So you want to make a high-quality film but your bank is looking a little dry? It may feel as if the odds are stacked against you when you don't have the abundance of resources that your favourite Hollywood producers do. But with less money tends to come more control, and being forced to get scrappy and creative with your micro-budget filmmaking often results in artistic, interesting productions that have a soul Hollywood could only dream of (take that Tarantino!).
What's more, the technological advancements of the last few decades have significantly reduced production and distribution costs, making DIY filmmaking a more accessible and fruitful endeavour. You need to understand which resources to draw from, and how to keep your costs low without sacrificing your creative integrity, but once you've learned how to harness the power of your small, intimate team and stripped-back equipment list, you'll be an unstoppable force of nature.
To help you on your journey, we've put together an essential guide to micro-budget filmmaking.
- What is micro-budget filmmaking?
- Famous micro-budget films
- Turning your limitations into strengths
- How to source equipment for your micro-budget film
- Location scouting on a budget
- How to source costumes & props for your micro-budget film
- Getting a crew together on a budget
- The importance of call sheets
- Funding & support for micro-budget films
- Promoting your micro-budget film
1. What is micro-budget filmmaking?
"Low-budget" and "micro-budget" are used somewhat interchangeably to refer to films that cost less than a few million pounds to produce. But this understanding encompasses a huge range of productions, from the truly scrappy DIY student projects all the way to the relatively well-funded arthouse productions. Whilst it's difficult to find formal distinctions, the BFI ran a survey back in 2008 which determined that you could loosely categorise lower-budget films into the following three categories:
- "Low-budget": £250k - £1m
- "Micro-budget": £50k - £250k
- "No-budget": £0 - £50k
Of course, these benchmarks may have changed a bit in the past 15 years, but these terms are inherently fluid and difficult to define. More recent surveys have suggested similar distinctions, however, so it should give you some idea of where your film sits.
To make things more complicated, the UK government sets the threshold for "limited-budget" films as those with a budget less than £20 million, which entitles them to higher rates of additional deduction and payable tax credit. Colloquially speaking, however, nobody would consider this a "limited" or low budget.
At the end of the day, you're here because making a film is expensive, and you want to learn how to compete with that Hollywood quality without the wealth of resources that such films are afforded. So, whether you're dealing with a £100 or £100,000 budget, we're here to help you fine-tune your film production workflow and make the most of the resources you have on hand.
2. Famous micro-budget films
To spark some inspiration, here are a handful of famous micro-budget films that paid off big time:
- Blair Witch Project (1999) - Estimated budget: Between £28- 48k. Box Office: £200 million.
- Bronson (2009) - Estimated budget: £150k. Box Office: £1.8 million.
- Ill Manors (2012) - Estimated budget: £100k. Box Office: £454k.
- Halloween (1978) - Estimated budget: £240k. Box Office: £38 million.
- Mad Max (1979) - Estimated budget: £300k. Box Office: £80 million.
3. Turning your limitations into strengths
They say that diamonds grow under pressure, and making a micro-budget film is all about using your limitations to spur on innovation and creativity. When you're forced to forego the fancy equipment and flashy visual effects that money can buy, you're left with no other choice but to lean on the power of your story and characters.
Though you may miss out on A-list celebrities and exotic locations, one thing you can afford that larger-budget films cannot is the freedom to fail. The thing is, Hollywood films tend to be pretty risk averse; they usually involve multiple people pulling the strings, who all want to conform to reliable tropes and tried-and-tested clichés (i.e. a dependable formula that will return their investment). Of course, you still want your film to do well and earn you money, but the lower your production costs are, the more likely you are to take creative risks and lead by your heart, rather than your bank. Use this to your advantage and actively try to break the mould.
Once you've acknowledged your limitations and made peace with them (it might be time to throw away that Around The World in 80 Days remake), you now have the power to use them to your advantage. Whether it's shooting your entire film in a single take, setting it across one afternoon, shooting entirely in one location, featuring only one character, or filming only in black and white... some of the best works of art arise out of people deliberately constraining themselves. Switch up the formula and think outside of the box, as this will likely be your greatest strength when it comes down to it.
Often, these are the types of films that really make us feel something raw and provocative. Not only are they conceptually intriguing, but by narrowing our view and removing outside distractions, we are forced to truly immerse ourselves in the minds and lives of the characters on screen.
