actor in SAG how much rehearsal time they get on the set. You will probably hear, “maybe 4-6 minutes”.
Okay, let’s assume that you gave each actor $100 bucks each (approx. $400 for 4 actors total for a Sunday shoot) to star in your feature film and get their very first “Opening Title Credit” with most of the money going for either gas or Uber to get to and from the set and Starbucks.
You now, have about $4,065 left.
STEP 3A: CAMERA(s) $350
Rent a camera, an electric digital/HD/DSLR package, on Friday and haggle a No-Insurance-Needed deal.
Keep it over the weekend and return it on Monday for a 1-Day Rental. Cost is $250-$350.
Possibly you even hire a cinematographer (film school grad who bought a 4K camera) for the $250-$350 who comes with the camera… but only hire him/her if you have comfort in he/she truly knows what he/she is doing with respect to a weekend-shoot.
You now have about $3,615 left.
STEP 3B: CAMERA (Which one):
This really gets me mad, for there is such an obsession by all first-timers, who never become a first-timer, obsessing on gossip about the “new camera”.
It’s a frickin’ camera! Red, Canon 5D, BlackMagic, Alexa…iPhone, Samsung…I don’t care…They all work.
(Yes, iPhones are now 4K cameras. Who is the first person to shoot a feature film with the new Samsung? Bet Samsung, will even pay you to use their smartphones. Interesting thought.)
Just rent one for a day, keep it over a weekend, hit the “on button” for 90-minutes and return it on Monday.
Bottom-line: you are not shooting in the Film format (16mm or 35mm) you are shooting in the “Electronic format” and whether you rent a Canon, Sony, JVC or Panasonic (these are manufacturers names), or a GoPro or a Flip, or whether you are renting by the format be it 4K, 2K, 1080i, 720P, DSLR… I don’t care.
Just rent a camera for 1-day (aka: student discount, pick it up on Friday, return it in Monday, pay for 1-day) for the weekend…but please make sure the Lenses are superb and the microphones, from the mike man, work.
You still have $3,615 left.
STEP 4: LOCATION: $200
Rent the location (Garage, House, Bar, Bookstore, etc) for the weekend. Cost, at most, $200.
Fair chance that you use your own house, your own property or a friends house or apartment for the location to shoot the movie and budget $0.
I’m warning you that $0 for location, even when friends/relatives say “It’s free” never works.
Why? Answer. It’s the neighbors. I guarantee you after 1-2 days of you and your minimal crew getting to the location at 6:00am and leaving at 10:00pm, the novelty, within the local community has worn off and the neighbors think of you and your crew and this “bloody movie thing” as an inconvenience and if you don’t leave they “calling the cops”.
Voilla. Go in your back pocket and whip out a couple of $100 bucks and the annoyed neighbors always leave you alone for a day.
Again, even when you think it’s Free. I guarantee you will still spend $200 for the inconveniences you’ve caused.
You now have $3,415 left.
STEP 5: REHEARSE: $300
Rehearse Friday night. Rehearse Saturday at the location. Rehearse again on Sunday morning with all actors coming in costume/wardrobe that they supply.
You have just had over 2 days of rehearsal… which according to Hollywood standards, not 4-year film school theory, is enough time to permit the actors to (A) learn their part, (B) discover their characters arc, and (C) develop a bond and relationship amongst the other performing actors.
Cost $300 for snacks & food.
You now have $3,115 left.
STEP 6: SHOOT-CREW: $1,550
Sunday, after 3 days of rehearsal, you hire a Production Manager $500/week, Soundman for $200/day, a hair/makeup person for $150/day, a Cinematographer for $500/weekend, and a $200 Shooter (someone to operate the 2nd camera) for the day.
You now have $1,565 left.
STEP 7: DIRECT: $0
This is your movie. This is your credit. You are now a Director. Honestly what were you budgeting to pay yourself to Direct a short prior to reading this post.
(What did Kevin Smith pay himself to direct “CLERKS”? Answer. $0.)
So what are you budgeting to pay yourself to direct a feature film?
Sunday, now tell the cameraman to load the camera, point at the actors, keep a wide angle lens, make sure sound is great; say “Quiet on The Set”, wait 2-minutes; say “Action”, wait 90-minutes and say “Cut”.
You still have $1,565 left.
