Micro-Budget Filmmaking: Are You Making These 5 Mistakes?

September 8, 2015

A little while back, we covered some of the finest indie movies ever to be produced on a tiny budget—superb features like The Castle and Primer which managed to push boundaries despite not having cash on their side (and you wouldn’t know it to look at them.)

But even still, some of those movies had budgets that, while miniscule by industry standards, had a couple of million to play with. We’re guessing you don’t have that luxury, so today we’ll be looking at:

Super Micro-Budget Filmmaking: 5 Mistakes to Avoid

1. Not Scheduling Properly

It goes without saying that on every production, no matter how small, scheduling is absolutely paramount… but probably not for the reason you think.

If you’re on a micro-budget, chances are that you and the team are making the film purely for the artistic endeavor. But artistic endeavor doesn’t pay the rent, and everyone involved is probably working jobs on the side in order to get by.

You don’t necessarily have to demand their time, but if you ever want to get the film in the can, it’ll behoove everyone to have a shared spreadsheet where they can list the hours they’ll be free to work on the project… and you can spot those golden windows where all the stars align.

2. Picking a Great – but Impractical – Script

Found an amazing screenplay that will blow everyone’s minds?


Does it feature an outer space sequence that’ll change the face of sci-fi cinema forever, or a prison break scene that’ll have the viewer right on the edge of their seats?

Skip it. Your budget does not allow for such special effects or exotic shot locations; sounds obvious, but a surprising amount of low-budget filmmakers adopt a “we’ll cross that bridge later” attitude and invariably come unstuck halfway through the production.

3. Not Using All Resources Available

Budget filmmaking is two parts talent and one part ingenuity (and maybe even the other way around.) Spotting problems to solve in the first place is a good skill to hone, and the same goes for the financial aspect—if you’re not looking for ways to increase your budget and use it well, you’re selling yourself short.

Seek out every avenue for grants, tax breaks, and subsidies (even if filling out endless applications is a dull task.) Call in every favor you’ve garnered over the course of your entire life. And always see if there’s a way to use equipment for free (or at least cheap) rather than having to purchase it with your limited cash—if you’re in filmmaking school, use the equipment that’s freely available; if you’re in a big city, put a call out on Craigslist asking if anyone can loan you equipment for a small daily fee.

The opportunities are endless once you start looking for them.

4. Putting All Focus on Video Quality

All of the aforementioned examples of micro-budget filmmaking have one thing in common: they’re not stellar by any stretch of the imagination when it comes to video quality, but none of them cut corners when it comes to audio.

As covered in our earlier guide to production essentials, audio quality is the most common thing that amateurs seem to scrimp on… and the one thing that, in turn, is the mark of an amateur.

5. Forgetting to Budget for Marketing

We know. Marketing is the not-so-fun part of filmmaking and can be just as expensive as the production itself, so it can be difficult to reserve cash for the job… but if you don’t, all your hard work will be for naught. After all, there’s no point busting a gut to make a micro-budget movie only to have nobody see it.

And don’t just make the common mistake of plucking a figure out of the air; carefully detail all entry fees for contests and festivals you’ll want to apply for ahead of time, as well as the costs of getting it listed on streaming services.

Got any of your own stories from the field or budgeting warnings to other filmmakers? Share with the group down in the comments below!