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How to Keep Film Production Costs Down

How can you keep film production costs down while you’re on a shoot and working to a budget? Ask anyone – even non-filmmakers – as to how expensive film production is. While we might have those rare, blue moon meteoric low budget hits like Ratter and The Blair Witch Project, more often than not, we have to make high production value on a relative shoestring.

The Importance of Film Production Costs

A large majority of projects out there for film can fall into the higher budget category – those that have a lot of actors, a very high level of production design, and a huge array of costumes – so while they can be really cool – they’re quite costly. 


As the saying goes, the dollar amount someone spends on their film project is what’s going to make it great or not. You’ve got to ensure your project is at the highest quality level and all your materials are going to be made to the highest standard, or it will not be successful, so you need to consider the budget when planning out your project.

Cost Saving Tips

Priority #1: Use A “Budget Guy”. Production Managers are like gold dust. It’s possible to wager that you might not often hear the phrase “budgeting for a film shoot” during production. But there’s something to be said for having someone – or yourself – dedicated to making sure every last penny is spent wisely. It’s a surefire way to stay on track. The tools are simple too: Google Sheets is free to use for example; make sure to take the time to score everything up in the cold light of day, and prevent a financial mishap. Don’t let any of your perceived limitations deter you. 

First off, know that there’s absolutely no such thing as being “too budget.” From an economics perspective, this couldn’t be further from the truth. If you have the good fortune of being funded by a major studio and have the leverage to negotiate better deals, go for it. If not, but there’s a market for your film, then you may still be able to push forward and create what you want as long as you are able to calculate your return on your investment accurately.

Lots of first-time filmmakers and new directors think they need to own their equipment right away. This simply isn’t true – especially when projects can be so different and require totally different kinds of filming equipment. Cameras and lenses are expensive to buy, so you might find you’re limiting your resources if you go out and buy a camera you can afford rather than spending that same money on a really great rental package. Whether you need to hire a camera or hire a lens, (or hire several lenses) – take a look at the budget, the script and the narrative and be as resourceful as you can.

Pay Close Attention to Talent

You might be broke and living on ramen noodles while your project is made (unless you win the lottery, that is). So before you make the connection to your salary, have some perspective and ask yourself: will this really impact my chances of making a living off of making films? You might be surprised to find out that some of the talent you need isn’t that hard to come by. A producer could even be in your cast, if you’re brave enough to make that connection (and negotiation!).

Make The Light Work For You

Light is a key factor in filming – one filmmakers are often chasing. But you don’t have to use every big lamp you come across to get the look you need for a shot. Get some reflectors, poly or bounce boards and shape the light you have – even natural light can be shaped this way. Silks, flags and nets are also great ways to modify light. Ultimately these bits of kit are far cheaper than a full van of lighting kit that you might not need or even use. Using light modifiers isn’t exclusive to those on a budget – many top Hollywood cinematographers utilise these techniques because they also produce beautiful qualities in the light.

Don’t forget about practicals either. If you’re shooting in a location full of amazing light fixtures that will ultimately be in your shot anyway – make them work for you! Swapping the bulbs or adding a little bit of gel inside the shades to get the colours right is budget friendly and prevents people falling over unnecessary light stands on set. If you can’t access the light fixture for whatever reason – streetlights, for example – try embracing the light they ordinarily give off and enhancing it with the light modifiers we mentioned above.

DIY… where realistic

Here’s the first rule of low-budget filmmaking: make everything yourself that you affordably and realistically can. If your film project is closer to being a personal-risk project, then what’s the biggest benefit from that? You’re the one making the creative decisions. You’re not trying to satisfy a production designer or a director or make them happy with your work. You can make your own calls and the final product is what you want it to be. Even if the budget isn’t there, it doesn’t hurt to start somewhere and do something yourself… just make sure you’re competent at what you’re attempting to do.

How to Approach the Budget

Because you have to make so little on a production, you have to make up the difference with something. Your goal should be to maximize the costs of the shoot, without having to make compromises that will ultimately affect the film itself. Avoid investing in things that your film will probably never use again. You have to budget for certain costs to be incurred for your film (location fees, catering, gear, etc.), and you have to know what to budget for. And sometimes, you just have to toss in the towel on something and live with your budget if an item you want is not in your budget. Don’t be afraid to spend money on the things that are vital to your film. But make sure they are exactly that: vital.

Creative Solutions

So – you can’t leave creative work to chance. That means planning and preparing ahead so you know what your creative resources are, and you can hit the ground running on set. Also, by spending the time to know what your realistic, most available resources are, you’ll be able to bring in the right resources at the right time to keep costs down. 

One thing is key: you have to be a resourceful and savvy capitalist as a filmmaker. In today’s economy, filming costs can be anything from 40% to 80% of the entire production budget. Therefore, it’s key to make sure you have a  budget. Look for savings in other areas of the overall cost – travel, talent, catering, studio hire. Being creative often spawns innovation from making the most of a lack of resources, rather than having too much choice.

If you don’t know how to find those film production savings, then ask your crew and other production stakeholders to help.

Do you have any more tips for keeping film production costs down? Connect with Full Frame Camera Co. on social media, we would love to hear from you!

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