4. How to source equipment for your microbudget film
Film equipment can be expensive, I don't need to tell you that. So what do you do when you don't want to sacrifice on quality but your budget just isn't stretching?
Luckily, there's an abundance of film equipment rental companies out there that allow you to source the highest-quality equipment at a fraction of the retail price. If you want more help in this department, we've put together a list of the 10 best places to hire film equipment in London to assist your search.
Consider all available avenues. If you're a film student, ask your institution what equipment they have on hand - try and push for any cinematic lenses that they have available, and ask them to give you a tutorial so that your crew knows how to use it (if they don't already).
Having said that, when looking to cut production costs, it's worth bearing in mind that filming in anything over 4K may simply be an unjustified expenditure. Particularly if you're making a short film for YouTube or Vimeo, (where you'll have to compress your video to upload anyway), investing in high-resolution cameras might not be the wisest use of your budget.
And with a growing number of critically-acclaimed films like Tangerine (2015) and High Flying Bird (2019) being shot entirely on smartphones, it's clear that the landscape is changing. Technology is getting better and cheaper every day, and at the same time, people are becoming more and more adjusted to consuming (and filming) media on their (relatively) small smartphone screens.
Audio quality, on the other hand, is something that should not be undervalued. Even the highest-quality IMAX production will instantly feel cheap if the audio quality is not up to scratch. Conversely, if you find yourself lacking in the pixels department, then flawless audio can elevate your production and make your less-than-perfect visuals appear more like a stylistic choice. If you're looking for more advice on how to choose the right microphone for video recording, we've got you covered. Paying close attention to audio during filming will also save you from having to pay for an audio editor to rectify your shortcomings in post-production.
Making use of natural light may help you to avoid forking out on expensive film lighting equipment. And even with the sun as your only light source, you can still play around with things such as shadows and the time of day to create different visual effects. You can read our guide to hard lighting vs. soft lighting in filmmaking for more advice in this realm.
5. Location scouting on a budget
Location scouting for film is a crucial part of any pre-production process, but it's especially important for low- and micro-budget filmmaking as it's easy to rack up the costs when searching for those perfect backdrops.
Try to keep your locations to a minimum, and map them out in a way that avoids unnecessary travel. If you have your heart set on a particular location, for example, try looking around in a 10-mile radius for secondary locations that fit the bill. This will avoid extending your production time and will bring down transportation costs.
Don't forget to take into account things such as equipment, physical space, permits, weather and reverberation - you need to be thorough with your assessments to avoid having to amend your call sheet or relocate altogether.
At Tutti, we make it easy for you to source all your filming locations in one place. Use filters to narrow down your search and discover hundreds of locations in the heart of London, from churches to houses, canal boats to bars, classrooms to board rooms, gyms to playgrounds... Whatever your requirements, Tutti has the place to fit the creative needs of your project. And with zero booking fees, this makes it the ideal choice for micro-budget filmmakers looking to cut down on time and costs.
As we touched on earlier, consider setting your micro-budget film entirely in one location, such as a detention centre as seen in The Breakfast Club (1985), a coffin as seen in Buried (2010), or a train as seen in Bullet Train (2022).
6. How to source costumes & props for your micro-budget film
When it comes to clothing and props, things depend heavily on what sort of film you're producing. If it's set within the last 50 years, then it's always a good port of call to simply raid your crew's and friends' closets (with their consent of course). See what you can pull together and then visit a local charity shop or thrift store to pick up details and missing bits. Even with high-budget films, many costume design teams will request that actors bring along some of their own clothing (particularly jeans) to ensure that they fit correctly and appear 'worn in'. And with the world of fashion becoming increasingly cyclical, it shouldn't be too difficult to find some 60s-style bootcut jeans or "Y2K" essentials.
Still, you may be on the hunt for some staple pieces that help build a better picture of your film's cultural and generational context. Apparently not everyone has a Samurai kabuto helmet collecting dust at the back of their wardrobe. In this case, your best bet is to seek out a costume or prop rental company. There are plenty of amazing choices right here in London - if you want some pointers, check out our list of 10 of the best costume rental companies in London.
7. Getting a crew together on a budget
When it comes to pulling together your crew, your first point of call should be to reach out for help (which is something that you're going to need to get comfortable with when producing a micro-budget film).
