Low Budget filmmaking…


So what made me want to do a feature film?  Why would I want to go down that rabbit hole and what possessed me into thinking I could pull it off?  I guess it’s something I always wanted to do since studying film production at Brooklyn College.  I interned on several films, and I was familiar with working on a film set, so why put myself through that torture and invest my own money in such a risky endeavor?  The simple answer is that I thought I could do it faster, simpler, and cheaper then all the rest.  Plus I liked working with actors.  Seeing a page from a script come alive in front of you is a pretty cool feeling, and one that is immensely satisfying.  But before I go through the process I wanted to know all that there was about feature film making.  I read whatever books I could get my hands on, and I read every article I could read about the process.  I searched for interviews of filmmakers who had already done it, and I scanned each article for the how-to’s of filmmaking.  Equipment, editing platforms, crew compliment, and even production software and hardware were all information that I tried to learn about.   In this post I’ll try and go through some of the books I read and which ones gave me the best information on how to make my film.

I have to start with Rick Schmidt’s book “Feature Filmmaking at Used Car Prices“.   If you notice in the picture the book is an older version of the book that is out now.  I do have that one as well because it has some newer information about digital video, and right now that is the way you want to go, but for me it was this book that inspired me and made me think that I could make a film cheaply.  I received the book at a workshop that was taught by Rick Schmidt over at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington Long Island NY.   It was a workshop that was billed as creating a movie in 2-days.  Of course that was not the case, and to be fair to Mr. Schmidt it still was an eye opener, and I’m glad I participated in.  What we came out of that workshop with was several ideas for a film, and they all came from us in the workshop.  Mr. Schmidt videotaped our stories, and he put them together creating a sort of feature film featuring our groups stories staring us.  What I took away from the workshop was that their are stories everywhere, and that when creating a feature film try using a collaborative agreement.  That way all the participants have a stake in the film and you learn more from the group then just by yourself.   I just recently finished Schmidt’s autobiography entitled ” Twelve Dead Frogs & Other Stories“, and came away with a better understanding of his philosophy, and methods.   Schmidt actually spells it out on how you can make your own feature at a low cost in his book.  My film costed a bit more then the $10,000 or less, but it is Schmidt’s philosophy that I followed.  I saved a lot of $$$ doing my own editing, and finishing on film.  Since then I don’t think you need to shoot on film.  Everyone has access to video cameras, and there is no reason why you can’t make your own feature with them.  Just know what you need, and Schmidt’s latest book “Extreme DV at Used-Car Prices: How to Write, Direct, Shoot, Edit, and Produce a Digital Video Feature for LessThan $3,000“, and his “Feature Filmmaking at Used-Car Prices: Second Revised Edition” are books that are worth reading.  Inspiring and useful info for the serious filmmaker who wants to make a film instead of just talking about making one.

The other book which I’ve read from cover to cover and several times as well was “Persistence of Vision: An impractical Guide to producing a feature film for under $30,000” by John Gaspard & Dale Newton.  This gets into the business end of filmmaking as well as the technical, but not as much as Schmidt’s book did.  It also does not cover video, so the book is a bit out of date, yet it has thoughts and ideas on how to be practical in low budget filmmaking.    Why is this book relevant now?  It’s because the people who wrote it are also feature filmmakers.  John Gaspard and Dale Newton created “Resident Alien“, and “Beyond Bob” two ultra-low-budget features each produced under 30K.  That was useful to me since I knew I had to get into some uncomfortable territory that was called “the film business”.  Things like incorporation, contracts, scheduling, and insurance were things I needed to get familiar with.  I wanted to use SAG and AFTRA actors so I needed to read up on the requirements on different low-budget agreements.  The book made it not as complicated as I thought.  It also has examples on how to be frugal on a low budget film.  Every dollar you save will be a dollar that you can put back into your film.  This book convinced me that I needed to go 16mm at the time because it was the professional way to do it.  

Of course Robert Rodriguez book “Rebel without a Crew” was a big influence, and is not one of the books in the photo above.  The book was a gift from my girlfriend of the time who is now my wife.  I’ll go into that particular book in another posting.  That book set me on fire.  Rodriguez made it simple, and he had some great advice for people like myself.  There is too much to cover in that book, so I’ll be writing about my reactions, and how it changed my idea’s about filmmaking and how it got my ass in gear later.   I will also be talking about the other books that helped me and fuel my desire to make a feature film.  More to come for sure.  Till then stay creative, and keep on creating.

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One thought on “Low Budget filmmaking…

  1. Buddy you remind me, in your own way, of another B.C. alumnus, Robert Liebowitz. Bob was at Brooklyn college at the same time we were, studying theater. I’m currently writing a play with him. He was the subject of one of my earliest blogs, and much of what I wrote about him applies to you. You guys know how to get shit done.


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