The Value of Microbudgets – Indie Filmmaking

Micro-budget filmmaking is all about embracing limitation and making the most of it.

How often do we either complain about lack of resources, or else never actually make anything because we’re waiting for the funds to come in? This article on Filmmaker Magazine’s blog throws down the gauntlet; just make your film; make films that make sense; you don’t have to make bad films!

The value of art lies in execution, not materials, thus, a small budget does not necessarily mean a bad film. The elements that make a film great have little to do with budget, e.g., narrative craft, camera placement, and acting. I know what you’re thinking: to place the camera a certain way, or hire a talented actor costs money — it has everything to do with budget. Sorry, I disagree. Micro-budget filmmaking is all about embracing limitation and making the most of it. Don’t have a crane or dolly? Look at the way Yasujiro Ozu utilized a static camera in virtually all his films. All you have is Uncle Bob as your lead? Look at the way John Cassavetes used non-actors. The greatest common factor of all successful micro-budget films is their potent use of available resources. Give David Lynch a cheap camera and a tiny house, and he is sure to come up with something amazing.


Author: TomK

I'm a husband, father, and adopted child of God. Vocationally, I'm a visual storyteller; that means filmmaker with all its possible variations as the world of visual storytelling grows and changes. I like to tell and pass on stories that help people find the place where their deep satisfaction meets the others' deep needs.

6 thoughts on “The Value of Microbudgets – Indie Filmmaking”

  1. Necessity is often the mother of, not only invention, but creative solutions to difficult problems. So, I agree with your premise.

    However, it is frustrating, in this day and age that dedicated, professional, faith-based actors are far too often excluded from consideration for even micro budget, faith-based films because they are members of the actor’s professional guilds (unions), SAG and AFTRA.

    There is no good reason for this with the proliferation of SAG’s ultra low budget film agreement. Don’t know what this is? Do yourself a favor and visit or the SAG site itself and check out the ultra-low and low budget agreements.

    Get past the fear of working with UNIONS. A lot of what you’ve heard second, third, fourth hand isn’t accurate anyway. Not all of it at least. That’s not to say that ‘working SAG’ doesn’t present some challenges. But put the fear of SAG away with the rest of the fears you’ve overcome to produce your projects and check things out for yourself.

    Under the Ultra Low Budget SAG agreement, did you know:

    That you can mix SAG and no-SAG actors in the same production?
    And that extras aren’t covered by the agreement?
    That the minimum SAG rate under t he SAG ULB agreement is $100/day.
    That there is no consecutive employment requirement. In other words you can ‘drop’ and ‘pick up’ an actor and not have to pay for intervening days as you do under contracts for higher budgeted productions. (unless you are on a over night location)

    How low does the budge have to be to qualify? Under $200,000.

    How many faith-based films have been produced for under $200,000? Lots, I’ll wager. (oops)

    How many of those would have benefited from at least a mixture of solid professional actors in the cast?

    Still think SAG actors wouldn’t be interested in your project? Does your story suck? Does the writing suck? Well, if it does, then you’re probably going to have a harder time getting an experienced cast. But if you’ve got a story that’s well told with characters that actors want to play you’ll have not problem attracting an experienced cast.

    Believe me, there are experienced, professional, SAG actors ‘out there’…actors who are Christians and who would jump at the opportunity to add their talents to your faith based production.

    1. Hi Tommy,
      I agree that there is a disconnect here. I’m working on a short right now for which I’ll probably use the SAGIndie ultra-low-budget agreement. Before SAG opened up that option, it was much more difficult to play the the rules and get more experienced talent. I know actors are hungry for decent material, beyond the normal horror/thriller/etc genres that are a staple of no-budget indies. And, certainly, almost all of the faith-based projects I’ve seen have suffered greatly from the penny-pinching do-it-yourself approach. I try hard not to ‘brotherize’ people, but honor real talent and time commitments.

      Thanks for your comments. I hope filmmakers get the word.

  2. I completely agree Tom. As we move into a lengthy period of fiscal restraint, we have to be more creative and work within our means. It helps too that new cameras entering the market are allowing big budget looks for cheap. We also should pioneer new looks rather than emulating the Hollywood traditional looks. Good post Tom!

    1. Paul,
      I’d love to hear more of what you mean by ‘pioneering new looks.’ I know you mean more than just ‘grungy/reality-tv’ storytelling that intentionally looks like it was produced on low-bandwidth cell phones.

  3. Collaboration comes to mind — community-minded, bartering exchanges which enrich the content with unified artistic perspectives. Also, explore creative ways to, first, make profits, and second, share profits among the community which produced a piece. Remember that now audiences are not limited to darkened theaters and two-hour spectacles; that viewers will follow a stream of films from good filmmakers even to the point of buying copies and related products. Creativity must extend into the exhibition stage of the art. Marc Rosenbush has a lot to teach us on this. As he puts it, we must change from “starving artists” to “artist-entrepreneurs”, building the audience involvement in a film project right from the scripting stage.

    1. Great thoughts, Mark.

      I know that I’m thinking much more about the potential of short films rather than features alone. In the old days, shorts were only useful as a calling card to make features. Now I feel that a filmmaker could make a career of shorts if desired.

      Also, I like the idea of changing mindsets from ‘starving artists’ to ‘artist-entrepreneurs.’ That’s an important shift, though I find it the most difficult part of what I do. Few of us have a mix that makes us successful as both creatives and business-people. So your point of collaboration must include a wider variety of gifts and experiences rather than merely a bunch of artists gathered together. I know ‘business’ types who also appreciate creative expression and love to be a part of the mix.

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