The No Budget Film Festival takes place this weekend (November 21-23) at the Mack Sennett Studios in Los Angeles. Currently in its fifth year, the festival’s abiding rule is simple: Use as little money to make your film as humanly possible. This mandate challenges artists to work with only the resources and tools available and make the most of them… without starving their crews.

Speaking to MovieMaker, festival artistic director Negin Singh calls L.A. an “inspirational playground.” Singh calls for artists to forget about studios, agents, and other Hollywood trappings, and focus simply on a great idea that inspires them. By taking the money out of the equation, Singh hopes the festival’s participants draw upon a resourcefulness and creativity they might not otherwise discover. Collaboration plays an important role. Says Singh: “Artists should talk to people they know first. Tell them about your idea and see how they can make it better because 9 out of 10 times, they will. They will absolutely make it better.”

cARTel, the production company behind NBFF, holds dear the motto “Don’t sell broken vacuums” – which means programming only films that they are truly excited about. This year’s opening night sees a screening of the documentary The Past is a Grotesque Animal in the Vortex Immersion Dome in Downtown L.A. The night’s program includes a Q&A with director Jason Miller and a reception where psychedelic visuals will light up the dome’s walls. (Tickets are $15 and include beer and dessert.)

To mark this year’s NBFF, we asked a group of festival participants (filmmakers, jurors, panelists) for their number one tips for no-budget filmmaking, and selected our favorite 10. Boasting films made for as low as $60 (like Molly Brown’s “Haunted Hospital”), participants came up with a treasure trove of wisdom—best summed up in this sentiment from filmmaker Blake Hodges: “It’s better to spend those resources on making something simple great, as opposed to making something complicated passable.”


Jordan Vogt Roberts, director of Kings of Summer and a juror of the 2013 No Budget Film Festival, addresses a crowd


Tip 1: Make “Low-Budget” “Slow-Budget”

“My favorite thing to do on a low-budget project is to take it slow. As budgets get bigger, time is the one element you begin to get less and less of. However, time is the one luxury that lower budgets can actually afford. Everyone involved has to champion the notion that not rushing through your financially strapped production is paramount to preserving the integrity of the film.” – Tomás Whitmore, panelist (Dillon Francis’ “Without You” music video, The Chaingang of 1974’s “Sleepwalking” music video)

“Expression takes time. Be patient. Do not rush a project for the sake of completion; rather, have the self control and discipline to develop the piece from stem to stern. Make sure you have an instinct developed with regards to what it is you are trying to create and say.” – Alexander D. Paul, director of photography (“Lay in Wait”)


Tip 2: Know Your Place

“Write for a location you know you can use for free.” – Sarah Adina Smith (The Midnight Swim), juror

“Maybe you’ve got a cousin who manages a bookstore, or an eye doctor that really likes you. Could that scene take place in a bookstore or doctor’s waiting room? Characters and story are paramount, the details can always change.” – Michael Peter (5-Second Films), juror


Tip 3: Don’t Wait ’til it’s Perfect

“Don’t worry about what makes sense. Allow for accidents. [My film] ‘Woman Who Hates Plants’ is based on a photo of a woman I found in a thrift store. I didn’t look for her, she came to me. Chance and coincidence are your friends.” – Morgan Miller, filmmaker (“Woman Who Hates Plants”)

“Make [your film] as soon as you’re about 85 percent happy with it. You’ll learn more and be further along after producing it and putting it out there than you will by waiting for perfection.” – Igor Hiller, Emily Krakowsky, and Marvin Lemus, panelists (The Kids Table Comedy)

“Make the shortest film your narrative can sustain.” – Alberto Roldan, director (“Everything & Everything & Everything”)


Tip 4: Play to Your Strengths and Weaknesses

“If you’re a small crew with small cameras it means you’re nimble and can film undetected. You can move faster and you don’t intimidate actors. Think positive and just don’t stop making.”Jordan Long, filmmaker (“Nick Olson & Lilah Horwitz – Makers”)


Tip 5: Focus on Emotion

“Focus on emotion. The audience will forgive you if your film is a little rough around the edges, as long as you keep them engaged. If you’re a VFX artist, you can generate production value in post. If you’re an actor, you can make a great character piece. If you’re a DP, you can produce a visually arresting film. But whatever you do: Focus on emotion.” – Chris Keller, filmmaker (“Valse”)


Tip 6A: Tag Team…

“Don’t be afraid to ask for favors. You can never tell who might be excited to help out on a project by funding or loaning equipment, and sometimes your least expected collaborator can be exactly the missing piece you were looking for to complete your team or find the solution to a problem that’s been bugging you.” – Elle Schneider, cinematographer and creative director of Digital Bolex


Tip 6B: …Selectively

“As a general rule, I try to involve as few people as possible in my films because—even with everyone working for free—it always seems the more people you involve the more it ends up costing you. (When someone’s come all the way to your house to make a film, the least you can do is offer them a drink and a sandwich.) So I always try to do as much of everything—writing, shooting, animating, editing—as I possibly can myself. I’ve mostly been concentrating on animation, and either doing the voices myself or asking friends who have their own sound equipment to do voices for me. That way when I say my films are zero-budget, I really mean it.” – Molly Brown, filmmaker (“Haunted Hospital”)


Tip 7: Stiff Upper Lip

“No matter how much you’re doubting yourself or panicking on the inside, present a calm, enthused, confident exterior. Your team can only put as much heart and soul into it as you do, and when you’re working long hours for free you need all the heart and soul you can get.” – Ruth Sewell, filmmaker (“Countryphile”)



No Budget Film Fest awards for categories like Writing and Critics’ Choice

Tip 8: Keep Your Promises

“When indie filmmakers are able to borrow locations, props, etc. for free or for a low fee, often they’ll promise a copy of the film on DVD as well. Once your film is finished and you just want to break from everything, you can easily forget about the promises you’ve made! These people have been kind enough to offer something of theirs for filming; the least you can do is make a copy of the film and send it to them.” – Andy Salamonczyk, producer and director (“Richie”)


Tip 9: Sound Should Be Your Technical Priority

“Nothing screams ‘amateur’ like bad sound. In fact, you’re better off having a great sound while shooting on an iPhone than you are having crappy sound while shooting on a RED Dragon. Always get a sound person who knows what he/she is doing, and make sure you have a decent mic and mixer. ” – Blake Hodges, three-time No Budget Film Festival participant (“Lady and the Bum,” “Alarmed,” “Security”)


Tip 10: Study, Study, Study

“Watch as many feature length and short films as possible. Whether they be art films like those made by Stan Brakhage, or B-movies made in the 1970s, every film has something that will help in creating a unique film of your own. Use these resources to create an uncompromising aesthetic of your own by experimenting different mediums and cameras.” – Charly Fasano, filmmaker (“Teddy’s Bowling Alley”) MM

To learn more about the No Budget Film Festival, visit its website here. Festival photographs by Justin Baker.

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