How To Make a Feature Film for Under $200

In the summer of 2010 I directed, edited, co-wrote and co-composed music (among several other odd jobs) for my first feature film The Legend of Action Man, which I shot on a shoestring budget of only $200. At Q&As following screenings of The Legend of Action Man, the question I’m asked the most often is “How were you able to make a full-length movie on such a low budget?”

Well…

1. Start with shorts
You have to crawl before you can walk. Enthusiasm is great, but make sure you crack your teeth on some short films before diving into a full-blown movie. Making a feature film is a constant uphill battle, so if you’re making a movie for the sole purpose of making a zillion dollars or becoming the next Kevin Smith, this is probably a good place for you to stop reading. I shot more than 70 short films before I made The Legend of Action Man, and that experience taught me how to shoot quickly and on the fly for next to nothing, as well as the core basics of writing, directing and editing.

2. Shoot digital
I think what a lot of filmmakers today don’t realize is that we live in an age when moviemaking is much more accessible and affordable than ever before. We shot The Legend of Action Man on DV tapes, we cut the whole thing together on a laptop and you could carry around our camera (a Canon HV30) in the palm of your hands.

3. Don’t pay for anything
We squeezed every penny to make this movie, and we almost never spent a dime if we could help it. But with some things we had no choice. There’s a scene in our movie that features a fully operational ice cream truck. The owner of the truck wanted us to pay $50 for a mere half hour of shooting, so we told him that if he cut the price down we would feature his company’s logo in the credits. He cut the cost drastically. Hey, just because you’re independent doesn’t mean you’re too good for a little product placement!

4. Don’t pay for anyone
As for the cast, if we wanted to use an actor we’d promise them an IMDb credit, footage for their reel, a chance to see themselves on the big screen and lunch. Though we didn’t always give them lunch. In fact, I don’t think we ever did. However, when it comes to pulling a tightly knit cast and crew together, make sure you hire people who are good as their word and will put their hearts into your project. Be sure to treat them with respect. Being a director is tricky, because even though sometimes you have to be assertive, you don’t want to be halfway through shooting and have your lead actor drop out due to “creative differences.”

5. Be prepared for the worst
Anything that can possibly go wrong on your shoot will. Background noise, dead batteries, broken equipment, lost/stolen props, actors showing up late, ruined tapes, bad weather, losing the sun, getting locked out of locations—the list goes on and on, especially if you’re shooting on the cheap and can’t rely on fixing things in post. But making movies is about making mistakes and learning from those mistakes. After a while you learn how to keep a level head even when 100 different things are going wrong at once.

6. Just make a movie
Focus on telling a good story. The rest will follow. Budget or not, nothing comes before having a solid script.

Andy Young is a moviemaker living in Austin, TX. His first movie The Legend of Action Man is now available on Amazon.com. To find more work by Andy Young visit www.dingomanproductions.com.

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