Perhaps you have a talented editor or lighting technician in your circle that you can call on, and if they're early on in their career they may appreciate the opportunity to gain experience working on a film set. Offer to assist them with one of their own projects to repay the favour and trade skillsets.
However, whether you're paying your crew in money, exposure, or favours, this needs to be made abundantly clear from the get-go, and don't try to push people past the boundaries that they're comfortable with. Generally speaking, if they're not your friend, you need to financially compensate them. And it's a good idea to draft up some professional contracts to protect yourself and your crew.
Try booking actors and crew that live locally so you don't have to cover accommodation and transportation costs. You can reach out to local film schools or search for roles such as 'cameraman' or 'actor' on sites like UpWork.
At the end of the day, to make a micro-budget film, you must be resourceful, not exploitative. People will understand that resources are scarce and that you need to run a tight ship, but this should never come at the sacrifice of your crew's wellbeing. In fact, the best way to encourage hard work and discipline is to cultivate a sense of comradery and teamwork. People will want to put their all into a project if they feel they are being treated with respect and afforded ample freedom and trust. Keep morale up by being kind and responsible.
8. The importance of call sheets
Once you've mapped out your scenes and nailed down your shot list, it's time to construct your call sheets. This is one of the most important aspects of micro-budget filmmaking as it will help you to avoid wasting precious time and resources due to lack of planning and coordination. A good call sheet ensures that the operation runs tight, meaning that you only have the crew and equipment that you need and don't run into unforeseen obstacles when it comes to filming.
Of course, you must account for a certain amount of flexibility - you'd be the luckiest person on earth if everything went exactly according to schedule (Sod's law, sorry). But an effective call sheet should help you to avoid turning up to set and realising you forgot to source a tripod or arrange for your friend to bring his Samurai kabuto helmet to set.
Building a call sheet for your micro-budget film will also help you to map out exactly how much time everything should take, meaning you can avoid hiring a location for three days only for it to take two, for example.
9. Funding & support for your micro-budget film
Whilst getting scrappy with your low-budget filmmaking can be a rewarding and productive experience, it doesn't hurt to have a little extra cash on hand to help with production costs.
There are a number of organisations throughout the UK that help independent filmmakers with funding and support:
- BFI London have a number of grants available to filmmakers developing their animation, live-action and documentary film productions. They invest over £26 million each year.
- Film4 invests £15 million annually to help develop and co-finance low-budget films across the UK, but you must submit your application via an established film production company.
- Liverpool Film Office has a production fund which offers investments of up to £500,000 per project in return for productions that increase the cultural visibility of Liverpool, meaning a significant portion of your film must be filmed in the city.
- Similar local initiatives are offered through Screen Yorkshire's Yorkshire Content Fund, as well as Creative UK's West Midlands Production Fund.
- The UK government also offers Film Tax Relief for British films.
For a more comprehensive list of funding opportunities available throughout the UK, check out the British Film Commission's website. Make sure that you read the guidelines carefully for each fund before you start plotting how to splash out on your new budget.
You may also want to consider using crowdsourcing platforms such as Kickstarter and CrowdFunder.
10. Promoting your micro-budget film
You could have just made the next Titanic, but nobody is going to see it if you don't take the time to promote it. Try reaching out to local press to see if they're willing to feature your story or film poster, and milk your social media presence (however big or small) for everything it's worth!
You can also apply to various film festivals and contests, which can be a great way to get noticed. Below are just a few that run in the UK across the year and have an open-call policy:
- Raindance Film Festival - Final deadline is usually in May. You can submit short and feature-length films of any genre.
- Aesthetica Short Film Festival - Final deadline is usually in May. You can submit short and feature-length films of any genre.
- Norwich Film Festival - Final deadline is usually in June. You can submit short films only, of any genre.
- Edinburgh International Film Festival - Final deadline is usually in April. You can submit short and feature-length films of any genre.
That's a wrap!
So there you have it - the essential guide to micro-budget filmmaking. Producing a film on a micro-budget is no small feat - there's a reason why Hollywood budgets are so high, and once you start to factor in equipment, talent, location scouting, and costumes, the numbers can easily start to rack up.
However, whilst having a micro-budget is undeniably a limitation, so is having the pressure of millions of pounds worth of investment. Harness your own constraints and use them to guide and complement your creative vision. This will put you in the best position to produce a show-stopping micro-budget film that's original and full of character.
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