STEP 8: PROPS, WARDROBE, FOOD: $500
There will be a couple of miscellaneous props (gun, lawnmower, chair, etc.) that the script calls for. OK put in $150.
There will always be something special about wardrobe (purchase or rent), dry-cleaning, seamstress that is needed. OK put in $150.
Food is always important. Think of it as a “Perk” or, when everyone is tired as “Fuel” to motivate. Remember, you only have a 5-7 person crew with 3-5 actors and you’re feeding for only 2 Days (Saturday & Sunday)… Hopefully, you have a PA (Production Assistant) working for free and a Credit who has a girl friend or boy friend with a kitchen that cooks and gets a Rear Title Crawl Credit of “Craft Service”… OK put in $200.
(This post is maybe 5-minutes. My “Streaming Film School” is 20-hours, 30 Lessons of practical “No-Bull” Independent Filmmaking tactics & contacts that were used by Tarantino, Lucas, Spielberg, Abrams, etc., and now hopefully you, for their first feature film.)
You still have $1,065 left.
STEP 8: POST-PRODUCTION: $500
You’ve shot on a 2:1 – 4:1 Shooting Ratio with mostly Master Shots.
There is little to edit. You will edit 180-minutes to 360-minutes down to 90-minutes. It would be nice if you knew how to edit yourself but likely you will hire someone out of those $40,000-$80,000 1-year Trade School Programs who has a computer, a monitor and editing software that he/she has learned to use, on the 4-5 shorts they made in film school, and desires his/her first feature film credit.
(Quentin’s “RESERVOIR DOGS” was not a No-Budget Feature but it was a relatively simple project to edit… Master Shots & mostly 1-Location… The Garage)
Offer this editor-to-be an Opening Title Credit of “EDITOR” and a second Opening Title Credit of “ASSOCIATE PRODUCER” along with $50/day for 10 days and you’ll have a solid cut with Titles & Credits.
The Editors job, besides editing, will be to call-in a couple of favors and get a Sound Editor for 5-days and a Colorist-Timer for 3-days. These 2 individuals could be offered also (A) Opening Title Credits, (B) Deferrals or Deferments and (C) and “points” (you have 100 points or 100% ownership to divvy up) to participate in, if any, profit participation.
You now have $565 left.
STEP 9: MUSIC-SCORE: $300
Musicians are everywhere. Go to SoundCloud. Got any film commission’s website. Post on Craigslist. You will quickly discover that there are 100s even 1,000s of talented musician who would like to score a feature film.
You got $300 bucks and likely a deferment agreement conditional upon distribution, revenues and profits.
You now have $265 left.
STEP 10: MARKET: $265
You have a movie. And you have $265 left for your URL domain, Wix website, Facebook page and Social Media marketing (not expensive but very difficult) that goes viral and you become the next “Blair Witch” or “Paranormal” or “pi” or “Clerks” is here.
STEP 11: NO SHARP-SHOOTING & SELF-DISTRIBUTION:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. It ain’t gonna be that simple or that cheap.
You are absolutely correct… It will cost more than $5,000 even if it was shot in real-time with 2 iPhones (Hello “Tangerine”).
You can sharp-shoot, nit-pick and go how about insurance, props, wardrobe, permits, filters, gels, hard drive, music, food, parking, SAG, more crew, better salaries, etc..
Hmm. $5,000? How about if you had $10,000 or $20,000? This is realistic and just imagine what you could do with a 1-week shoot, and a 6-8 person crew, instead of a weekend 1-day shoot.
Now think about $50,000 or $100,00 and what you could do with a 2-camera, 2-week shoot, with 3-4 locations, a 10-12 person crew and a SAG Ultra-Low-Budget Agreement.
Here’s Bottom-Line: Be smart, figure out how to do everything perfect, as taught in those 4-year Film Schools and watch how you never get anything done.
The world is for doers and you have just made your first “Micro-Budget” feature film for likely under $10,000 (Yes, the post’s title is $5,000).
You are, what is called, “Under the Radar”, which means, because you did it so cheap you cannot be criticized (you are “under the radar”)…and are way above anyone who is sending me a short, a trailer, a poster or a pitch and asking me if I could get them an agent.
Congratulations, you are a doer.
You have demonstrated story telling over 90-minutes, with a minimal crew and limited locations.
