BOOK: The No Budget Guide To Filmmaking

Indie filmmaker? No-budget filmmaker? Low-budget filmmaker? Microbudget Filmmaker? Part of a church video production team? Videographer and a starving artist? I've been asked a lot - how do you make a video? Can you help with my videos? Or more generally for those starting out, what do I do? If you're that guy or gal wondering what to do with the latent skills and passions the Almighty has given you (whether film or video production), then this book is for you. This is the first 10 chapters of the No Budget Guide To Filmmaking: The 30-Step Guide For Low-Budget Filmmakers Who Wanna Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too. It's available in the store, and some of the dates are from years ago because the book was published, well, a while ago!

Bonus: need to download the guide on the go? The first ten chapters are available in the bonus section as well as the essential checklist for running video production as a business!

no-budget-guide-to-filmmaking

Chapter START

      What aspiring auteur doesn't want to make their own film? Their own video? It's that dream, that passion, existing from a very young age that says go for it. Do you remember when you were young and you fashioned entire universes around matchsticks and straws? Where did that creative bone go? Why is it dormant? We all have a purpose - hope - we're not just floating aimlessly through life. It doesn't matter if you've been in lockup, or you've been through a divorce, or if you're an orphan - all of us are meant to create, be it art, music, dance, furniture made out of cardboard, etc.  

      I realized at a very young age that I want to make movies. What I didn't know then was just how accessible the tools would be to do it in the 21st century. Any of us can buy a consumer camera off the shelf without the checkbook of a major Hollywood studio. All it takes is a little courage, a supportive team, a little imagination, and a burning desire to yell “ACTION!”  

      What I will attempt to do over the course of this book is pare down the essentials to getting your rear off the couch and into high gear to start following that dream in 30 chapters. Ask yourself this - today, do I want to consume or do I want to create? You were made in the image of the Ultimate Creator. Choose to create. I'm far from where I want to be, making a dent in this world for the Kingdom of Heaven through media, yet my calling is finally underway. I've still got oodles to learn - don’t we all - but I'm thankful to say the journey has begun. Without further ado, let's get some inspiration behind you so you can go out and start creating that short video, that church video, that stop-motion-animation short film, or even that first full-length feature film. 

Chapter WRITE

This is the first hurdle. Writing. Sean Connery, in one of my favorite pro-fatherhood, pro-mentoring movies of all time (Finding Forrester), says to his young pupil "the key to writing... is to write." He prefaces this with, "No thinking - that comes later. You must write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head."

First of all, head on over to Celtx and sign up for their free screenplay (online) software. It's easy to use - ‘tis a very simplified interface for new users. Using your regular tab/return keys, you can do most formatting in a jiff, be it dialog, screen direction, scene changes, etc. 

Second, follow the ol' man's advice: write. If you haven't an earthly idea on how to write a screenplay, there are a myriad of books out there to give you some pointers. A personal favorite of mine is Save The Cat! by the late Blake Snyder. While his skeleton approach to screenwriting is by no means the "right" way to write a screenplay, it does provide a set of training wheels to get you going. If you haven't figured it out already, there is no "right" when it comes to creating art - be it movies, poetry, so on, so forth. Write/shoot something you're passionate about, and the rest falls into place. Passion is contagious. Let it bleed through into your work. 

Our story 12 Til Dusk is a rewrite - a modern version of my first full-length screenplay A Western. We could not afford to shoot a period piece, so we had to simplify our story by bringing it into the present age. You should too. Ask yourself - realistically - what can you do on a shoestring budget? Then keep that on the backburner as you flesh out your story. I took the Rodriguez approach with the 12 Til Dusk story and every short film or video I’ve ever worked on: I write around what’s available to me. For 12 Til Dusk, I knew I could use my motorcycle, assorted firearms, the desert, a couple of different houses, and a screenprinting shop. I worked around those constraints and adapted my characters to live and breathe in those spaces with those items. It worked out just fine. The benefit of having no budget is you’re forced to be creative. The big guys can throw large amounts of money at a problem; you don’t have that luxury. Having no budget forces you to tap into a different reservoir of creativity, so don’t beat yourself up if you can’t nab b-roll with Jimmy Carter. Plan your locations and props around what’s available. Your story should be able to function on the strength of your characters anyways.

