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How to Embrace Creative Boundaries in Filmmaking

Limitations are probably the last thing you want when making a movie, but if you embrace them, you can end up doing something really creative.

A few weeks ago I told you how I made a short film with a toy camera. Today let’s talk about a common topic that we all come across as filmmakers: limitations.

My latest short film, The elevator, is a prime example of how you can use limitations to your advantage. It was done with no budget, no crew, and no actors. I filmed it all by myself in a single (very tiny) place with nothing but one GoPro.

But none of that would matter unless people weren’t really enjoying it. And luckily they did. So in this article, I’m going to break down how I did it, what I learned from the experience, and give you some key insights that you can apply to your next project.

But first take a look at the short version.

Develop your story around your limitation

As filmmakers, we love to dream of the greatest stories we’d like to tell one day. It goes without saying, that’s why we do it. So when we finally dip our toes in the water and work on our own projects, we often try to mimic what we love to see on the big screen. But the problem is, especially if we’re just starting out, this is an almost guaranteed way to run down.

You see, at the beginning of our journey to filmmaking, we are all lacking the resources. We have no budget, no equipment, no crew, no actors, and no access to locations. And that can be frustrating, even disheartening.

Limitations aren’t necessarily bad – they can fuel creativity

First, think about the resources that are available to you. Not the story, but the resources.

Do you have access to a car and two actors? Great, write a story about them driving around.

Do you have a cool, unique item at home? Make it the center of your story.

You only have legos? Make a stop motion movie.

You have the idea. Think of an object, place, or person that is actually available to you, then write a compelling story in which only they are involved.

In my case, it all started when I moved into a new apartment building and noticed that one of the elevators looked a little creepy. So my first thought was that it was actually going to be a pretty good horror film location. I then brainstormed and wrote down every idea that could possibly work. I knew from the start that the whole story would take place in there, just with me in front of the camera. And that was the key to success.

Every budget can reach its limits

There are many great films that emerged from creative boundaries and that have become very successful.

Take for example To bury with Ryan Reynolds and directed by Rodrigo Cortés. The entire film takes place in a single dark coffin. It could have been filmed anywhere and by anyone. It had a budget of $ 2 million and grossed over $ 21 million.

Another great example is Paranormal activity, written and directed by Oren Peli. It was filmed with a home video camera, which was almost always mounted on a tripod to avoid the need for a crew. With only two actors and a single location, the film gave fans a truly unique experience back then. And on a budget of just $ 15,000, it grossed over $ 190 million at the box office.

Some major takeaways

I would recommend the following:

  • Identify your resources, then write a story
  • Keep it simple and only use what is available to you
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment. Give the audience something they have never seen before

In conclusion, remember that having too many options can sometimes lead to creative paralysis. You can be overwhelmed and unsure of which direction to go. However, with creative limitations, you can explore more interesting and less obvious solutions.

And at some point the stories will grow with you.

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