Making an Ultra low budget film…


Long ago when the fever ran hot I decided to take a course in “ultra low budget filmmaking” by Dov Simens. We got a huge book and a wealth of info was imparted to us over 2-days. As you can see my original cover of the book is well worn, and falling apart. Looking back at the course it still held a wealth of information that I used in producing my film “Deadly Obsessions”. Along with that and Rick Schmidt’s book “Feature filmmaking at used car prices” I became enthused in making my own film when several attempts at making my own feature film with others fell apart.

It’s difficult having grandiose ideas and then scaling them WAY back to fit the budget you actual have, but that is the nature of the beast. You work with what you got, and for many of us it’s as the Kinks said in their song “Low Budget”: “we’re in a low budget land where nothing can last”.

In my filmmaking endeavors as well as in my professional life I’ve always worked with less. Do more with less. It seems that’s the mantra these days, and it’s a frustrating one at that.   What I had hoped to learn from Mr Simens was how to make films professional and affordable.  The key word there is affordable.  I needed to know the nuts & bolts of the business.  It was an awakening, and something that pushed me to start KGB Productions, Inc.  It’s how I slowly ramped up to my feature which I shot on 16mm film.  I had to think about contracts, SAG regulations, insurance, and transportation for cast and crew. What stuck in my mind was what a film professor had to say when I was in school. “Look around the room.   These people will help you & you should use them and help each other”. So I took that advice and went back to my alma mater of Brooklyn College and asked my old professor who would they suggest, and I went with that. I got two talented individuals who did lighting and camera assisting.  Hindsight being what it is I should have made one of them also the films camera operator, but I was editing the film, and I knew what I needed to cut the film together so hence I did triple duty which I don’t recommend. You know what you’re comfortable at doing and you know you’re strengths, so its your call on what you want to do.

The book that Dov Simens distributed for his class was sort of my foundation on budgeting, breakdown, and scheduling. It really helped.  I remember Dov telling us how to make a film for 100K, 50K, 25K, 10K, and even 5K.  Mr Simens was very practical, and he got my brain thinking how to make a film with the funds and resources I had. He also convinced me to make a film and stop trying to seek financing through studios. Back then the video boom was ending, and DVD’s were the rage, but nobody is going to invest in you unless you have some skin in the game. I failed to convince others and it was up to us and our talents to get something started. Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” film was a film I locked onto as being an admirer of.  Mr. Raimi and his collaborators Bruce Campbell, Rob Tapert, Gary Holt and Tom Sullivan made a film that blew the doors off independent filmmaking.

If you’re here to make money on your film you might as well take that money and invest it in a Dairy Queen franchise instead. Investing in film is risky, and no one is going to take a chance on you unless you have something to show. Raimi culled together a super 8 film which he shopped around to investors and from that he got his production funding. If you’re able to put together a reel of work you and you’re crew have done maybe you’ll find some money.  It’s a lot difficult now, but not out of the question.

Ultra low budget filmmaking is what got me. I mean when you don’t have much it’s inspiring to find out about others who have made a film with limited resources.  SAG even now has an ultra low budget agreement which is great. Using SAG talent is like being at Baskin Robbins and looking at all the flavors of ice cream they have. There’s a lot of talent in SAG and working with professionals who really like you’re script can be invigorating.

Another book helped me with my budgeting and that was Film & Video Budgets by Maureen Ryan published by Michael Wiese publishers. It was a great reference guide at preparing my budget.

But the one thing that made my obsession more real was meeting Jaque Deerson.  Mr. Deerson was the cinematographer on a film called “Two Lane Blacktop”.  A movie made by the illustrious Monte Hellman.  Jacque also goes by the name of Jack Deerson, and it was he who made me aware of budgeting and production management.  He gave me a copy of a budget for a film he had been working on and through our talks I began to formulate a plan to put a film together by myself.    Along with the information that Dov Simen’s provided I really saw that I could actually make a film and how to scale it up or down depending on the resource I had at the moment.

We all think a film has to be like other films that preceded it, but a film can be whatever you want it to be.  It’s up to you to make sense of it, and tell a story that both engages the audience and entertains them.   The idea is not to imitate what was out there, but to make a film realistically with the resources you have, and that’s what I’m trying to say in a very convoluted way.  We can be our own worst enemy.  We don’t think outside of the box often when it comes to movie production.  Sometimes our limitations are the things that really set us free.  There are all sorts of ways to make a film, and of course you need to tell a story, but how you do it is up to you.  I was taught that there are many genres in filmmaking, and whose to say that you can’t use some or all of them in your film.

I sincerely believe that someday somewhere someone will make a film that will be a revelation to the industry, and the funny thing is that it will come from someone who had limitations and overcame them.   I’ll never have budgets like Hollywood has, but I refuse to believe that because I don’t have oodles of money I’ll never make a movie.  That’s just plain wrong.  A little bit of research, and a lot of ingenuity will propel you further then you would think.  Go out there and get it done, and think outside of the box.  I have faith in the revolution to come.

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