In this post I'll share a few pointers on how to make a low-to-micro budget feature film, the pointers will apply for no-budget projects too but you'll need to have a lot of good friends. We have got a sponsored money from a crowd backing platform a total of MYR200,000 (about US$50,000) back in 2016 to make the feature film. For this amount it'll be quite comfortable if we are to embark on an art-house drama or maybe talkies, but we chose to make a zombie film where it involves props, sets, make-ups and extras. We know it's near impossible, but as independent filmmakers we wanted to try making a genre film with what we had which leads to the first thing to take note of:
1. WORK WITH WHAT YOU HAVE
Film-making is basically about managing your available resource in order to make the movie on time and on budget. And if the director understands and knows the reality of the limitation will help a lot for the producer to allocate the budget efficiently. So the first thing we got the other two directors Gavin Yap and Shamaine to know what they're signing up for, and to write a script within the budget. The movie is spread into three separate stories directed by three directors including myself. Based on the budget the producer could estimate roughly a 10-11 days of shoot, but it's still a risk of bursting the budget, so we agree to a total of 9 days shoot, with 3 days for each stories. Now each director knows the script that they churn out needs to fit the 3 days shooting schedule. In a way we tailor make the script and story for the numbers of days we could shoot, and if we want a epic zombie scene make sure it's shot within the 3 days. All the directors agreed to that and we head out making KL24: Zombies, Roger Corman style, fast & cheap.
2. PRE-PRODUCTION IS REALLY ABOUT MAKING THE FILM
A lot of young new directors had a misconception of pre-production, it's not just a preparation for the shoot, it's actually where you make the movie. It's where a director must already know as precise as possible what's he shooting, visualize the editing and confirmation of the actors performances and blocking. Because the biggest mistake is to try to figure out actors blocking on set, and that'll affect your shots list. The shot list for example is the shots you're going for and if there are time left then go for some coverages, so during production it's about getting those shots with the right performances, then we move on to the next shot and to the next scene. VFX shots and SFX make up needs to be confirmed during pre-production, not on set during production, this will also allow the producer to manage the cost for post production. Avoid the shitty term; "Let's fix it in post!"; this is for shitty directors who did not planned ahead, did not do any homework and had no clue what he's doing. Because if we ever used this on set, we must checked with the producer if we had the resource and funds to fix it in post, if not then fix it on set.
3. WORK WITH A SKELETAL CREW
Because of the budget we knew we can't have a full size production crew, we only hired the key personals and head of department. We did not have equipment trucks, we only have one production van for the entire shoot which was used mainly to transport the props and misc stuff. When the team is small everyone needs to know what the hell they're doing, very little room for mistakes and sometimes multi-tasks. Like for me I directed and wrote my segment but I also was the director of photography for the two other segments. And of course all three directors have to play some small parts in their segment. And even the production team was not spared, sometimes they have to just doubled up as extras. Another good thing on working with minimal equipment it force us to just stick with the basic, so no time wasted on how to use the fancy equipments or set up the next impressive groundbreaking camera movement and all that fancy stuff. We filmed the entire movie on a Sony A7s hooked to a Shogun Atomos, and uses minimal lights. We didn't have fancy crane or dolly shots, we only utilizes the DJI Ronin for just one particular shot earlier in the movie. Working with a skeletal team and minimal equipment allow us to be mobile and versatile, to set up shots quicker and move to another location faster, cutting time to pack & unpack stuffs.
4. IMPROVISE LESS AND PREPARE FOR NEGOTIATION
This maybe a surprise, but when you're working with a limited budget try not to improvise unless it's to save cost. And the way to avoid improvisation on set is to make all the decision and rehearse your casts during pre-production. Every time you change certain things or improvise the scene or add in another new scene it cost time and money. Not all of us work with Wong Kar Wai's type of budget where we can experiment and improvise for years to make a movie. If for instances there are changes that will cause time and money then the director need to prepare to negotiate and cut out some other stuff from other parts, it's about balancing. Producer have to be stern and in control, for example if the director wants a steak for dinner then he has to cut out his 10 zombie extras.
5. FRIENDS WITH BENEFIT
This is the most important aspects of all especially for no-budget projects. No you don't have to have 100 over friends, you need to have friends who have friends in the production team to help in all departments and even sometimes publicity. We have to asks people to pull a lot of favors, and not all will oblige, it's a choice. But the only way to convince people to help in giving a great discount, sponsorship or favor is really first the project, does the movie interest them in the first place, do they like the story? If not then the next thing is do they want to help because there is a vision and cause in the project? Now let's focus on cause and vision, most people in the industry knows how difficult is it in making a feature film but if they like the purpose and the nature of the project they might help. But the only way to pitch this is then as a filmmaker you must be seen doing these for passion and for a very long time. For me it's because I have been an independent filmmaker for most of my time in the industry, on top of directing I helped in DP, producing and sometimes act for free in other filmmakers project, so I walk the talk, so that is why this last point is the most important and also in a way for new filmmakers you've got to spent sometime helping in other people's project to earn it.
One final most important thing is your producer, one who's able to handle the finances like an accountant and also understand creativity. In the end we manage to complete the movie in 9 days, and still able to allocate money to print postcards, posters and organized a premiere screening in a cinema hall with the casts, team, friends, press and sponsors.