This is how you go Actor, producer, writer and director has created successful micro-budget productions.
This post was written by Zanah Thirus.
Awarded one of the diversity in Cannes Top 10 Filmmakers of the Decade, I am an actress, producer, writer, and director based out of Chicago.
Since the introduction of my brand, Zanah Thirus Productions, I’ve shifted the focus to merging art and activism through documentary and narrative storytelling. My films cover topics such as gender, race, politics, and mental health. 2019 is my documentary, Black feminist, was an official selection at the Bronze Lens Festival of Atlanta. In the same year my short film, Demons, was nominated for Best Short Film at the Content Creators of Atlanta Awards, and my short film, MeMaw, was nominated for Best Director at the Georgia Shorts Film Festival.
Recently my documentation, Unlearn sex, won the best human rights film at the Toronto International Women’s Film Festival and the Silver Award at the Spotlight Documentary Film Awards (2020). My documentation Black feminist won the best documentary at the Coal City Film Festival (2021) in Nigeria and the jury award for the best US documentary at the International Black & Diversity Film Festival (2021).
This year I dedicated myself to comedic storytelling with a romantic short comedy The love you want exists premiering at an Oscar-qualifying festival, Bronze Lens (2021).
The gag is this all my productions are micro-budget indie films. My largest production budget to date has been $ 5,600, and most of my films are made in a matter of days. My approach to filmmaking is very simple and I tend towards resource based productions. My mission is to prove that you can be a successful (and highly decorated filmmaker) regardless of budget or production size.
Here are my tips for becoming a micro-budget filmmaker.
Write scripts according to the resources available to you
I’m honest, I hate crowdfunding. To me, it’s the equivalent of walking up to a complete stranger and asking them to give you $ 20 for your movie. The idea makes me wince.
Also, while I was in film school, I never did the, “Write that $ 20 million script, then go to LA and ask executives to do it while you sleep on a friend’s couch!” He’s a cameraman, I’m a producer, you’re a director, she’s an editor, you’re a writer, my aunt said we can film in her house … why not? Manufacturing Things with the resources available to us?
So I took that approach and drove with it. This is why I am able to consistently create. It’s easy … stop writing scripts that include 50 locations, a helicopter chase, and $ 50,000 worth of VFX work.
Instead, focus on writing the most amazing script that takes place in a single place with few characters. Lean into the tension between a minimal cast, create a high-stakes situation that takes place in one room (YOUR APARTMENT). There are some wild conversations that can take place in the passenger seat of a car or at the dining table. A great story doesn’t require a ridiculous budget.
Writing scripts according to the resources available to you is the path from an aspiring filmmaker to a filmmaker.
Working together and exchanging
Let’s face it, the majority of indie filmmakers can’t afford to pay union days for an entire crew and cast. We can’t afford to pay $ 20,000 for locations for a scene or two. We probably don’t shoot with an Alexa Mini. But the secret weapon filmmakers have and must rely on is working with barter.
I was overseeing the post-production of a film in exchange for someone overseeing the script for my film. I put together entire production decks (production, shooting and post-planning, budget and sales / marketing plan) for a DP of your film in exchange for cinematography for my film. I met another DP at a film screening and we both loved each other’s work, so we decided to work on a production together and pool our resources. I met an art director at an advertising agency who wanted to get into production design, so I dragged her into my film (she killed him).
My point is – all too often we forget that filmmaking is about community and creating art. Don’t be afraid to collaborate with other filmmakers and share your resources. Everyone brings something unique to the table. Put egos aside, find / build your tribe and bet on creativity. Which leads me to my next point.
Build your movie network
Without your team, you are absolutely nothing. As a filmmaker, networking is your superpower.
Check out indie movie streaming sites, watch movies, go to credits, and connect with the team on social media.
Go to film festivals.
Seriously, Attend film festivals. Not just the big ones like Cannes and Sundance, I’m talking about the local indie festivals aimed at indie filmmakers. There are some incredible Festivals in Atlanta, Chicago, DC, Seattle, NOLA, and NYC. Film festivals are a meeting place for scriptwriters, directors, producers, actors and cameramen. You never know who you will meet. Check out FilmHighway, a huge database of festivals around the world.
You can also benefit from virtual film festivals. From your living room you can attend film festivals around the world.
Having a job that pays your bills doesn’t make you any less of a filmmaker
Geez, if I had $ 1 for every time someone looked at me in shock when I said I had a full time job … I would be rich. I am an advertising producer at an advertising agency. I like to tell people that I do commercials during the day and movies at night.
The whole thing about starving artists never worked for me. I never had the idea of writing expensive screenplays, going to one of the most expensive places to live (LA) and begging AKA to beg strangers to believe that your job was “good enough” to do them to sell to the masses.
IDK about you guys but … having a 9 to 5 and doing movies on the weekends / using my power take off to make movies is a lot less stressful than not knowing how my rent is being paid.
It is perfectly fine, and also quite often having a job and being a filmmaker at the same time. Your job doesn’t define you, your passion does. I consider my job to be the main investor in my indie films. That is also the reason why I can design consistently. I know filmmakers who are teachers, Uber drivers, have their own restaurants or work in creative agencies (like me)!
Learn the production process: stream the Microbudget indie filmmaker’s podcast
This is a limited season (three seasons only) podcast that covers the entire microbudget indie film production process from preproduction to distribution.
The best Part of it is that each season has a corresponding workbook with templates and instructions that complement the filming process. I created this podcast because I wanted filmmakers to realize that creativity isn’t limited to huge budgets. More importantly, I want to share every ounce of knowledge I have with indie filmmakers, and I want more creatives to use the resources available to them to create.
SEASON 1 contains 10 commandments of microbudget filmmaking, script breakdowns, budgeting, and budget hacks.
SEASON 2 talks about production planning, shooting planning, post-planning, casting and your indie crew.
SEASON 3 includes Pandemic production, tax write-offs, marketing and sales.