Filming On a Tiny Budget, Part 1

Most big time movies cost millions of dollars to make. The latest Michael Bay or Wes Anderson flick probably required tons of funding and years of preparation.

But you don’t need a trust fund to tell an amazing story and rake in the profits.

You won’t be able to quit your day job for it (in fact, we recommend you have one before starting), but with a dedicated crew, a small investment in casting, some basic equipment and a good story… you just might be able to work movie magic.

Cheap But Amazing

Some of my favorite movies were shot on a (relatively) tiny budget yet made a huge impact–both culturally and financially.

Eraserhead (1977)

(No, not the Filipino rock band, the Eraserheads, I’m referring to the cult classic directed by David Lynch)

Filmed for an estimated $20,000, this first feature from the now iconic David Lynch pulled in a cool $7,000,000. And that’s in 1977 dollars. Eraserhead is revered in Top Films You Must See lists around the world.

Primer (2004)

Director Shane Curruth, who also stars in the film and was one of 5 total crew members, put this flick together for an estimated $7,000. Upon its release, the film’s highly personal and original approach to time travel made it a favorite among movie critics.

Oh yeah, and it also made about $424,000 ($28,000 on its first weekend) and won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. Not bad for a first feature.

Tarnation (2003)

This documentary is quite an amazing piece. I saw this one in film school and when I found out it was edited on iMovie, I think my brain exploded. Luckily, with modern medical technology…

This remarkable doc cost a whopping $218.32.  Yep. No, seriously, and it made, oh, over $500,000 in theaters.

(Okay, so it cost that much to make, but in preparation for release, the budget rose to $400,000, due to royalty costs. With the help of Gus Van Sant and John Cameron Mitchell, filmmaker Jonathan Caouette was able to pay the expensive music and video royalties.)

But still. Pretty amazing.

You Too Can Dream Big 

Considering these and other inspiring examples, it’s possible to shoot with next to nothing, (comparitively) and still produce fantastic work. Keep in mind, these were feature films that were shot on these budgets. So if you are hoping to create a great short film that will be played in festivals (and possibly seen by key producers in the industry) and want to have something other than receipts left over in your wallet, there is hope.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series, wherein we tackle the dirty details of creative process!


::::::::::: Ready?! Set?! Shoot!!

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