How to make a micro-budget feature film – 15 tips by Joshua Overbay

I came across a very interesting article on Indiewire written by the indie filmamaker Joshua Overbay. Joshua offers very practical advice for filmmakers thinking about doing a feature film on a micro-budget. The advice is based on Joshua’s experience with his film “As It Is In Heaven”.

Joshua made the movie for about $11,000 – money that he raised on Kickstarter. Despite the tiny budget and unknown actors, the film went on to have a theatrical distribution. It was a limited release, but, nevertheless, an extraordinary achievement. Normally, for films of low profile to get picked up theatrically, they need to generate significant attention at major film festivals.

The film was noticed by film critics and got favourable reviews from the Hollywood Reporter, New York Times and Roger Ebert, for example, but this wasn’t thanks to film festivals. I’ll let you read Joshua’s article to find out how he got his film noticed.

Of the fifteen tips that Joshua offers, three of them stand out for me.

Joshua recommends keeping your script within a hundred pages and planning to shoot between 4-6 pages a day. He scheduled his film for 17-18 days.

From my and Tom‘s experience, this is a really solid plan. It allows you to strike a balance between what your budget will likely allow and filming at a reasonable pace that allows for creativity and quality.

As a director, be firm in asking for 15 to 20 shooting days – whether you are producing yourself or, especially, if you get hired. Don’t fool yourself or try to make the producers happy by over-promising.

Also, sometimes a situation arises where your budget allows to shoot with more experienced unionized actors, but you have to give up shooting days to do this. Again, think it thorough well. Depending on the quality of non-union cast you can get and the difficulty of the roles you are filling, you might be better off taking more shooting days.

Actually, on the no-budget or micro-budget productions, you will be short of a lot of resources, but you should not be short of time. You are not going to be facing huge costs for an additional day of shooting. Your cast and crew’s motivation will be mostly non-monetary anyway. People will work with you because they believe that you can deliver as a director and they can be part of something special.

So, take advantage of this and get as much time as you need to deliver the high quality that you and everybody else around you expects.

Another great point that Joshua makes is that you should not expect to get into Sundance or a similar major film festival. The odds are greatly against you. Therefore, make a plan that cannot be derailed by a few people saying “no” to your film. You have to be more resilient than that.

The last of Joshua’s tips that I’d like to discuss is the one he calls “Teach at a Film School”. This deals not so much with your next movie, but with the entire approach to your career as a filmmaker.

Joshua describes how teaching at a film school gives him a great opportunity to be a filmmaker. Even though he is far away from Hollywood (he teaches in Louisiana), he actually gets to make movies. Sure, there is no big paycheck. There are no big names attached to the projects. But he doesn’t have to wait for somebody to give him a chance – he’s already living his dream of making movies.

This is such a refreshing approach, in contrast to the common “make it big in Hollywood or go bust” attitude.

Of course, you don’t have to teach in a film school. You can do many other things – maybe related to filmmaking, like visual effects, animation, or maybe not. As long as your day job gives you financial stability and allows you to take time off to pursue filmmaking, you will be in a similarly good position.

Here’s the trailer for “As It Is In Heaven”

The full film is available for purchase starting Feb. 3, 2015, but you can already place a pre-order here.

And here are Joshua Overbay’s “15 Tips On Making Your First Micro-Budget Feature”.

2 thoughts on “How to make a micro-budget feature film – 15 tips by Joshua Overbay”

  1. I liked Josh’s point to try teaching at a film school to be more successful as a director. That seems like a great way to learn a few tips that can be used to improve your own films by passing on that information to students. He’s right about how this approach can help add to a career as a filmmaker, so this seems like a great idea.

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