Filmmaking: Why Smaller and Intimate Can Be Better

Film Crew on Set - BW

Filmmaking: Why Smaller and Intimate Can Be Better

Film Connection mentor Zef Cota and crew
Today’s average Hollywood feature film has a budget that’s north of $100 million dollars. Not only is that a daunting figure, but it pretty much means that unless you have a proven track record in the industry, you’re not going to have that kind of budget to work on your film. Instead of looking at this as a negative proposition, focus instead on how you can make your movie for a realistic budget—i.e. one that matches how much money you can actually come up with.

It Starts With The Story

Your story, or screenplay, is going to determine where most of your budget goes. How many characters are in your story? How many locations does it require? Do the scenes take place in the daytime or the nighttime? Do the scenes take place indoors or outdoors? Are special effects required? When you are turning your story into a screenplay, these are all things to consider if you’re looking to keep your budget down. This is a blessing in disguise. It forces you to focus on creative storytelling rather than relying on lavish sets and special effects. This is why we say, smaller and intimate can be better.

Wear Many Hats

The more people you need to hire to get your movie made, the more it’s going to cost. Conversely, the more of these people you can replace with yourself, the less it’s going to cost. This means you should plan on being as many of these positions as you can: the screenwriter, the producer, the director, the cinematographer and the editor. Not only will this give you near-total control of the finished movie, you’ll save a lot of money. That being said, know your limits. You don’t want your potentially good or great film to suffer because you were too exhausted to communicate with the actors and direct well.


Obviously, budget considerations will almost certainly dictate that your movie is not going to feature Hollywood stars. Well, so what. Frankly, there are a lot of talented actors out there who would gladly work for little or no money (if they like your movie idea) just to have something that showcases their talent and which they can add to their reel. Take advantage of this situation by doing extensive rehearsals, on-location if possible, so that you can get their performance fine-tuned and block out your shots. Then, and only then, is it time to bring in the crew and equipment and shoot the scene.

Libraries, Catalogs and Stock Footage

Getting cleared film for a movie can be expensive. Film libraries or catalogs offer pre-cleared film at a considerable savings. The same logic follows when it comes to stock footage. Let’s say you want an establishing shot that’s an aerial fly-over of Los Angeles. Guess what? You can find a plethora of shots on stock footage film sites and that can help you keep that budget low.

Back to Basics

A film is nothing more than a story told with a camera instead of written words. As we alluded to previously, the story or screenplay determines the budget. So, what’s your story? Are there ways you can simplify it from a production standpoint? Do you have extraneous scenes that can be eliminated? Take a cold, hard look at your story. Be ruthless about getting rid of anything that doesn’t further it, then re-examine your budget.

Re-examine Your Goals

What if you do all the steps outlined above and still can’t make your movie for the budget you’ve got to work with? Consider filming a sizzle reel. Think of it as a trailer for your movie. Take your two or three most compelling scenes that go a long way towards telling your story, then shoot and edit them into a sizzle reel. Then, use your sizzle reel and see if you can secure crowd sourced funding (like Kickstarter or GoFundMe for instance) that will allow you to finish your movie.

It really comes down to your goals. Are you bound and determined to make your movie exactly how you envision it? Or, are you looking to make a movie to demonstrate your directing skills? If your goal is the former you are going to need to find a way to finance it. It your goal is the latter, you might consider putting your dream movie on hold and develop another story to film that isn’t so expensive but which effectively showcases your directing skills. Also, consider this important fact: even if have to change course slightly in order to get one film done and under your belt, never forget that you are building a property which should showcase your talent as well as that of the cast in the production. A good looking, well lit, well timed, well executed story that intrigues viewers leaves everyone involved in the project with something of value. These films get shone and talked about by those involved, by people working and building their careers in the industry and that’s a very good thing.

Consider Film School

As everyone knows, film schools cost money. Some of them cost a lot of money. Some, like Film Connection, are relatively inexpensive. What do you get in return?  With the Film Connection, you will extern inside a film production company. This means you get access to real world experience, to training on real commercial projects. Depending on the film production company you train with, you might also have access to a studio, cyclorama, and special effects based post-production.  And Film Connection for Film Production & Editing enables students in good standing to pitch their screenplay, budget breakdown, and sizzle reel for the opportunity to have your film greenlit and get your movie made.



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