It’s no secret that filmmaking is expensive. Regardless of if you’re a micro-budget weekend filmmaker or someone who works for an indie production company, it’s important to look for cost-cutting measures that don’t compromise the safety and enjoyment of your cast and crew. We’ve put together a list of a few ways that you can save money on set.
Most sets order food, which can get expensive fast. Typically, people will do something like order pizza. Increasingly, we’re seeing a focus on feeding people WELL on set, which we think makes a huge difference. Having pizza and beer for lunch might be fun, but you often need a nap afterwards. Not only is feeding people well a way to keep your cast and crew feeling nourished and active, but it can even save you money.
The best way to do this is to cook yourself, or to enlist the help of a friend or a family member. Make nourishing, homemade food ahead of time and then heat it up on set. Food ideas include quiche, healthy muffins, or a pasta dish with protein and veggies. If these dishes are beyond your cooking capabilities, consider having a sandwich bar; buy different types of meats, cheeses, veggies, and breads, and let your cast and crew DIY their lunches.
Another option for saving money on set is asking a local business to sponsor a meal. Lots of businesses want to support local art in exchange for a mention in the credits, on social media, or on your website, but they probably can’t afford to donate a big chunk of change to your movie. Donating money or food for a single meal is a way business can support you, and a way you can save money on set.
Crew size and scheduling
Operate with the minimum number of people that is still safe and not exhausting for everyone. Big studios have people convinced that you need a giant crew in order to operate a film set, but that’s just not true. Think carefully about the specifics of your film before you commit to a certain crew size; you don’t want one person doing a ton of different jobs, if you can avoid it, but you also don’t want people on set just sitting around with nothing to do. If you have the budget to pay your crew, this gives you the opportunity to pay them what they’re worth.
If you’re a weekend filmmaker and you’re relying on the free labor of your friends and family, consider scheduling half day shoots. This benefits you in a couple of ways; first of all, you only need to provide one meal, which cuts down on costs. Secondly, it buys you some good will; it’s a much smaller ask to only give up half of your Saturday, and your friends and family might be more willing to help you out again in the future.
You can also stagger your schedule. If there are people you need on set to help set up, bring them on an hour before everyone else and then release them an hour early. You can also stagger your lunch breaks; send one half of the team to go eat while you’re finishing up a scene, and then when the rest of the crew breaks they can come back and set up for the next shot.
Preproduction is key
We’ve said it before, but it’s worth saying again. Preproduction is everything. Some ways to save money in preproduction include
- Intensely storyboarding your project so that you know exactly what shots you’ll need, saving you time on set (and therefore money)
- Creating your shooting schedule so that you move the camera the minimum number of times; this prevents you from going back and forth as you set up and saves you valuable time and money. We like to start with wider establishing shots, work our way into close-ups, and then eventually move the camera and lights to the next closest set-up.
- Choosing a project that you know you can accomplish within your budget. You should be doing the expensive version of a project you can afford, not the cheap version of a project that’s out of reach. Think about the number of actors, sets, props, special effects, and costumes you’ll need as you consider–or write–a script.
Rely on your community
We already mentioned getting your meals sponsored by a local business as one way to save money on set. There are other ways you can involve your community and help save a few bucks; for example, you can borrow costumes from a local theater, stylist, or shop, as long as you ask nicely and return the costumes in perfect condition. Similarly, you can borrow set pieces; there are people who stage homes for a living and have tons and tons of beautiful furniture and set dressings. For a shout-out and a set designer credit, they may be willing to stage a set for you with their items.
Basically, if you need something, rely on the people who already have that thing rather than going out and buying it yourself. Just ask; you’d be surprised how many people will say yes. There are Facebook groups for filmmakers where people share ideas and resources; find one in your area and make connections. Relying on your community is our number one tip for saving money on set.
Let your community rely on you
It’s short and sweet; if you help others, people will want to help you. If you have time or resources to share, do so, and other people will help you in return.
These are our favorite ways to save money on set; what did we miss? Get in touch and let us know!