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The Easy, Inexpensive Way to Make Your Own Movie

You can learn to be a filmmaker on the cheap and on the fly


Part of the Aging Well Through Arts Special Report

Have you ever wanted to make a movie?

A lot of people — myself included — have nurtured fantasies about becoming a budding director or attending film school at some point in our lives. But for all kinds of reasons (not having millions of dollars, equipment or know-how to create a movie, for example), you might have let this particular dream go.

I am here to tell you: You can still cross “create a film” off your bucket list. I did, and I can give you advice on how you can do it, too.

The Shorter, the Cheaper?

The key? Make it a short film.

Short films generally run less than 30 minutes. Actually, short films can be five minutes or less. You will save time and money right off the bat by deciding to make a short film. The trick then is to develop an idea that you can make into a short film. The great thing about this is, it doesn’t have to be a highly developed story. It can be anything, really. Make a two-minute “still life” of your old sneakers and call it an experimental film.

However, if you’re like me and want to flesh out a story, anything between five and 20 minutes is probably the “sweet spot” for a short film.

Crowdfund Your Film

I went the Kickstarter route — well, actually, IndieGoGo, which at the time was considered more film-oriented at the time. Kickstarter wouldn’t release the money raised to you if you didn’t raise the total amount you were asking for, whereas IndieGoGo would. But now, Kickstarter has that option.

I raised $2,500 to make a short film. That money was used to pay for meals for the cast and crew (a dozen people in all), to rent some wardrobe for one of my actors and cover parking and a few other odds and ends. We shot it in four long days, and I think it came out all right.

Don’t Invest in Unnecessary Equipment

Not everyone is going to want to go through the trouble of trying to raise even a few thousand dollars to make a short film like I did.

A filmmaker friend of mine, Charles Pinion, 59, of Los Angeles, offered tips on how to make short films as cheaply as possible. (He recently directed American Mummy, a 3D horror film, but he is known for making movies on the cheap, actually.) He said that you don’t necessarily have to shoot with a top-of-the-line camera.

“Making a movie on your phone is fine,” Pinion said. For example, he noted the movie, Tangerine, available on Netflix, was shot by iPhone.

But there are limitations. “The main limitation is that you can’t zoom. So you are ‘stuck’ with the fixed aperture of the phone lens,” said Pinion.

However, he advised purchasing an “add-on” lens for your phone that clip to your phone. These are widely available, including on Amazon or in the Apple Store.

“Add-on lenses can vary tremendously in quality. I actually (being the creative type) have simply held other camera’s lenses over the iPhone lens while shooting, but you can get ones that clip on and so forth,” Pinion said. These can be available as wide-angle lenses or telephoto lenses, and Pinion recommended doing research and reading reviews before purchasing them.

He also advised paying attention to the rate of “frames per second,” or fps, when you shoot. You can shoot with this in mind by downloading an app to your phone (he recommended FilmicPro but there are others) and it will make the calculation for you.

“A frame rate of 24 fps looks more like a movie than video standard 30 fps,” he advised, pointing out that smart phones are actually a pricey camera option for someone who does not own one.

“Smart phones are expensive, but most people tend to already have one around,” Pinion said. “The next step I would go is a Canon T6i which you can find at Costco for under $500.”

And more crucial, he said: “A tripod is a must.”

Finishing Touches

In order to make your short film “watchable,” you will need to do some editing. If you have a Mac, it probably came with a program called iMovie, which is a very easy way to edit a film. You can also download apps and software at various price points, from $50 to $300, that do the trick, too.

Whether you decide to go the smart phone route  try to raise money on a crowdfunding site like Kickstarter, there is really nothing like the experience of making a short film, of having a team of people come together with one goal in mind: to help you realize your creative dream.

You will learn a lot about yourself as you collaborate with others, whether they are actors, editors or crew (professionals or amateurs). You also will experience creative satisfaction and frustration, often at the same time. 

But in the end, it’s worth seeing the fruit of your labor.  Celebrate it by popping some popcorn and inviting  all your friends for a red carpet screening in your living room — and if you’re so inclined, start thinking about a larger distribution plan. Cannes, here you come.

By Stephen L. Antczak
Stephen L. Antczak is a freelance writer,  specializing in articles about money, work, volunteering, education and aging.

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