Whether you’re a director, an executive producer, or both, your job is to complete the film on time and under budget. One role is more business-oriented and one is more creative, but both involve time management, planning, communication, and getting creative when you don’t have a lot of capital with which to work. which, in independent film, is basically every project you will ever work on.
If you need funding so you can get creative in the first place, submit a one-sentence pitch to our funding opportunities.
Below are several ways to stretch your budget when you’re producing or directing your film. If you want to learn how to become an executive producer, how to become a film producer, or how to produce a movie with independent film companies, check out this blog post.
This post won’t go into the differences among the types of producers, such as the difference between a producer and executive producer—you can read our post here to see the types of producers—but it will tell you how to maximize your budget given your film crew list. It comes down to who you hire. The questions you ask in the interview process will show you how versatile and flexible they can be both on set and in pre-production. You want people who genuinely care about the production and not just their paycheck.
Combine Production Department Heads
One thing you can do to save time and money is to combine production heads on your short film. If you can find crew members who are multi-faceted (recruiting from the theatre world can help with this), you’ll be able to bundle their services into one rate. On one of our founder’s short films, Thomas Verdi hired someone who could do both Hair and Makeup in addition to Costume Design. Her title was a bit of a mouthful—Hair and Makeup and Costume Designer—but he saved a significant amount in the budget by doing this. Just be careful about spreading people too thin. They may be talented, but you don’t want to overtax them. He almost had her do production design, too, but was advised against it!
You could combine assistant directors with the responsibilities of crafty, have set designers also do costume design and serve as the art director, have the director of photography double as his own camera operator and key grip, have the boom operator do DIT, and more. Whatever you think makes sense for your project.
If they’re more obsessed with film crew hierarchy than helping you produce or direct an amazing film, they’re likely not going to be a good fit for your low-budget short film. Always keep this in mind as an independent producer when putting together your movie budget breakdown: you can download our free film budget template here.
Use Your Own Vehicles
Commercially successful independent film producers and independent filmmakers are known for their ability to be scrappy and turn around projects on time and under budget. Instead of doing everything “by the book,” they maximize the resources to which they have access. Similar to combining production staff, you can also combine production vehicles (assuming you’re not dealing with transportation unions such as the Teamsters on your production).
Instead of accepting the fact that a cinematographer says you’ll need to rent a truck for all of the gear, you could invest in a truck or SUV (or borrow one from a friend or family member) so you won’t need to rent a box truck or your crew member’s van when you need to transport gear, props, and set dressings between locations.
If you discuss these logistics with your department heads up front, telling them that the project is low-budget and demonstrate your passion for it, they’ll likely be okay with this, and they might even appreciate the help when it comes to hauling hear. Always consider all of the production costs, including gas and tolls. Not only will you save on rental costs for a truck, but there will be less gas and tolls to reimburse.
In the same vein as using your own vehicles to transport props and equipment, you can encourage your cast and crew to carpool if they’ll be traveling from the same place. Again, this is something you’ll want to discuss in the hiring and casting process when discussing logistics. If any members of your production balk at this idea, even after you demonstrate your passion and how important it is to the low-budget film budget breakdown. they may not be the right people for your film.
Have the Director Edit the Film
Your below-the-line crew shouldn’t be the only people involved in the film whose talents can be combined. With the exception of executing complex VFX work in post-production, in our view, every director should be able to cut together a rough cut of their film, if not the entire thing. Directors need t have a firm understanding of their script’s act structure, and they should be envisioning the final edit and the editing process during the actual shoot on set, so also editing the film should be a no-brainer. Of course, directors don’t always need to edit if hiring a professional editor will improve the project, but this is one significant way to save money in post-production.
The Coen brothers always edit their own films. At the very least, have your director assemble a rough cut or even just a stringout of footage (meaning pulling “selects”—the best takes—to the timeline in order) before hiring a professional editor. If your editor is going to charge by the hour or is evaluating the project before setting a flat rate, this will help tremendously rather than giving them an entire dump of the footage.
Compose Your Own Score, or Find a Sound Editor Who Can
Again, don’t hire additional crew—even post-production crew—if you don’t have to. Sound design, score, and good editing are crucial to a project’s success, but if you can find someone who can do more than one of these skills well, you could save thousands of dollars in your post-production budget. This is what a movie producer does. They get things done. When you hire one person to do multiple jobs, there’s a lot more room to bundle services and negotiate their contract.
If you’re a musical person, you could even try composing your own score. Taking an online scoring class and purchasing a synthesizer will be less expensive than continuing to hire post-production crew as your career grows and you produce more and more short films.
In addition to combining crew or producing your own music, you can use free royalty-free music and sound effects from websites such as mobygratis. Just be sure to credit the sources appropriately according the listed Creative Commons license.
While these tips will help when it comes to stretching your budget, you’ll still require a budget in the first place. For a chance to receive up to $10,000 and other prizes to make your short film, submit to our one-sentence film funding opportunities today.