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How To Make A Low Budget & Low Tech Short Film

Updated on July 31, 2013
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If you're literally just starting out, try making a super awesome low-tech movie on a budget

Have you always wanted to make a movie but you don't have the equipment or the time? Do you daydream about walking the red carpet as a result of your wildly successful debut feature? Well, you can look for excuses forever but the best thing to do is take what you've got and get started. With that in mind I'm going to run through some tips for you to get out and make a short film for little or no money... Yup, anyone, even YOU, yes you...!! Can make a sweet short film and have it seen by hundreds, thousands... Possibly even millions of people.

First up, this is about how to make a very low tech/no tech home movie for you and your friends and to hone your film maker skills.

Step 1. Get an idea. OK maybe this is super obvious but you need to have a vague idea about what you want to make and what you will need to do at this stage is make it do-able. Maybe a zombie film? Or aliens invading your home town? It doesn't have to be high tech, in fact we are going for super low tech here. Brainwave some ideas for very short plots, I'll give you a simple one here to get your brain in gear: Man discovers plot by mad scientist to turn his entire family/group of friends into zombies. Only way he can stop him is by getting the woman he loves to give him her recipe for zombie-neutro juice, but she's run off with another man... (Twist: It's going to be the mad scientist). Yeah, it's rubbish but it has plenty of scope for terrible comedy and low tech effects as well as using close friends and local locations.

Step 2. Prepare a script. You can have fun with this... Get some friends involved or do it yourself. Make it around 3 or 5 pages long. As a general rule one page is 1 minute of screentime if you follow the general screenplay format rules. Use an online script writing program like Plotbot to make your script and print off enough copies for all the actors (well, the ones who have lines). Remember, you don't have to stick to the script, if someone has a good line to ad lib or the plot changes while you're filming just go with it. You can also film the original version of the script too if you want to do a 'directors cut' later.

Step 3. Prepare a shooting script. Based on your finished masterpiece of screenplay you can now work out where and how you're going to put this awesome film together. You probably had some ideas when you wrote the script anyway but now just make a list of where you will film each scene, who needs to be there and what costumes/props you will need.

Step 4. Get your equipment together. Most people have access to a camera of some sort be it a digital camera or mobile phone camera, embrace the technology and use what you've got. You can also pick up second hand mini DV or VHS cameras pretty cheap, but you probably want to keep it digital for the edit. Your iPhone or Smartphone camera will do fine if you don't have a digital camera.

You will probably need a tripod or steadying device of some sort. Even if you rest the camera on something - thats better than nothing. You can get cheap camera stands in shops such as poundland in the UK or similar cheap shops.

For lighting, a few desk lamps will do if you need to illuminate a dark corner or add atmosphere. If you want some colourful lighting effects get some gels (coloured plastic sheeting) from a stationers or craft shop.

Step 5. Get your costume and props together. Zombie film? You'll need fake blood and white face paint, maybe some clothes you can rip. Alien film? You'll need to work out how to make your alien masks - maybe buy them and adapt them from a joke shop item. A gangster film? You'll need some toy guns (replicas can get you in trouble with the law so just get some good quality toy ones).

Some film ideas might require sets. Find a room or somewhere you can use freely - an old office, an underused bedroom, a garage - whatever - make sure it's OK that you can use and get it ready. You may be able to get several sets out of one location with a bit of creativity.

Step 6. Cast and crew. As the day comes closer to making your film confirm that the people you want in your film will be available. Have backups because people will forget, do something else, be out of cellphone range etc. Some people may need to multi task and be cast and crew, or double up as cast characters.

Step 7. Go and shoot...! Just do it. If people let you down or you don't have the right equipment for one scene just go and film what you can. Once you get going you'll want to finish, even if that means coming back to it later. Filming can mean long days but hey, you're being super low tech, just have fun with what you've got. If you're ten or thirty, you can make an awesome low tech film.

Step 8. The Edit. You probably have a copy of basic edit software bundled free with the computer that you're reading this article on. You can get free copies of premier from adobes website or from en.softonic.com or adobe-premiere.soft32.com.

If you shot on digital you should be able to take the footage off and put it on the computer and edit freely. If you shot on VHS, miniDV, super8 or whatever you may need to get the footage converted to digital or use a more analogue edit method.

Step 9. Soundtrack. A lot of a films atmosphere is in it's soundtrack. You can get free music all over the internet. Search for 'Free music for films' or 'licence free music'. Browse Soundcloud for cool tunes if that's what you need. Better still, if you can, make your own music. Software such as Reaper or Audacity are free and great for making your own music.

Step 10. Render and upload. You've finished it, it's all looking good and you're ready to show your masterpiece to the world. Save it as an AVI or an mp4 - AVI is better. Upload it to YouTube or Vimeo and send me a link so I can check it out. Invite your friends and family round for the grand premiere and soak up the kudos.

Step 11. Repeat until someone spots how awesome you are at making films for no money and gives you lots of money to make one....

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