You are “under the radar”. You are quite amazing. And, if you can get this Micro-Budget Feature Film in a major festival for a midnight screening… Welcome to Hollywood.
The world is for doers… and Hollywood is for doers-with-talent.
PS: By-the-By. You might not get theatrical distribution at a festival premiere but thanks to the internet and super cheap broadband with On-Demand & Streaming sites like Netflix, iTunes, Huly, Vimeo, Distribber… you can cut out the middle-man (aka: distributor) and do it yourself.
COMMENT & SHARE:
Have you made a Micro-Budget Feature? What was your budget?
Where did you wish you had a little more money?
Can you make a feature film for $5,000-$10,000?
Can you make a Feature film for $10,000-$20,000?
Can you make a Feature film for $20,000-$30,000 or $30,000-$50,000 or “just under” $100,000?
Real Facts. Real Knowledge. No-Bull.
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19 comments on “THE $5,000 FEATURE FILM (Micro-Budget Filmmaking…Learn the Secrets)”
I can’t thank you enough for this. I really, really needed it. I’m shooting my first feature this year and I can’t begin to tell you how helpful this was. Thank you!
I don’t even know what to say, this made things so much eaeisr!
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Pues sÃ, Elena. AdemÃ¡s, Blake era de extracciÃ³n humilde, hijo de artesanos, que pronto tuvo que comenzar a trabajar de aprendiz en un taller de grabador. De ahÃ que Eliot lo considerase algo aparte de la literatura cultivada. Pero poca gente ha sabido expresar sus conversaciones con los Ã¡ngeles como Ã©l.Buen dÃa y un abrazo.
Touchdown! That’s a really cool way of putting it!
Good stuff!I especially like the idea of making struggle/failure posts. People connect with hardship emotions more than posts that seem boastful. It really depends on the whole aura of your art and what kind of crowd you attract.
I’ve been looking for a post like this for an age
That’s right…I encourage people to do their review work on either the reviewer app or the full Kindle app before uploading to the KDP or emailing to the device for review. It’s much quicker that way.
An inglleitent answer – no BS – which makes a pleasant change
Hi Dov, can you tell us, where I can buy a script ? Not easy to find on internet…
Tks from Brasil – São Paulo!
I myself took your advice some time ago, am now proudly going to direct my first feature, that I wrote, next month. Fringers crossed.
Thanks for the inspiration.
I made a 58 minute ‘comedy horror’ for less than $500 . but now i am stuck with the distribution. how to get it be shown in the cinema halls? i learnt that a 90 minutes is the right length! so my next project sure i will try 90 minutes. if anyone interested. here is the synopsis. please comment: firstname.lastname@example.org
a notorious fearless thief breaks in a house where a woman has killed her husband and committed suicide. and she haunts the place. she locks up the robber that he can’t escape. if he sacrifices himself, she will be liberated. wherever he looks for jewels, he finds human remnants. he has to cut and eat his own hand and foot to survive. at the end he finds himself dead in bed. he wakes up in the hospital and is told by his wife that on the way back from his robbery, he met with an accident and was in coma in the hospital for the last 3 weeks.
my next project synopsis:
a wife has disappeared. the police thinks of kidnap. every morning when the husband wakes up, he finds half of a weapon in his hand and dress under blood. he can’t understand it and on tv news shows that some person has been killed and half the weapon is left at spot. night after night someone stabs, hammers another person to dead. at the end it becomes clear that all those men had kidnapped and raped the woman of their friend and killed her. and through her husband she took revenge. full twist and climax. please if anyone knows and can give ideas how to distribute?
I have scripts, I want to convert them into moving pictures, but I don’t have $5000. What can I do?
Unless you subpoena the information, or the info is public record, no one will ever know pertinent information such as the fact that Kevin Smith’s ‘Clerks’ and Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Reservoir Dogs’ were backed by and directly affiliated with major movie corporations those 2 directors employed at. So, really there is not point in discussing Smith and Tarantino in independent film-making, they were not then and have never been “independent”. The whole tale about those 2 directors being “indie” is exactly that, a fabricated tale intended to get audiences to fill theater seats and buy more films back when their movies were released.
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How does it apply to series/episodics? Or would you just recommend reworking story bible into a feature length script and go with thaf?