Zero-Budget Filmmaking is just as the name suggests; making a film, all pre-production, filming, and post-production, using just what you already have – on almost no budget. It is a brave thing to do, especially now, in an industry of larger and larger blockbusters, but it will also make you stand out against all the superheroes, giant robots, aliens, and all other manner of world-ending threats.
Most of the biggest names in Hollywood (and many more of the biggest names of world cinema) started out by making a film with what they had. Using what they had and saying “Why not? What is stopping me?”
This may also be the most logical way of starting and getting noticed. The film industry has followed the same general trend as corporate economics have; where corporations have become ‘too large to fail’, so too have the films. Now fewer big films are made but they are huge (nearly guaranteed to gross over $1billion) as opposed to making more small budgeted films. Getting enough money to start a project has always been a struggle for filmmakers, along with not making a loss on it. So now, in this ever-divided film-industry, perhaps the best way of minimising your loss, especially with your first production, is to have nothing to lose.
With the new emerging technology of the 21st century, this is now truly possible too. With smart-phones and a lot of cheap or free software, you can make a film on almost zero budget. There are always actors, DPs and sound technicians looking for promising work who may be willing to work on a voluntary basis (with the promise of pay should the film be a success).
Yet this just shifts the struggle further down the production line, to distribution: getting your film in festivals, in cinemas, or even on streaming services like Netflix or Amazon. However, just like with filming, new technology can greatly help with finding distribution opportunities, and in promoting your film.
A key part of promotion will be optimising on the ‘otherness’ of your work, separating it from bigger budget films, in finding and pin-pointing your niche before targeting your marketing. That implies that you’ll need to angle your film towards a niche from its inception. Take the recent Oscar Best Picture ‘Moonlight’ as an example of this, it is about the intersectionality between black, poor and gay people, in doing so it was able to pinpoint its audience, however also appealed to a wider audience by bringing to light a completely unrepresented demographic. This does not mean you should just find a minority to use and exploit, but instead in finding the niche group of people who most NEED to know that your film exists, and perhaps tweaking the finer details of your script with this in mind.
Once that is done, you’ve got a film, and hopefully a success (even if only a mild one). Zero budget filmmaking isn’t easy, but no amount of money will make a film good. The question is not whether you can do you (you can!). It will take smarts and gusto, but now is a better time than any to go for it.