We Make Movies (Better): Making Your Movie with Zero Money

ruby_booby_posterPrologue

This is the article you’ve been waiting for. You have a movie that you’re aching to make but you can’t, because you have no money. This is nonsense. I’m here to tell you that actually, you can. Read this article, then go make your movie.

“Pft.” “Shaa.” “Whatever.”

I can hear you.

“Come on, ZERO money?”

Yes. I dare you to read further.

 

Five steps to making your movie when you have zero money

I’ve heard it as often as you have. I’ve heard my friends say it, heard myself say it, heard the entire “industry” say it: “I’m ready to shoot my film but I need to raise the money first.” Dear earnest writer/actor/director/producer: No you don’t. You don’t have to raise the money first. It’s possible to make a movie that audiences will love with “zero money.” It absolutely is. I know this, because I did it.  And our moviemaking adventure is still going, this February of 2013. We’re screening at festivals, shopping our movie to distributors. earning great reviews and awards, and we started filming our movie with zero money. Here’s our trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gTVq66DyVI4. And here’s the second trailer we made, after we shot the whole movie: http://vimeo.com/14757487.

We’re fortunate that in this second decade of the 21st Century there are ALL KINDS of ways to raise money to make your film. But the fact is, you don’t need money in your pocket to start the cameras rolling.

 

No-Money MovieMaking Rule #1: DECIDE that you are going to make your movie NO MATTER WHAT.

This, my voracious storytelling friend is the crux of your task. This decision is the most important, the most pivotal mental and emotional step you need to take. And this decision comes part and parcel with a date. Ain’t no decision made dear colleague, without a date. The bottom line is, your date for the exact date you’ll begin shooting is way more important than how much money you have in the bank.

We launched ourselves into the stratosphere of our movie Ruby Booby by promising to start the cameras rolling December 10, 2009. Ruby has now screened at festivals in Los Angeles and New York, has offers from indie distribution companies, and has earned a Best Actress award at the International Film Festival of Manhattan.  But Ruby Booby would not exist had we not said, “We have zero money, but we are going to begin filming on December 10, 2009.”

 

No-Money MovieMaking Rule #2:  Ask, offer, repeat. 

Ask. Ask anyone and everyone for what you need. Don’t stop asking. With humor, grace and courtesy. No shame in your game. Ask and ask, and you will find what you need, from cameras, to lighting equipment, to sound, to wardrobe, to props, to food. Ask and ask and ask.

Offer. Always imagine what the other person might like in return. Get creative here. This person might simply want to observe the love and chutzpah that goes into filmmaking. This person might be praying for a small role in your film. This person might be young and hungry for experience and credits. This person might be building her own catering company and looking for a track record. All four of those descriptions represented the motivations behind someone who helped us make Ruby Booby for free.

 

No-Money MovieMaking Rule #3:  Always Say Yes. 

When you have no money, you will get your film made when you say “yes” to every opportunity/favor/gift/volunteer that comes your way. Say yes, then find a way to spin said opportunity/favor/gift/volunteer into an element that supports the movie you’re making. Can your scene be set in your neighbor’s kitchen instead of that park that requires a permit? Can your characters’ wardrobe be a little more flexible?

On the set of Ruby Booby, the home of writer-director Jon Rannells served as five different locations. I did my own make-up. We found a motel room that, well, smelled of urine. But the owner was an absolute angel. An infinitely generous host. He brought us lunch daily without being asked. We happily embraced our aromatic surroundings. At the outset, we had no camera. So we asked everyone we knew: “Do you have a camera we can borrow for a few weeks?” Eventually, when the question is asked with humor, grace and courtesy, someone will say yes.

Ruby Booby was filmed with two borrowed Canon HV20s. We found a guy who simply didn’t use his anymore and didn’t mind loaning them to us. He was happy to receive a “special thanks” credit in return. We were elated to now have two cameras to shoot our movie.

A consumer video camera can absolutely be used to make a good movie. At the end of the day the tale you’re telling is what will make your movie (That, and good sound). From there, you can coax any camera into unfolding of your narrative/non-narrative. (We did. Had no choice. Worked with what we had. Pretty happy with the turnout. See trailer.) Examples of films with international audiences shot with consumer video cameras abound. Google ’em.

If you have no money, your job is to accept whatever camera/microphone/breakfast/free-house-to-shoot-in comes your way. If you have no money to begin with, you have scored when someone offers to help you make your movie.