I recommend setting a timer on your phone. Unlike an alarm, you should just be able to ask the phone to set a timer for 15 minutes and then no further work is required. On my iPhone, if I set an alarm for 15 minutes, I have to delete the alarm later. When the timer expires, I have an obnoxious old car horn sound effect let me know it’s time to stop and move onto something else. So try it. Work in a 15-minute block. If it’s a short story, you won’t have to do this very long. If it’s a feature, you’ll want to plan out how many 15-minute blocks you need to write your story. This book The No Budget Guide To Filmmaking (that you're reading) will end up being around 30,000 to 50,000 words, and the thought of writing it seemed daunting until I realized I could break it up into chunks. All of us can manage a 15-minute block. It’s not too long that we wear ourselves out, and it’s not too short that we can’t get anything done. You can easily get in 700 or more words in one 15-minute session in a book. If it’s a proper script, and if you’re following the usual formatting for scripts, then you’ll likely get in a good page, a page and a half in a 15-minute block. It’s easier on the mind, and I promise you can finish the race. It’s a race of endurance, make no mistake. Whether you’re Sylvester Stallone and you’re pounding out your story in 3 days or you take 3 months, writing in 15-minute chunks will get you there without destroying your sanity. If you’re writing for a short video, you likely won’t need a formal script; draft that bad boy up on Google Docs. If it’s a one-man project or a corporate video, you can still write in 15-minute chunks.

The benefit of having no budget is you’re forced to be creative.

When I started writing this book, I carried this practice of 15-minute blocks over to my short stories/scripts. Regardless of whether they are ever produced or not, I write something new 4-6 days a week because I am committed to improving my writing over the course of my life. So much of this trade requires long-term commitment, and I don’t mean that to alarm you because you can pick up this book no matter what kind of no/low-budget video or film you’re going to make. Understand that to truly master this craft, it’s going to be a long journey. I started on After Effects back in 2009 and mini-DV movies with zero editing skills years before that. But if you’re just trying to get a one-and-done project in the queue, you can do it. You might just be a savant, or you might be like the majority of us and need some practice. You’ll get out of your video/film what you put into it. 

When your story is done, get folks to review your story, and do it in a real, breathing group, then host another such group review. Maybe 20 more. And not just any group of folks. Friends and family are great, but they're probably not used to reading screenplays (the formatting takes some getting used to), let alone do they know how to offer sound advice without being biased towards you. Find people that deconstruct scripts, offer painful pointers, and yet at the same time, build you up. From start to finish, you need supporters in this monumental undertaking of yours (short or feature film or video - you need supporters). Find the people who will give you the raw truth and the constructive criticism you need to fine-tune your craft AND boost your courage. You need both. And put some food out. Your team will appreciate it.

I wrote a full-length comedy called The Slacker and finished it in 2013. I vetted it with three or four live groups and received excellent feedback. It may be my Avatar, not for its complexity (it’s a comedy), but for its time in development. It’s finished, but it is on the shelf right now and needs to be revisited. That’s on me. I’ve allowed myself to be sidetracked by projects and do not have an excuse for not getting it out there. I will say this, if you’re going the feature-length route, you have two options really. One, try to get your story sold or optioned. I won’t go into that here as I have done neither just yet. Or two, you self-finance that sucker, and you can do that however you want to raise your funds. Ideally, I will self-produce The Slacker; I trust the Lord to direct my steps. When you’re near the end of writing your story, put it before the throne of grace every day and just go where He says to go. I promise you - He is inviting us every day to join in what He’s doing. It’s our job to listen and then have the courage to join Him. 

When the revisions are done, and YOU'RE happy with the final product, register your story with the U.S. Copyright Office and the WGA. Mind you, if you’re doing a short video, this last step isn’t needed, unless you’re planning on going far with this video. If it’s an in-house corporate video, I’m fairly confident you’ll be okay just pounding out a script. But if it’s a feature, register it with the U.S. Copyright Office and/or the WGA. One is sufficient, but you may register with both. Fact: your story is copyrighted the moment you write it. Great! Why register? These guys aid in the enforcement of your copyright, should you ever need to fight for your claim to YOUR story. Words of wisdom we followed: register your story. It's worth the $65 odd bucks to register with both of 'em. It takes a handful of weeks to get your confirmation in the mail, so plan ahead.

