You must have seen the Telugu short film Viva, or heard of it, at least. With over 5,737,379 hits and still counting, it is one of the most-popular short films in recent times. Made on a shoe-string budget with friends doubling up as actors, the film left everyone in splits.
And taking inspiration from this, a slew of short films have hit cyber space. You can’t miss them because they are on your Facebook wall, on your twitter feed and every social media page you log in to.
But what sets one short film apart from the other, is the way it is executed. While some are fun and demand repeat viewing, others are just unwatchable. So, if you have a DSLR and think you can make the next ‘big’ budget friendly short film, here are a few things you need to take into account.
1. Plan A, B or even C: This is the most important part for every film, no matter how small the budget. You need to plan it to perfection. Make sure you design your budget from start to finish – down to the smallest detail. If your budget is a 0 or close to it, the organizing just gets harder. You must strategize closely, and exactly how to execute your film without paying for it. And this can be time consuming.
Another important thing – always have a plan B, or sometimes even a plan C. What happens if your leading actor falls ill? What happens if the location is suddenly unavailable? Working on a low budget leaves no room for delays. Every day you are held up may have a crucial impact on your budget blueprint, or lack of it.
2. Get your story right: The basis of every good film – feature length or short – is the story. Once you have locked down the script and are confident about the material, only then go ahead with the shoot. You must keep all budget constraints and the timeframe in mind while writing your story. Remember, you have to tell a riveting story in a limited period of time, and you don’t want to be a meandering bore.
3. Location lock: Once your script is in place, select your location. It could be your friend’s new bachelor pad or your uncle may be an office manager and can give you access to the office for some time. Utilise these ‘free’ locations to your advantage. Also keep this in mind while writing. Try not to move around too much. Moving your crew from one location to another can incur a lot of costs. So a single location is the best option. Write a script that requires no transportation. If you need examples, think Paranormal Activity, Reservoir Dogs, Night of the Living Dead
One of the best options to shoot would be indoors or somewhere there is less ambient sound. Listen for traffic noise, air conditioning, nature sounds, or anything else that might be problematic in editing. By addressing these issues in the planning stage, you will prevent headaches during post-production.
4. Find your actors: When you make a zero or low budget film, you obviously have no money to pay actors or crew. So it is crucial to find volunteers to work for free. Start looking at film and theater departments, or acting studios. There is nothing like eager students or aspiring actors, to get your film started.
5. Know your lighting: The best time to shoot your film is between 6.30 am to 9.30 am and 3.30 pm to sunset. Afternoons are the worst. The frame will be burned and since you are shooting on limited or zero budget, there isn’t much you can do with it. So plan well and finish your shoot within this time.
6. Compose your shots: Another important thing you need to take care of is composing the frames. You have to constantly keep in mind that the budget will not permit you to hire track and trolley and other equipment. So use compositions to your advantage.
Another thing you have to remember is that the tripod is your best friend. With just a trolley slide, panning and lifting becomes really easy. Holding the camera all the time is not a smart thing to do. Your hands might tremble and the scene would end up looking blurred. So, to get a professionally shot look, use a tripod.
7. Handmade equipment: There are certain accessories, like reflectors, that you can make or wing for free instead of hiring. Thermocol sheets are very helpful. Another reflector you can make is silver paper from a stationary store stuck on cardboard.
8. Music is must: Most short filmmakers don’t usually pay attention to music after shooting their film. But it’s an integral part of the film. There are many websites that provide free music and you can download what suits the film, for free. Websites like Free Music Archive, Noisetrade, Jamendo, Soundowl and even Amazon are great sources for free music.
9. Sound, sound, sound: While you might have shot some amazing footage, garbled dialogue and wind sound can obscure audio and ruin the film. Poorly recorded and mixed audio will make a great picture seem amateurish and poorly-executed. Most DSLR cameras today have decent sound recorders. However, you can get much better results if you use external microphone and plug it into the auxiliary jack of the camera to record voice and dialogue. You can also convert your iPhone or iPad into a field recorder, by using apps like Hindenburg Field Recorder and RØDE Rec. These field recorders help control microphone placement and volume.
Other accessories you need to be aware of include headphones, XLR cables, and windscreens for your microphone. Assess your needs in pre-production and see what you can afford to buy or rent. You can get away with certain cheaper alternatives like using your phone ear buds in place of studio headphones, for instance. Hands free mic from your phone is also a great option. All you have to do is clip it inside the lapel of your shirt.
10. Market it well: Now that your film is done, it is time to market it. And this aspect is extremely important. The Internet offers endless opportunities for free or very cheap marketing. The most obvious free marketing tool is Youtube. You can post a trailer of your movie, and share the link on your social networking page like Facebook, Twitter or a friend’s blog. Ask your friends and family to help with social media promotion as well.
Another way to market your film is by taking it to the various film festivals across the country. The advantage is, you might get is a slot to showcase your film with other renowned filmmakers. It’s also a great place for you to interact with industry folk; this helps you build contacts. Some film festivals you can think of are the Bangalore International Film Festival, the Jammu & Kashmir International Film festival and the Jaipur International Film Festival among others.
Listen to what ace director Anurag Kashyap has to say about writing for No Budget films