6 bullets

Watch the Six Bullets Teaser Trailer Now!

How to Make a $20,000 Indie Film

Now that we stand at the twilight of making our own independent film, I thought it was fitting that we offer some of the advice and lessons we've learned to help others. Here's a list of the dos and don'ts of making your own indie movie, compiled by Jon Kline, Director of Photography.

  1. Write a realistic budget. Keep expenses under control from the start. Understand that you probably can't pay anyone, and make sure that the people you're working with understand that, too. Don't trust anyone, especially your department heads, with a blank check. Offer them reimbursements on planned expenses with a receipt. Don't forget to plan for the whole project, including advertising and DVD duplication costs as well as film festival submission fees.
  2. Beg, borrow and steal everything you can. If you're working on your first film, try to avoid renting your equipment, since you're probably going to make mistakes and need to rent it again. Network with other filmmakers in your area… you never know when your equipment might fail on a shooting day and your new acquaintance with a similar camera might be able to help you out.
  3. Make commitments. Let the rest of the crew and cast see that you're serious about finishing the project, even when it seems impossible. Know your limits but continue to push them. Taking on a challenge is a great way to build teamwork and find out who on your crew is capable of seeing things through to the end.
  4. Get it done quickly. Take time to plan, but implement your plan quickly. The bulk of your free help will disappear after two or three months. Front-load your shooting schedule with any large-manpower shoots, because by the end your crew will be lean and mean. Once you've finished shooting, assemble the footage and then screen it for a group. Fix the problems and finish it. Editing will never turn lead into gold. Accept that.
  5. Enjoy yourself. This is something you're doing for the love of it. Let it show. Find out why other people are involved in your project and make it more enjoyable for them. Document your work with journals and photographs. The finished product could never possibly represent all the things that were left, lost, forgotten, or edited out along the way.
  1. Make promises. Notice this is different than commitments. At the outset, it's easy to promise free DVDs, t-shirts, craft service, and various other stuff. Remember that stuff all comes out of the same budget, and giving away 100 DVDs is probably an expense you can't afford after finishing your project. Don't make too many promises on the nature of the finished product, either. You're going to miss that flexibility in the editing room.
  2. Mortgage the house. Taking risks is inherent in filmmaking. Financial failure in indie moviemaking isn't just possible, it's likely. Sure, you might be working on the next Blair Witch Project, but realistically, you'll be lucky to get into a single major festival. Even if you do, only a small number of the films screened there will get offers. Spend less than you can afford to lose, and if you're spending someone else's money, continue to reassure them that they will probably never see it again.
  3. Do it yourself. The benefits of help are immeasurable. You don't have to do all the crummy work yourself, you can learn from the talents of others, you can increase the value of your network. Nobody cares about the movie you made by yourself in your basement. Get them to hold a mic and suddenly it's their movie too.
  4. Overhype everything. Your actors will know if you're full of it when you hand them a script and when they get on set. Three lines does not a lead make. You know it. They know it. Just be honest about what they can expect, and be sure to let them know if this is your first film. If your cast starts getting starry-eyed, it's time to knock them down a notch and get back to work. If they quit because they didn't get a huge part, they weren't right for your movie anyway. I promise.
  5. Please everybody. You're going to be accountable if the movie sucks. If you keep it your own, at least one person will like it. Give everyone half of what they want and you'll make a movie nobody wants to watch. If the people working on your project really knew what they were doing, they would be the one directing you.

"Best Milwaukee Filmmaker 2006."
- Shepherd Express

"My new favorite indie film."
- Jon Kline, Director of Photography

Six Bullets Updates


Site Map  Privacy Policy