I recently read some postings on Stacy Park’s blog ( http://independentfilmblog.com/) about what she calls “reverse engineering” films. She talks about understanding the film market, both what people what and what they will pay for it.
I have been thinking about similar concepts for some time now, as you can see in my review of Rick Schmidt’s Feature Filmmaking at Used Car Prices.
Many years ago I read an article about filmmaking in Scientific American that touched on the same subject. The article was about how digital technology was changing the business of filmmaking. They said that traditionally filmmakers developed a vision, and then looked for the money to make it. The new trend was for filmmakers to look at how much money you had, and then develop a movie that they make with that money.
What are the rules you should follow when making a film on a very low budget? I feel it is better to think of them as constraints rather than rules. I see constraints as a challenge to use your creativity, while rules are things you have to do. When you write a sonnet, you are constrained by the standard form of the sonnet, yet poets have created many great sonnets.
I have compiled a few constraints here. I will add more as I think of them. If you have any suggestions please post them.
Small cast. Every additional character adds complexity and cost to the project. It is more of a challenge to maintain flow and interest when the number of characters is small. A film like “Before Sunrise” shows that a good filmmaker can work with this constraint.
Small crew. Again, every extra person on set adds complexity and cost. However, a small crew will limit the types of shots you can get, and can slow you down. When you are developing a project, you need to keep this in mind, since some types of scenes and shots can’t be done with your budget.
Few locations. Moving from location to another adds time and cost to a film. I’ve heard people talk of the “six fuse box rule”. One of the worries about this constraint is that having the same location appear over and over could become boring. Lately I have thought that this constraint can be overcome using green screen. The cost of green screen is getting lower and it is already being used to reduce the need for location shooting. http://vimeo.com/8337356 has some examples.
Shoot digital. While I love film, shooting digital saves a lot of money at the front end. That can make the difference between going ahead with a project, or dropping it.