Let’s define the term microfilmmaker: anyone who produces a feature length documentary or narrative for under $30,000. That may not sound like a lot of money to produce a feature film — it isn’t. That’s why it’s crucial to get creative, use all of your filmmaking skills and have a focused plan of action.
With the explosion of the technology boom, video production and distribution are more accessible than ever. It used to cost a small fortune to get an underwater or aerial shot, but now with drones carrying HD cameras and underwater housing becoming the norm for action cameras, the aspiring filmmaker has many more tools in his filmmaking tool belt than ever before.
Lightweight tripods, inexpensive high quality microphones and a variety of efficient lighting kits also help make it possible to create professional looking films with way less crew and time than it took just a few years ago. On the distribution side, the Internet has removed many of the hurdles so that everyone has the opportunity to reach a worldwide audience of millions.
Start with story.
Your story is the most important story you can tell because it is unique to your life experience. Great filmmakers create an emotional connection with their audience regardless of their project’s budget. Think about how elements in your story will be conveyed and how you can reduce overall cost in the story planning phase. With the right combination of creativity and careful planning, you can get your story told without spending a fortune. Over time, you can begin to create a style or voice that represents your particular brand of filmmaking.
Get help where you can.
A good way to save money is to limit your cast and crew to a minimum. Learn to write, shoot and edit and then find a few friends who are willing to help light the scene, hold a boom microphone, transport gear, scout locations and even provide food. With these volunteer helpers, your overall production cost will be kept low, thereby increasing your potential profits.
As director and host of the national Emmy Award winning PBS TV show “The Artist Toolbox” John Jacobsen advises, “Have a lot of friends who have cool houses. Have a mom or dad that will provide food every day. Write scripts with few locations, small casts, current day, using locations you already know you can get. Shoot inside.”
You can also join filmmaking classes, which will give you access to equipment, film experts, other filmmakers and plenty of quality information. “Access to affordable equipment is a key to keeping costs down,” says Shana Hagen, Director of Photography for “Shakespeare Behind Bars”.
Know what you need.
Staying on budget for each production is easier if you make a list of equipment, crew, locations, permits, food and travel expenses — and remember your film isn’t finished until it has the proper promotion, distribution and social media buzz, so make sure to include those expenses as well.
There are many opportunities to further your filmmaking career, but you have to look around for them.
You can promote your projects on YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and almost every city and town in America has film festivals where you can get exposure and show your film. Film markets, such as the American Film Market, can also be a great place to gain exposure and get picked up by a distributer, but these can be costly to attend, so do your research to make sure you’ll get the most out of it.
Leverage your skills.
Every business, school, restaurant, ski-resort, art supply store and even movie theater needs a promotional video. Create a few short videos for free and give them to your favorite companies, friends or schools and then use those links as calling cards for your portfolio. Research a bit about YouTube, trending, current issues, hash tags and other symbols and how you can use them to improve your overall image, exposure and profit.
There are many opportunities to further your filmmaking career, but you have to look around for them. Join a few 48-film festivals or try for a scholarship to a filmmaking camp such as Wild Mind Film Camp. At Wild Mind Film Camp, students work alongside some of the best writers, directors and cinematographers in the country to improve their documentary film making skills and showcase their films at the end of the classes in a fun filled community film night.
These are all great opportunities to grow your filmmaking and funding networks so that you begin to make a living doing what you love.
I’ve encountered many naysayers on my filmmaking journey but I believed in myself and kept on going and now I’m sitting on a Condor Jet airplane heading to Germany to start a three month paid world tour creating a funny and strange documentary following a vacuum cleaner around the world.
There are many ways to make a living as a microfilmmaker. It takes persistence, creativity, hard work and a deep desire to make movies, but it’s worth every second. Get out there and travel, film, write and share your stories with the world and you will be glad you did.
Willow Jon is a freelance filmmaker, writer and musician traveling the world on a shoestring budget creating inspirational films. http://willowjon.com/