Chapter SHORTS

It should go without saying... make shorts. Short videos, to be exact. Good, bad, or ugly - crank 'em out. Robert Rodriguez said in his director's commentary on the El Mariachi DVD, "Every filmmaker has about 30 crappy films in him, so go ahead and get those out of the way." I’m paraphrasing the man here - you get the gist. Do you have a phone? Great. You’re ready to get started. There are countless apps on your phone that will allow you to perform drag-and-drop editing of your files, maybe even add some generic music. Will the video be pretty? If you’re just starting out, no. I won’t sugarcoat it. 

Point is, go shoot short films. Animate them. Write stories and go shoot 'em. You'll learn all the facets of shooting a narrative piece, and you can only get better as you roll 'em out. That’s the key. Any craft, be it film or video, must be practiced. But where do you find an audience to fine-tune your craft? After all, the good book says that plans fail for a lack of counsel. You need feedback. You won’t make everyone happy, and you can’t and nor should you. If you’re extremely codependent, this will be a pain point. Press on. Don’t cave in. Start looking for natural audiences. If it’s a work video, you’re taken care of, unless you’re a solopreneur or in a really small firm. But even then, two are greater than one. It’s 2015, and in this day and age, you can always show your video to the online community and ask for feedback. If you’re shooting for a church, you’re covered. Really, it boils down to one or the other - take your video for a spin on YouTube (or other platform, like Facebook) or show it around your community in its live environment (work, church, etc). 

An invaluable platform for me to gain reps was to shoot short videos for our church (they’re goofy and definitely newbie material - I left them up for posterity - just search Vimeo for “Oasis Vineyard). We were a small bunch when I lived in Salt Lake City, so I was given total freedom (many thanks to our senior pastor Darrell) to do narrative pieces for even the most trivial of events, e.g. a lunch-after-church event. Playing my short videos on a weekly basis in front of a live crowd provided me invaluable feedback. It's a different experience watching your video with 60 other people versus dumping it online on Youtube or Vimeo or Facebook; it builds character knowing whether your humorous moments are landing or not, whether your dramatic punches are effective or not, and so on so forth. You can’t get that same experience, not yet anyways, through our online communities. As of this writing, live streaming is now accessible to the masses, but it is in its infancy. Native apps like Periscope don’t allow you to do cuts, dissolves, or overlays like a studio, but give it some time and it will, as well as provide more organic ways for the crowds to engage than simply hitting a “like” button. If you’re screening this video to some big dogs in the org chart, then do yourself a favor and first do a test screening with other employees. Invite people that you don’t know to that screening as well. One, it will tell them that their opinions are welcome, and two, their neutrality (hopefully) will balance out the folks who know you best. 

My screenwriting mentor at the University of Utah encouraged me with this quasi-story; how true it is may be irrelevant (akin to Coach Boone in Remember the Titans lying about how many brothers and sisters he had - a story is a story). He said the Beatles - when they were starting out - spent day and night in Hamburg, Germany, fine-tuning their craft, discovering their sound, and they did so in the nastiest of places. We're talking dives, strip clubs, just... seedy places. Again, I’ve never looked into their history, but the point of the story (key word: story) is their resolve to wade through the tough times paid dividends because we all know the end result of their labor. They created synergy and ushered in a new wave of music that forever changed the tapestry of entertainment. This screenwriting teacher shared this story with me to let me know that in spite of my first full-length's shortcomings, there was potential. It was his way of commissioning me: keep at it. Make the shorts. Fine-tune your craft. The best directors don't spring up overnight. I.e. stay positive; dig deep. 

