Short Film Budgeting

90% of short films made on this planet are funded by a cookie jar. The film-maker uses their own money for any limited expenses, and begs help from friends and family for the rest.

There is funding in Canada for short film production. But the competition is fierce for this money, and getting enough YouTube hits to actually get paid by Google is a galaxy far, far away.

So, figure on making your video with a low/no budget, and know that the best thing likely to result from your efforts will be a great sense of satisfaction. And if you work at submitting online after your done, you MAY just get your baby accepted by a film festival programmer, and get to sit in the audience beside a few dozen people laughing or crying at your movie. But back to the numbers.

Key Budget Considerations

1. Food
Make sure you have enough food on hand for your cast & crew. Avoid restaurants- make sandwiches & cut up fruit yourself [or get your dad to do it!]. And lots and lots of water for all. One hot meal per full shoot day [Pizza? Whole chickens?], cheap snacks at the craft table [cheezies, pretzels]. Plan a time for a meal break, and try your best to stick to it.
Budget Item: $12/person/full day.

2. Audio
This will be the part of your production that will suffer most if you don’t plan it up front. Your phone has a better camera than the ones we rented in the 1990s [@$150/day] , but getting decent audio is still a challenge. Make sure you assign someone on set to be responsible for audio, and feed that person well. Check the recorded audio yourself [with headphones] before moving locations. If you can afford it, pay someone a few dollars to take care of audio. Even $50 will get you a junior professional, and make them take your project seriously.
Budget Item: $50 for sound recordist, $6 per set of earbuds**

3. Camera
OK, so your using your phone to make a movie. But that phone camera is capable of remarkably clear and vivid picture recording, especially in natural light. Consider paying a junior camera person $50 for the day to make sure you’re getting great video. Paying experienced professional people even an honorarium on the day will likely make them take your project much more seriously, and make you muchos happier when you go to edit.
Budget Item: $50 for DOP, $6 for selfie stick [MacGyvered as tripod].

4. Everything Else
[Locations, hair & makeup, helicopter crashes].
If you spend some energy on #1-3, you’ll have a better looking and sounding movie than 75% of the videos online today. Providing food means that you may get some of your cast and crew to work with you again on your next project.
For the rest of your project considerations, be smart and wing it. Find a location that’s free; someone on the team will have a living room, tree-house or fishing boat that you can use. Get a friend that has an eye for fashion to look after actor’s clothes, hair and makeup. If you need a helicopter crash to make your movie work, you should probably make a different movie. Just remember to give yourself more time than you think you need to get your shots on the day, and use natural light whenever you can.
Budget Item: $50 for everything else.

Go get ’em!

**Here’s a great new low-budget tip: get every ‘actor’ to bring their phones and provide them a hands-free earbud/mic thingmy. Cut off the ear bud parts with a knife, leaving the mic part. Plug the hands free mic into the phone, and use a bandaid to tape the little mic to the actor’s chest [beneath their shirt]. Press record on the phone’s ‘audio recording’ app [‘memo’ will work, or you can download a hi-quality app for free], and put the phone in actor’s back pocket. Stop recording after cutting each shot, and re-start before the next one on every actor’s phone.
Get the files off their phone at end of shoot day, and dump all the files on a laptop [or upload to cloud if you have wi-fi]. In editing, create multi-layers of actor dialogue audio for mixing in post-production. Or, just get the phone mic closer to the subject’s mouth.
Budget Item: $50 for audio person, $6 per set of earbuds [you can keep these for next shoot!]

film budgeting

Brian G. Smith is the creative director of the type 1 diabetes Video Festival 2017.