Making a film is exciting. Seeing your name as the director, producer, writer, or all of the above on a film is amazing. One of the things that most people worry about is money.
The first thing to remember… is that a lot of money doesn’t mean that you are going to make a great film. Waterworld, John Carter, Star Wars Episodes 1,2, & 3! Even a multi-billion dollar budget can create a suck-fest.
Great movies are based on great stories, not a lot of money.
The king of the low budget blockbuster, John Carpenter, is the guy to watch. His horror movies are still among the most terrifying films ever made, but the budgets were always low.
For inspiration, here’s a list of films that were made with low budgets and became blockbusters:
- Open Water
- Friday the 13th
- Night of the Living Dead
- American Graffiti
- Mad Max
- The Blair Witch Project
- Paranormal Activity
We’re going to look at two of these films and see what made them great:
Rocky – Story, story, story. Stallone wrote a story that is as timeless as a Greek myth. In so doing, he created a legend that is so real that many people are surprised to learn that there wasn’t a real Rocky Balboa. Stallone claimed to have sold his dog to keep from getting evicted. With today’s technology, the same film could probably be made for even less money. A decent quality camera and video editing software on a computer – these things make creating movies simple.
Paranormal Activity – A handheld camera and $15,000. This is a movie that is all about surprises and plot twists. The story is interesting, the acting is sincere and natural, and the imagery is terrifying enough to create a legendary film. The first film grossed $193 million at the box office. The franchise has made nearly $1 billion. Not a bad return on investment.
So… how do I make a movie without any money?
Stop thinking like George Lucas. Or, more precisely, think like George Lucas before the first Star Wars movie was made. The first film was made for $13 million. That’s it. That was a large budget, but the film involved a lot of making magic.
The Godfather was $6 million! The original budget was $1 million! Coppola is the king of going over budget, but the film made $8 million in its first weekend.
In the shower scene in Psycho, the blood is chocolate sauce. Hitchcock could have afforded nearly anything; he was already a legend. Why do more than you need to make a great film?
- Write a great story / screenplay. Then enter it at free screenplay competitions around the world as you might get noticed.
- Plan a movie that doesn’t rely on the CGI and expensive crap that Hollywood has you convinced is what makes a movie great.
- Keep the quality high. Don’t let a low budget mean bad acting or poor directing. It will pay off. Stallone is a legend now; he was nobody before Rocky.
- Edit it well. Movie-goers don’t want you to slack on making the film look bad at the 11th hour.
- Promote it like your life depends on it. Your career in film might. It’s that simple. Promote it everywhere all the time. Make an official website, Facebook and Twitter page and enter it at free international film festivals around the world.
One last point: There are no shortcuts. A great film starts with a great script and an insane amount of passion. Everything else is just icing on the cake.