How do you solve a problem like a budget?
So, we know we're going to need money. But before we even think about getting it, how much do we need?
Be smart. First, create a projected budget. For me, it was working especially with Erica (our FX/makeup artist) and Kevin to estimate what we'd need. We made the decision to primarily use practical effects in the film, but that's still money we'll have to spend, to make those effects look good.
First, figure out what you have. Figure out a number to shoot for. My suggestion is this: at some point soon, go through the script with a technical eye. That basically means you sit down with your DP, and yourself (if you're director), and any other technical crew who might lend their expertise to budgeting (for example Erica), and you go through the script scene-by-scene, shot-by-shot. This will give you lots of good info. It will tell you roughly how many days the movie will take to shoot, what equipment will be needed in each shot, how many locations, when you need those locations, etc. That will give you a great idea of the kind of budget you need. Since it is better to rent expensive equipment rather than buy, I would DEFINITELY suggest doing this before you rent. In other words, say you just know you need to rent a dolly for a certain shot. Going through the script like this means the difference between estimating you might need to rent it for a week, and finding out you really only need to rent it for 2 days. Plus it gets you to start to visualize the whole film in a real way!
Also, be creative and smart. In other words, find creative inexpensive solutions to expensive problems. I'll give you an example. In our film, we knew we'd need to do a lot of exterior shooting at night. A lot of these scenes would need to appear as though they were lit by moonlight. Theatrical lighting is expensive. I happened to have access to some for free. But not enough. Plus, these exterior shots need to be somewhere with no plugs. Which means a generator. Which are noisy and expensive. But one night I noticed that the LED flashlight on my phone made perfect moonlight. It's cold, bright light that throws crisp shadows. A little research revealed that I could buy a 900-lumen LED work floodlight from a hardware store for 30 bucks, at a fraction of the cost of renting theatrical light. And it was ours, meaning we never had to spend that money again. Plus, LED lights use a fraction of the power that normal lights do. Which means, there are models out there that are battery-operated, with lithium batteries that last for up to 5 hours, for only 60 bucks. Which means we don't have to rent a generator. That's less money, it makes us far more mobile, and the lack of noise means we have more options of where to shoot (we can shoot in residential areas and not worry about annoying people if the shoot goes late). The light was very bright, great for medium shots, though we figure we'd need more for wide shots. The only downside is that you can't dim a light like that, it's either on or off. We compensated by grabbing a couple smaller, less powerful lights for even less money apiece. That allows us to position them in multiple places, as well. We eventually decided that the light needed to be a little bluer to work as moonlight. Not a problem! You can purchase a great, comprehensive pack of gels online for 20 bucks. Because LEDs burn with almost no heat at all, you don't even have to worry about buying a rig for the gel. You can just gaffer (tape) it straight onto the light without any worry of the gel melting. Plus, we found out several people we know OWN generators, so if we need one, we'll borrow it. That's what I mean by creative solutions!
This is part of your budget, and you might as well start looking. I went into this film with a lot of locations already in mind.
There are obviously many ways to do this, and it all depends on what kind of film you're making. Do you need to build sets? Can you use existing buildings and locations? Since our film was set in suburbia, we decided to shoot on-location in Delaware.
Locations can sometimes be a source of headache for a filmmaker. They can sometimes involve acquiring permits, which means money and having to navigate laborious bureaucracy. Some filmmakers opt for “guerrilla filmmaking.” In other words, they just sneak into a location without acquiring permits and film as they can. I'm not going to endorse this, because you can get yourself into trouble.
But be smart. Avoid filming in places where you'd have to pay if you can. Does your house or your friend's house work as a location? Use it!
If you find you just really need to film somewhere and you'd need a permit, it never hurts to talk to someone face-to-face. Depending on how busy or how big that place is, you might find someone willing to cut you a deal. Especially if you're enthusiastic about the project and pitch it well to them. They might get excited too. This isn't always going to work (the city of New York is not going to care about your little movie) but the local museum in your hometown might help you out.
My one word of advice would be this: if you need exterior locations, stay off state land if at all possible. Places like state parks. You need to pay to use it, and they really can't be that flexible. It's not that expensive, but it does cost money, especially if you need to be there for many days of filming. For example, state parks in Delaware cost $125 for the first day, and $75 a day for every day after. That adds up. And there are other problems too.
Filming on state land, especially parks, means that you have to interact with rangers. If you're filming after hours (many parks close at dusk), that means you have to pay overhead for the rangers to be on-duty after hours too. In Delaware, that's $40 an hour. That adds up REALLY quickly. In addition to this, I've found that at least here, there isn't much inter-department communication. In other words, you might have arranged with the park to be there at 9 pm to film for a couple of hours. But parks are big. And the ranger that rolls up to yell at you might not have gotten the word. And even if you've got paperwork, they will get grumpy. In fact, even if they KNOW you're going to be there, they don't like it. I did a show in a state park once, and the rangers knew we were going to be there until at least 9:30-10 pm. But they wanted to go home, and who can really blame them? They gave us a little grief to try to hurry us up. The result is that you feel pressured, you move too quickly, and you might end up making mistakes or overlooking something. That means that you might have wasted a lot of money and a whole day of shooting for nothing. So, my advice is: stay off state land, unless you've got a good connection.
But you're still going to need a lot of money, there's no way around that. Which means several things. First, you're playing for real now. Which means you need to protect yourself legally. You're going to be acquiring money that isn't yours. That's for next time...