 

No-Money MovieMaking Rule #4: Thankfulness = Enthusiasm = More help getting your movie made. 

If you’re making your movie with no money, thankfulness is your only currency. It is in fact, the backbone of your shoot. You think you’ve been thankful before? When you’re filming with no money, turn your thankfulness up to eleven.

On the set of Ruby Booby, we were daily amazed by the help that poured in. Amazed and gushingly thankful. We said thank you all over the place. And lo and behold, more people wanted to join in. We found volunteer P.A.s, camera ops, a cheap motel, 10 ex-gang members, prop guns, danishes, casseroles, post-production equipment, color correctionists and more. Say thank you throughout, fellow filmmakers, and everyone helping you will seek to help you further.

 

No-Money MovieMaking Rule #5: Raise money as you go. Or: How to acquire things like motels.

I knew the motel thing got your attention. Indeed, all filmmakers could use a little petty cash in hand. Financial needs arise, it’s true. Some of your volunteer crew members may be broke as well, and out of gas. Your free catering staff might need more supplies. Your donated camera might fall off the hood of that car (yes, it happened to us) and you’ll have to repair it. Sure. You could use a little dosh while you make your movie.

But careful here. You broke-ass, burgeoning auteurs out there better hit the pavement and start filming because you have no excuse not to. For some of you, a motel is easy to acquire! You know someone who knows someone! Ask, ask, ask. Don’t ever let me catch you delaying your film shoot because “you need a motel, and you have no money.” For some of you, antique furniture is a breeze to borrow. For others, you have access to a pool, a playground, a view of the ocean, hockey equipment, free soda, limitless cream cheese, a dialect coach, a stunt woman or free bowling shoes for everyone.

Still, when you’re out there leaping dear brave and hardworking artist, you can line your pockets a little by raising money as you go. 

This was our final Ruby Booby m.o. Once filming was underway, we asked our friends to spot us $50 here, and $100 there. We kept track. We posted an ad on Craigslist and found a web designer for cheap. (We found our entire crew on Craigslist, actually.) Kris Fitzgerald built our entire site for $100. (Don’t get hung up on how the site looks. Say Yes. Be thankful. Someone just built your freakin’ movie website for $100.) We sent the site to everyone we knew and asked for $5. We didn’t go the Kickstarter route because we needed the money right away. When we wrapped shooting we continued to ask for $5. Some gave far more. A few people donated $1,000 outright. We paid all loans back. All told, our exact shooting budget totaled $7000. Our post-production budget totaled the same. We hustled equipment, invented production design, galvanized troops and wrangled cash as we went. Our COMMUNITY made Ruby Booby. Your community will make your movie.

 

Epilogue

This approach to filmmaking, I will concede, takes considerable patience, open-mindedness and faith. My husband wanted to kill me, but loves me all the more now for what I’ve accomplished. And don’t lose your sense of humor while filming. I don’t care if you’re remaking Sophie’s Choice. Humor will help you to not strangle or get strangled. Things will get challenging, yes. But isn’t that how life is anyway? You might as well make your movie. Just begin. Make it. And finish it. I guarantee you: New doors will open for you. Surprising opportunities will present themselves. You will now have a calling card film. Your life will be changed, because you completed your own movie. Now go. GO.

 

Tara Samuel is a “Best Actress” award winner for her role Ruby in Ruby Booby, as well as an award-winning producer with an ongoing slate of films in development and production. Tara is the co-founder of both Busterhouse Productions and of the notorious Los Angeles indie film collective www.wemakemovies.org. What’s more, Tara is also a screenplay editor and consultant with clients around the world at www.scriptkicker.com, and she teaches screenwriting in Los Angeles at www.scriptkitchen.com.

3 Comments

  1. Max

    March 25, 2013 at 5:04 pm

    I’m a 14 year old actor/writer and have wrote a couple scripts and hoped to film them. I had thought i was way in over my head but this makes me feel better. Thnx

  2. Moiz Khan

    March 21, 2013 at 4:43 am

    I am a filmmaking student and dont have loads of money to finance my shorts. I’d definitely consider these tips next time I plan a short film.

    Thanks!

  3. Allie

    February 21, 2013 at 12:17 am

    Two words: Thank you.
    Two more words: You rock. 🙂