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Ben Yennie: 7 ways to make a Micro Budget Movie that can make money

In general, there are only a couple of viable ways to start out your filmmaking career.  One is to join the studio system and hope you have what it takes to rise through the ranks.  The other is to build an audience, raise the money you need to make the films yourself, and do your damnedest to get the film out there as widely as possible.  This blog focuses on the latter.

There are a couple of ways to walk the second path. One is to package the film and raise millions of dollars to make your first feature.  This generally takes as much as a decade to get any traction, if it happens at all.  The second way is to shoot a simple, contained story in a marketable genre for as little as you can and then use that as something of a calling card.  While this also takes years, it’s generally more likely to be successful, at least to some degree.  Again, this blog focuses on the latter. Let’s dive in. 

1. Forget about fundraising from investors

The main reason you’re making a micro-budget film is for speed to getting your first product to market.  While raising money from investors makes everything else faster, the process in and of itself is not fast at all.  Instead of spending a few years expanding your network to include investors before shooting your first film, do what you need to to get your first film in the can while building then go back to those contacts for your second film after you’ve proven you’ve got what it takes.

However, not everyone has a few tens of thousands in the bank to make a movie with. This is a case where you’ll need to crowdfund.  Yeah, yeah.  I know, people hate it, and think it’s a waste of time given that it will also take several months of full-time work to raise the money you need.  However, there are a lot of other benefits to crowdfunding that will help make the rest of the process easier, and will even have an impact on the overall quality of your film. More on that a few points down.

2. Tell a story that is contained to as few locations as possible

I mentioned this in the intro, but if you’re going to make a film for next to no money, you’re going to need to make sure that it’s tight, contained, and doesn’t waste any time on company moves.  We did a couple blogs on this a while back with the help of Debbie Brubaker, Co-Producer of Sorry to Bother You, Diary of a Teenage Girl, and many others.  She’s also worked with Woody Allen and Tim Burton as a UPM.  Those blogs can be found here and here.

3. Limit your principle cast

The only way micro-budget movies work is if they’re contained, tight, and the scope is very limited.  If you try to make 30 grand look like 30 million, you probably won’t succeed and it will be completely undistributable.  As such, a few key cast members will make all the difference.  

4. Work with what you already have.

Think about what you already have at your disposal, and wouldn’t have to buy.  If you need a cop car, you probably can’t count on the police to give it to you for free.  (Unless you're from a sleepy small town that gets no press coverage and loves the idea of a movie being shot there…) 

This is one thing the ProductionNext Toolset can help with. We let you track your real-world assets like props, wardrobe, equipment, set dressing, locations, and crew you have access to then easily plug them into multiple different projects. (it’s forever free to set all that up by the way.)

5. Understand the audience that will consume your movie

It’s 2020.  Authenticity is key in attracting eyeballs to content, or at least the perception of it. If you try to make a movie for a niche you don’t truly understand it will not work out the way you want it to.  For examples of what I mean, look at how Galaxy Quest massively over-performed expectations despite a total lack of studio backing and Batman v. Superman massively underperformed despite huge name recognition and a massive existing fan base.  

It’s an interesting case study in that despite nearly 2 decades separating the two films, they went for largely the same demographic and had exactly inverse problems.  Galaxy Quest was true to its roots, and the studio execs didn’t understand it. They set out to make a Star Trek movie with occasional inversion of the expected tropes.  Batman V Superman was not as true as it could have been to the source material and took itself entirely too seriously. 

I digress, although I think I might have to make an analysis video of this in the future.

As it pertains to indies, don’t try to make a movie on sub-cultures and niche communities that you don’t inhabit yourself.  Those communities will hate the film, and when the poor word of mouth gets around it will impact the film in a negative fashion.  However, if you actually understand and accurately represent an underrepresented niche the dividends may surprise you.

6. Engage with your audience from the start

If you engage with your core demographic and early adopters from the time you start writing the script, you’re going to have a much easier job when it comes time to market the film. As I alluded to earlier, a big key to success in this can be crowdfunding.  No one crowdfunds simply for the cash.  Crowdfunding can help you find deeply engaged early adopters and people who will serve as your primary audience and biggest advocates when it comes time to distribute your film.  

7. Spend a lot of time in post

In general, you can have things two of three ways.:  Fast, cheap, or good.  In this instance, you’re going to need it to be good and cheap, so it’s not going to be fast.  This is particularly notable in post-production.  Your film needs to be polished to a high gloss if it’s going to succeed in the massively oversaturated marketplace of micro-budget movies.  I know that last part is kind of dropped in during the last sentence, but I’m way over my word count so check out this blog from our archives and this post on the Guerrilla Rep Media blog. (Drops tomorrrow)

Thanks for reading.  I hope this lays out a path to success with micro-budget movies. If it all seems overwhelming, you might want to check out our software toolset.  It gives you a single place to manage your entire production so you can focus on making the best movie possible and building your audience instead of rather mundane project management details.  

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