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Independent Filmmaking on a Shoestring Budget: Films made for $0 – $30,000

Independent filmmakers are always looking for new ways to create films while keeping their production cost low. Even though there are obvious draws towards the creation of low budget independent films, filmmakers are often fearful that using a low (or no) budget financial strategy for their next feature film will result in great compromises both in their story and overall production value. However, this doesn’t need to be the case. The 6 independent films below were all created for under $30,000. Some of them are highly regarded films and / or blockbusters. It’s worth renting the following films to see what can be created on a micro budget.

The obvious low budget example is “Clerks”. It was shot in black and white for just under $30,000 and it made over 4 million dollars. It’s not a great film (Although I know a lot of people who would disagree with me). That being said it was self financed with insurance money and credit cards and it did make 4 million dollars. It’s worth renting this film and examining it, if you haven’t already.

Another interesting, lesser known film is “Man Bites Dog”. The film was shot on a no-budget basis by a small group of film school friends. Again, this film was shot in black and white but it takes the format of a mockumentary as it chronicles the life of a serial killer.

Slacker is another independent film that was shot on a $23,000 budget. What I liked about “Slacker” more than “Clerks” was that the filmmaking was more ambitious. The story was more engaging, the acting was slightly better (not great, but better than Clerks), and there was a half-hearted attempt at a cinematic look (try to ignore the boom mics that enter the frame, the bad composition of the steadycam work, and the bumps under the tracks of the dolly), but generally the film had an ambitious look for a low budget film. I have to give them credit for trying.

El Mariachi is probably the most famous example of a creative low budget feature film. Rodriguez made it for $7000. He raised part of the money by donating himself to medical experiments. He shot using non-actors, wheelchairs as dollies, desk lights as his lighting kit, 1 camera with creative editing to make it look like he shot with 2 cameras, and he shot lots of long takes without using a slate to help save in the production cost of the film.

Blair Witch Project is another example of an independent film that was made for $25,000 and made over 240 million.

Primer is another great example of an independent film shot on a micro budget of $7000. This film actually did quite well and was picked up by ThinkFilm and went on to make about a half a million dollars in the box office. The crew consisted of only 5 people. The director also acted as the cinematographer, writer, editor, composer and producer.

Even though the films mentioned above were all made for less than $30,000, it should be noted that many of them were heavily invested in during post production and marketing stages of development. However, they all serve as good examples to independent filmmakers who are looking to get their projects “in the can” on a low budget basis.


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One Response to Independent Filmmaking on a Shoestring Budget: Films made for $0 – $30,000

  1. Dennis March 19, 2009 at 11:17 am #

    If I remember correctly The Blair Witch Project was sold to Artisan for over a $1,000,000 at Sundance. Then Artisan spent a couple of million re-editing and cleaning it up…then they spent another $20+ million on marketing.

    But still that is a hell of a success story…$35k investment and it sold for $1,000,000…that’s something like a $28 to $1 ROI (Return on Investment) Can’t beat that :)

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