By: Laura Huie
Getting a great actor attached to your script can be a make-or-break moment for an emerging screenwriter. But when you are just starting, this can seem more like a fairytale than anything achievable in real life.
All filmmakers will testify to the challenge of having to strike a balance between their creative vision and the financial constraints that shape their projects. However, we know from experience that producing and funding your work with a great cast on a small budget is certainly achievable.
The alumni of our Short Film Fund have created some amazing films – with stars as varied as Alisha Boe (13 Reasons Why/The Naked Man), (Leslie Bibb (Iron Man/Salam), Ben Whishaw (The Lobster/Miss Fortunate), and Kerry Godliman (After Life/The Orgy). But how did our winning screenwriters manage to capture the interest and secure the participation of these illustrious stars?
In this article, you’ll get tips straight from our previous winners and alumni who have made short films with even smaller means.
Plus, we’ll guide you through the nuances of how to work with a set budget that cannot be exceeded and ways to keep costs down in general. Let’s make a start!
Our Winners’ Top Tips
As screenwriters, a direct path to seeing your work on the big screen is often difficult to achieve. We enter into competitions, network and mingle, and join writers’ communities to gain connections that will help bring us closer to elevating our scripts to the next level.
For the winners of our Short Film Fund, the opportunity to take their script from page to screen becomes a reality in a very quick time and they need to draw upon all their resources to ensure their much-dreamed project hits the ground running.
So, let’s hear from some of our past winners’ tips for finding talent on a budget.
“For me, it’s always been about working with my friends. I have aimed to cultivate a great group of actors—and if you have strong material for them—nothing is better than working with people you love. I would say ask your friends, ask the friends of your friends, and then ask them to ask their friends. It can also be a reciprocal effort, they will do you a favor and then you can work for them on something down the line.” — Nora Kirkpatrick, BEST SELLER, Short Film Fund Winner 2018
“I take acting classes and it’s useful to network with actors. If I’m writing something that I might be shooting or one of my friends is directing a project, I’ll let them know that I have some people that could fit a role. […] For one film, I needed a Syrian actor, and I started looking through acting agencies. They’ve been very cooperative with independent films with smaller budgets. […] Both of those routes have actually helped me a ton when casting on a budget.” — Alycya Magaña, EL VALS, Short Film Fund Winner 2021
“My general advice is Instagram. A lot of actors are trying to develop a career by boosting their social platforms…They repost each others’ stuff and will friend each other. I found myself digging around a lot on Instagram and finding actors that way.” — J Batzli, LITTLE ANNA, Short Film Fund Winner 2020
Finding Talent on a Budget
When it comes to finding talent on a budget, networking is an integral part of discovering actors who fit the bill for your script. Friends and family can be helpful collaborators on your project in terms of providing funds and moral support, but finding actors who can portray your characters well might be asking too much. Audiences can forgive a few production-related compromises in an independent film, but the quality of acting is hard to overlook.
Finding talent through networking though isn’t as hard as you might think. You can reach out to other competition or film fund alumni to get their advice or even introductions.
Another option is to join writers’ communities, or even groups on social media.
And remember when you have found your perfect lead, gaining experience and credibility is a valuable asset you have to offer. As a maker with a live project, you can help aspiring actors by offering them experience and an actor’s credit for appearing in your film.
Once you’ve assembled your ideal team and talent, make sure you are candid and up-front about expectations and budget capabilities. If you’re honest about what you can realistically offer your cast and crew, you’ll avoid any costly misunderstandings during the filming process. Another cost-effective tip is to try and make use of your project teams’ closets, along with local thrift stores, when choosing costumes or props for your actors.
Even in the early days of a project, you can start to open the doors to talent. Doing a virtual table read with actors is a worthwhile idea to test out if your script has the legs to go further. Hearing your script out loud and through different people can help you determine spots for improvement. And who knows, some of these actors may eventually take part in the filmed project.
Lastly, don’t forget you can save some cash by organizing remote. Auditioning online has become so much more acceptable these days, and is a less expensive and often more efficient way to find great talent for your project.
Read on for 5 quick tips on creating your short film on a budget!
Why You Need a Production Budget
From the biggest studio production to short independent films, any successful pre-production phase includes working out the budget. Having a well-thought-out budget increases a production’s success because a budget allows everyone involved to think through the costs of your film. These costs can include payments to talent, equipment rentals, and location costs. If there is not a set budget before going into production, it’s easy to get carried away and this inevitably leads to a headache in the end. Remember: You can still create an impactful short film, even on a shoestring budget.
Here are 5 Tips on how to lessen the costs in general.
- Plan ahead: Storyboard and create a shooting schedule before getting into production, so you can accurately assess costs.
- Leverage fundraising and crowdsourcing: Consider submitting your script to film funds, grants, or competitions, that fit your specific niche. For example, it’s more advantageous to submit your laughter-inducing short film to a comedy film fund rather than a general one.
- Rent equipment or use your phone: These days, the quality of what’s in our pockets is often more than good enough to film a short-form project. If you’re set on getting professional gear, consider renting equipment through a local university or school with a film program. This can also be an excellent way to find your cast and talent too!
- Keep locations simple (and free, if you can): Choose 1-3 key locations, preferably in your local area. You don’t need to use a huge soundstage or elaborate set decor to make an impactful story.
- Set attainable goals and follow through: Be prepared to change up your script to fit within your budget parameters, sometimes you just have to make a compromise to get your story seen on screen.
That’s a Wrap!
Filming on a budget requires some craftiness and a do-it-yourself mentality to transform your script from page to screen. But in the end, you will have a short film in your portfolio to show potential agents, managers, and producers what you have to offer in the industry. And that is invaluable!
Laura Huie is an experienced writer and editor involved in comedy-drama screenwriting, fiction editing, and full-time marketing copy. Laura is also a freelance article writer for Shore Scripts and has worked with Script Pipeline on their live Symposium series. She is one-half of screenwriting duo, Bloom & Huie. Together, they have written multiple television series as well as a feature-length film. Their mission is to write honest and witty female stories wrapped up in unbelievable worlds.
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