Make an Independent Movie on the Cheap

Posted on November 21, 2009


Make an Independent Movie on the Cheap

Anyone with a camera phone and poor impulse control can be a YouTube star for 15 seconds. But what does it take to make a feature film that will get noticed by Hollywood?

First step is to not be discouraged. The independent horror flick Paranormal Activity hit number one on the box office despite being made on a $11,000 budget. Think you can do better? Independent movies can be made cheap with digital cameras, a little help from your friends and some ingenuity.

Free or cheap

First of all, you don’t need to max out your credit cards on camera equipment and editing software right away. Many community colleges offer filmmaking or digital video editing classes, and will often loan out cameras to registered students and let you schedule time on their editing machines. Try out some different setups before you decide whether to get your own rig. You might even learn a thing or two from the class itself!

Start small

Short films are a great way to get to know your equipment. Unlike consumer camcorders which are designed for ease of use, professional or “prosumer” units allow you to tweak a multitude of settings to get exactly the look you want. It may take you a few days or weeks to understand all the variables, and it’s better to make a standalone short that’s a little subpar than have to reshoot a big chunk of your feature later.

Rent to own

Once you’ve gotten to know your camera, you may realize that natural light isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. But unless you run a photography studio, chances are you don’t have any of those umbrella-light-reflectors handy. And what about sound? That tiny monaural microphone just won’t do for your epic war saga. Seek out local A/V rental outfits — wedding and other event videographers are a good start — and see what kind of accessories they carry.

Spend wisely

Some things you can leave off the set when starting out, like craft service or wardrobe trailers, but don’t skimp on what’s going to end up on screen. That means having good lighting and sound, even if you have to pay someone. Ask around your local community and school theater departments for decent lighting and sound equipment. You might want to check out if they have an audio post production so the audience can understand your actors’ dialogue.

Take it from two people who should know:

“Films are 50 percent visual and 50 percent sound. Sometimes sound even overplays the visual.” – David Lynch, director

“The difference between pornography and erotica is lighting.” – Gloria Leonard, actress

Share the love

YouTube may limit your genius to 10-minute clips, but that’s more than enough time for a trailer to get people interested. If you really want, you can segment your entire feature into a sequential playlist of short scenes, but video sharing sites like Vimeo may provide a better viewing experience for longer works. For a true premiere event, check your local independent movie houses; many of them will rent out auditoriums for private events, and they should already have the equipment to play your home-burned DVD on the big screen. You’ll probably have to bring your own red carpet, though.

In the future

Digital video cameras are getting smaller all the time. As of this writing (September, 2009), $200 can get you a Flip camera, which weighs only six ounces and captures up to two hours of HD video. Equipment size and weight are important considerations when you’re shooting in enclosed spaces, like the interior of a car or underneath someone’s kitchen sink.

Apple’s iMovie may be good enough for most home movies, but if you’re serious about filmmaking, you’ll want something like Final Cut Pro for editing and Adobe After Effects for visual flair. Be warned, though: professional software packages can let you do almost anything, but often have a steep learning curve. Try before you buy, and be prepared to devote some time to your craft. Many editing suites include “scene detection” features that will divide one large video into smaller clips when importing, but it’s still up to you to put those pieces together to form a coherent cinematic story.


Posted in: Entertainment, Movies