How to pull off amazing films for little money

So you are an aspiring filmmaker, you have little money or backing, but want to tell compelling, fun and interesting stories. But how do you do this without those big budgets .

You don’t have Hollywood money, so how is it possible to make a great film if all you have is much less than $30,000(around N10m)

First step?  Expand your frame of Reference.

A frame of reference is a particular set of beliefs or ideas on which you base your judgment of things.

As an aspiring,upcoming or young filmmaker, working in no/low/micro budget films, you will want to expand your frame of reference beyond big budget Hollywood films and epic Bollywood films. While you can enjoy them, you will get frustrated realizing you don’t have access to those resources and budgets.

Unless you have a trust fund which can allow you to spend N30m you may never get back on a film,in which case, why are you reading this,….wait, come back, gimme some money, please.

You have to think in budgets lower, much much lower, and that starts in your short films and how you pull them off.

Many people will tell you its impossible to make a good film without a budget in the 8 figures, and they are right, for them.  Their frame of reference tells them so.  But for you,as you expand your frame of reference and definition of “good film” you would realize that there are films made for $7,000(Sundance Winner PRIMER) which are better than films made for $70,000,000.  The $70m may have better gear, better imagery(aesthetic,costume,production design) and scale. But the $7,000 has better directing and a more original and compelling story.

Find and Watch Indie films from the US. Especially films made for under $1m . Find the stories of Sundance and other low-budget indie film festival winners, who made films for under $100k or made films on iPhones, these will inspire you to see that compelling indie films without the big budgets of Hollywood.

Find and watch films from Asia,South America and Africa and see how they tell compelling stories without the millions that Hollywood throws about outside of onscreen storytelling.  Watch the early films of the 3 amigos;  the films they made while still in Mexico, before they had Hollywood budgets to make Oscar-winning films. You may find they told a lot more interesting stories back then.

The Nigerian FilmMakers who are doing different things and making standout films in the same environment, with the same challenges, have a Frame of Reference different from others; which allows them to believe in the possibilities of making what they want to make, despite all which works against them.

Watch how Chris Nolan pulled of his debut feature FOLLOWING for $6,000. Using only available light and shooting on weekends because that was the only spare time he and his friends had.

By continually expanding your FoR and seeing that others have pulled off amazing and compelling films on little budgets and small resources, you stop buying into the belief that you need a HUGE budget to make a good film.

Focus on the story and performance, forget all the frills and thrills.  Forget all the fancy camera moves you want to do with cranes, jibs and osmos. Forget all the effizi and go minimal.

There will be limitations, there will be restrictions, there will be stories you can’t tell (for now)  but these force you to rely on creativity instead of throwing  money at a challenge.

Nigerian Filmmakers have pulled off good films with minimal budgets both in the short and long form Ojukokoro, Green White Green, Catch.er, Ojuju, Modupe Temi,Confusion Na Wa, Slow Country, The Encounter, B for Boy, Bariga Sugar and others. Some of the films have their flaws, but you can see a voice,intent and effort put in despite little resources.  See how good these Nigerian films look, all short films, most of which did so on low budgets.

What is your favorite Low Budget Feature film?

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5 thoughts on “How to pull off amazing films for little money

  1. Story is king. If you have a great story set in one location with limited cast and crew, you can potential make a great movie for cheap. Making a great movie is half the battle. To get the world to know about your little great film is a different story. That’s where you may have to spend some scrilla.

    1. LOL. That’s why i focused on making a good movie/product rather than a box office juggernaut. Marketing/Publicity and getting bums in seats in another thing, but the actual making on a humblebudget; reverse engineered rightly with good skillset,will lead to a good film.

      Thanks for the comment.

  2. It has never been about big budgets… Just compelling stories and the ability to understand and utilize effective storytelling techniques…

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