It depends on what you expect out of a movie. In the modern day of YouTube being accessible to anyone, you can technically make a movie for $0, provided you have a phone to record on and provided you can film yourself delivering a monologue for ninety minutes. There are dozens of YouTube channels out there reinventing Hollywood out of their basement studio. Surf the channels out there and get some inspiration.
But for something a bit closer to what we think of as a feature production, there are a few guidelines:
- Don’t be too ambitious when writing the script. Aim for low production values without needing too much of a visual effects budget. Ideal genres are crime dramas or horror movies; aim for genres where grungy sets like your basement and garage make for a great atmosphere.
- Rent the camera instead of buying it. Technology changes so fast that you’ll regret a major purchase here.
- Let the actors supply the wardrobe and props. Actors usually have plenty to offer here. Maybe even consult with actors first, then write the script around what they provide.
- If you register with the SAG (Screen Actors’ Guild), you can get an ultra-low budget agreement that lets you pay professional actors only $100/day.
- Obtain production insurance. This is relatively cheap, necessary to work with guild actors, and will open up new location opportunities to you since property owners will be more permissive once they see you’re not holding them liable.
- Don’t use music you can’t afford. You’ll have to hold off on major artists and maybe rely on either stock or Creative Commons music, or even score it yourself or through a friend cheap. Music in indie films is overrated anyway.
- Edit it yourself. Obviously, you’re not considering this task if you weren’t encouraged by the wide choice of cheap/free video production software packages out there. You can get amazingly far with just a laptop here.
- Keep the shooting schedule short and the perks generous. A well-fed cast is a happy cast, and catering will count a long ways towards their willingness to work with you.
You might also consider working on shorter projects first to build your way up to a feature-length movie. Don’t dismiss short films even ten to fifteen minutes long; they can play at a Cannes festival and attract the backing for a bigger production down the line!
Good luck to all the future Quentin Tarantinos and Kevin Smiths out there, and be sure to remember us for helping you along!