You've got a movie to make. You're busy! So before we waste any of your time, let us tell you whether or not we can help you produce the next Brothers McMullen or Blair Witch Project. First, we're assuming that you've written or obtained a screenplay. Secondly, we're assuming that you will be able to procure (from parents, friends, credit cards, theft, etc.) at least $15,000. If you don't have $15,000 or more . . . sorry, but miracle workers we're not.

If you've got the script and the money, we can help you. We're going to tell you how to navigate the three major steps involved with making any movie: pre-production, production, and post-production. If you follow our advice (and have any talent), you'll be ready for the film festival circuit, fame, and riches. Oh, and maybe a cocaine habit too if it all works out.


The first step in making your movie is putting everything in place before you ever have a camera: polishing your script, finding actors, rehearsing, and putting together a team of technical folk who can work the scary machines like cameras, tape recorders, and lights. This is what's known as pre-production.
  1. Use points and screen credit if possible
  2. Get a Director of Photography
  3. Purchase film at a discount
  4. Find actors, props, and costumes
  5. Scout locations and hold rehearsals

Use "points" and screen credit if possible

Trust us; you aren't the only one who wants to see his or her name in lights. Many times offering just the opportunity to work on a real film is enough bait to bring friends on board. Your first question at every stage of movie making should be to ask yourself, "Who can I get to do this for free?" One way to get people to work for free is to offer screen credit -- you know, the blame that rolls at the end of a movie.

If you can't get people to work for free, it's time to dole out the "points." Points, you will come to learn, are the lifeblood of no-budget movie making. When you have very little cash to distribute at an early stage in the life of the film, one way to entice talent to join your project is to promise them a percentage of the film's profits. These are the points. Oh, and in case you never got to algebra, you've only got 100 of them. So be stingy with those suckers, they're finite and you'll want a bunch for yourself.

Get a Director of Photography

When you start the process of converting your screenplay into a film, the most important asset you can acquire is a knowledgeable Director of Photography. Almost every movie has both a Director, that's you, and a Director of Photography, not likely to be you. A Director of Photography, or DP, is someone who has a technical understanding of how the camera works, what film to use, and how the lighting will affect the feel of a scene. On a big movie, the DP makes all the pretty pictures and oversees a crew of several cameramen. On yours, the DP will be behind the camera himself. The Director is usually more concerned with the overall story and the acting, and tells the DP how (s)he wants it all to look.

One of the best ways to get a DP is to scour local film schools. While there are a few specialized film schools around the country, most colleges and universities have film departments, so you are bound to live nearby some source of technical talent. To search, you can (1) check the yellow pages for local film schools and/or (2) go to, an online directory of most of the film schools/departments that have web sites. From there, you can get a phone number or email address of the appropriate contact person, give him/her a call, and then get your butt (physically, not virtually) over there to check out their bulletin boards for announcements. These places will almost always have a board with the names and business cards of aspiring DPs.

Another source of great technical advice and talent is the Film Arts Foundation. Based in San Francisco, this organization has a national reach and it serves as a cooperative for amateurs and emerging professionals interested in film. Members join up to subscribe to its magazine and to connect with other up-and-coming members of the film community. Check out the site, even if you don't want to become a member – you'll get great info, and perhaps the names of DPs in your neighborhood.

Once you get some leads, call prospective DPs and ask them to send you a demo tape of their work. You should be able to tell from watching their previous projects whether they can handle your needs.

Purchase film at a discount

The issues involved in purchasing film are numerous and complicated. You'll need to decide whether to use 16mm or 35mm, what speed stock to buy, where to develop it, with whom to store it for safekeeping, etc. Make sure to consult with your DP.

Film is quite expensive. For feature length movies, which are usually around 90 minutes, the film could cost around $27,000. And that figure doesn't even include the cost of developing it and all the wasted footage you won't end up using. But don't despair: companies like Kodak and Fuji have been known to give discounts to both students and low-budget productions. Think about it -- they make the real money off productions that use thousands of times more film than you ever will, and if you are a burgeoning talent they will want to get you using their product so that you'll keep buying it when you're a big mogul. Use your small-fry status to your advantage as often as you can.

Find actors, props, and costumes

When looking for actors, try to use your friends. Surely you remember someone who did a credible job in your high school or college rendition of Our Town. If not, don't worry, there are professional entities who specialize in farming out talent to productions. If you inquire, they will send you headshots--big glossy photos of the faces of actors and actresses--who you can then contact to arrange an audition.

The cheap way to get your hands on props and costumes is to borrow from friends and family. Of course, it won't cost much to go down to the local thrift store or Salvation Army to pick up a few items either. But if you want something more specialized or upscale, there are companies that can help you, and to find some, look under Costumes in your local yellow pages.

Scout for locations and hold rehearsals

Don't fool yourself into thinking you can make the next Bond movie for less than ten grand. We hope you've written or obtained a script that involves realistic settings like local bookstores and coffee shops. If you have any place near you that you think would be cool, just go talk to the owner or manager, let them know you're doing a small project, and ask them for their permission to stop by some time. If you're worried about getting into legal trouble, you can check these books out to show you how to write up a release -- the legal document allowing you to use a location or someone's image on film -- for the proprietor to sign: (1) Making Documentary Films and Reality Videos: A Practical Guide to Planning, Filming, and Editing Documentaries of Real Events, (2) Lights, Camera, Action!: Making Movies and TV from the Inside Out, and (3) Making Movies: The Inside Guide to Independent Movie Production.

Ideally, you'll be able to rehearse particular scenes in the same location where you plan to film them. No surprise there. But, if you're using a location that you don't own or control, you may not have the luxury of using the space beforehand. In that case, obviously, you'll need to use your apartment, your parents' basement, the local school gym--wherever. Just be sure you make arrangements to have space somewhere. You can't show up on the day you expect to film without having gone over the scenes. Unless, of course, you want that celluloid gold film stock spilling uselessly through the camera at the rate of $5 a second.

Plan the shoot rigorously with your DP, minimizing as much as possible the number of days you will need to rent equipment and to take people's time. This may involve shooting some sequences out of order if they happen to be set in the same location. It's harder to do, but it saves time and money.