Independent Filmmaking 101: What You Should Know About Shooting on a Budget

So, you wanna be a filmmaker? You’re in luck. These days, the film industry has shifted from film to – well – filmless. The digital age has democratized everything. Now you can say, “have camera, will shoot.”

Here’s a short and sweet roundup of everything you need to know about shooting your first indie on a budget:

Be competent and professional.  Indie doesn’t mean “low-quality” and “crude” filmmaking. Make a well-thought of, well-crafted, well-acted film.

Raise money. Apply for grants here and abroad. Borrow money from banks (but don’t borrow if you can’t pay it back!)

Be resourceful; tap family and friends: For sponsorships or donations, seek, out members of your family, town or city mates, work colleagues, orgmates, acquaintances and friends. Approach companies. Get the support of local governments (for free meals and/or locations). These could easily translate to six-figure savings.

Make a pitch to producers. You have to pitch your projects to producers or investors. Some of them have the passion for cinema and are willing to spend money for a good project like yours even if you are a first-time filmmaker

They’ll ask you what your story is, its audience, why it is important to create this film, and where you’re taking it afterwards. Prep a good, first three-sentence pitch and consider offering delectable goodies for their pledges – collectible memorabilia: an action figure, a shirt with the film’s poster in front, or a famous line from the film.


Rustle up funding. Try indie gogo or to bring out your works out there. You just need to have a unique marketing strategy to get the right attention for your project. There are venues for the pitching or film conferences for Docus outside the country such as TokyoDocs, SunnySide of Docs and HotDocs, Sheffield film fest in London.

Get producers like mainstream studios, smaller production studios to fund the projects.

Create amazing short films. If you’ve saved some money, shoot a teaser of your movie, and present to potential producers. Have a mood board, storyboard and/or concept art to help the audience understand your project better. It’s all about communicating your idea and showing your audience why your project is worthy of their money and trust. Your body of work will have your distinct “voice” and will become your business card.

Assign a fiscalizer and watch out for the bottom line. When you sit down and are about to create a film, you’ll realize that that it can’t be made as you had envisioned it. Scale it down. Not all of your balloons will fly. The assistant director will help you pop some of those balloons and bring you back to earth. Not everyone in the team should be ‘creative,’ you need a fiscalizer who will keep bringing you back to the bottom line.

Be conscious of budget. Your story and your treatment dictate your budget. The scope of your vision should remain within the confines of your budget. Have a modest budget but a big heart and a great story. Budget wisely, use money wisely; it’s hard to raise money when you go over budget. As the budget of the film becomes bigger, and as the film becomes more expensive to make, the harder it is to recoup the money.

On Talents. Talents are often willing to settle for 10-20% of their regularly talent fees for independent films. Ask the major performer to waive his fee in exchange for the prestigious title of “co-producer.” That would be his major investment.


Value your human capital. As an indie filmmaker, your biggest (and sometimes only) resource is the talent of the people you work with. Harness this talent because everyone will bring something unique to the making of your film. Filmmaking is all about collaboration. Work with people you trust; work with a good cast and crew. Realize the importance of each member of your team. Thus…

Do not scrimp on food. You may not be able to give them premium rates, but your cast and crew will love you for feeding them well!

Manage your schedule and timeline.

  • “Compress shoots to eight-10 days only. The more days you shoot, the more money you need
  • Limit location sites to two-three
  • Do everything you can in one location in one day, and finish all sequences; cluster sequences

These would translate to hefty savings in terms of van rentals, bus and airfare, toll fees, accommodations (especially for out-of-town shoots) and most of all, food.

Be realistic. Do away with “BIG” scenes that require helicopter rental, the use of doubles, and animation. Consider mock-ups. Hire members of theatre groups or student organizations as extras or passersby. Their rates are more affordable than professional talents.

Have a distribution plan.  You may not necessarily have the distribution support of the big leagues. Some indies though have made it big in the box office. It is important to have a clear distribution plan after you complete your film.

Join film festivals abroad. Make a film and see the world! You could probably recoup part of or your entire investment (should a festival give a cash prize).

Be passionate. Networking, a good story and a sincere message to affect your audience are the holy trinity of filmmaking. With these elements, putting your films out there will bring a world of opportunities that you could never have imagined.


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