And so aspiring auteur or casual “I’ve-been-tasked-with-making-a-video” guy or gal, hand-in-hand with writing your full-length story or short video, you need to be well-versed in shorts. This is especially true if you're going to run-'n-gun it a la Robert Rodriguez, like I did on our microbudget feature 12 'Til Dusk. Guerrilla filmmaking describes the majority of us, yours truly included. You need to know how long a scene is going to take and schedule that time accordingly, and then you need to commit to not go over it. You need to set up your gear, get in, and get out as soon as possible. When you're operating on a shoestring budget, you're shooting 9 times out of 10 on, with, and by the good graces of others. When I first landed in Utah, I was anxious to get connected to my new filmmaking community through the University. I signed up to be a part of a 48-hour-film-challenge (more on that later), and the crew hadn’t worked together before, not in unison. Communication was slow, leadership was so-so, and the allotted time of 12 hours turned into 18+ hours with additional hours the next day (which I was not there for). They turned the final submission in late, and we bombed that year. Don’t get me wrong. I had a blast. I was stoked to be a part of an indie crew, but more importantly, I learned a lot that one weekend just from showing up for 18 hours on a no/low-budget shoot. The principal lesson was to honor your cast and crew and call “wrap” (end of the day/shoot) when you say you will. This goes back to the King of Kings: let your yes be your yes, and your no be your no

Make it easier on your people and be efficient with your time, which really means everyone's time, and that responsibility ultimately falls on you - the director - in an independent, low-budget effort. They are already giving up their time, their talents, and their resources. Yes, gas is a resource. They paid for their gas. Honor their sacrifice. This is what shooting a multitude of shorts will do for you. You don't have to have a rock star library of short films under your belt, but you need to know how to roll when the clock starts, whether that’s day 1 of your feature or day 2 of your short video. To this day, I have managed to stay on schedule through dozens of my shoots all but a few times, and the worst I ever stretched our time was 30 minutes, at most. Respect your crew and your onscreen talents; they have lives and families too.

Chapter TEASER

So you've been writing, you've been shooting the shorts, and finally you decide you're gonna try a full-length or a solid short film or forever regret sitting on your rear wondering why you didn't at least try. Shorts are great, and some of them are impactful, but personally, it be the full-length movies that I love most. I'll always quote Biff Tannen's "make like a tree and get out of here," and I'll always remember Andy Dufresne mailing his senator once, then twice a week asking for funds for the buildout of the prison library (until they finally caved and sent him the funds he requested). There's something unique about that two-hour window - just long enough to leave a lasting impression, just short enough that you don't feel like you've vegged for 5 hours on Netflix. 

Trouble is... you gotta have a teaser - even for a short film; it helps to build momentum. How? Find a few actors, audition them, and go shoot your scene. If you've been shooting shorts for a while, this should be cake for you, and you can edit it in a short amount of time, and poof! Put that video out there! But why? Crowdfunding campaigns on sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo more often than not have a video. Think of it like the trebuchet folks hauled around in the old days when it came time to lay siege to a stone castle, and maybe this example is overkill, but a video on your crowdfunding site is just another tool on the belt for getting the machine going and cracking the surface of this beast you call making a movie. It gives the rest of the world a sneak peek, and its production affords you the opportunity of testing out crew and actors. Bottom line: you need it. 

What? Crowdfunding? That's a topic for our next section. For now, get that teaser going. Call up your crew - start it now. A full-out trailer is hard to come by when you're "living in a van down by the river." Settle for a scene or a short commercial in lieu of the traditional 2-min trailer that maps out your movie (which you can easily assemble in post-production). Chances are you don't have everything lined up for a longer treatment (and by everything, I mean actors, locations, script, etc). Hopefully you're starting way ahead of production with these details and not waiting 'til the last minute. We acted as soon as we had the idea, but we rushed pre-production; thankfully we were spared any mishaps. You might not be so lucky. Allow plenty of time to map out pre-production BEFORE production starts. 

We shot our teaser over the course of a day by the Saltair. It’s this beachy, smelly place outside Salt Lake City, nestled right up against the interstate I-80. The brine shrimp poo (I’m told) fills the air with this musk that sometimes reaches as far into the valley as the Salt Lake suburbs. It was May of 2013, and I hadn’t even finished the script to 12 Til Dusk. All I knew was I had to get something promotional going, so I scrambled through the story that had been juggling around in my head ever since the original western’s version, the one I wrote during my first year of film school at the University of Utah. The original western didn’t feature this idea, but my modern rewrite did. See, a lot of the great stories have this sense of urgency to them. Urgency, when crafted right, keeps the plot going because it’s sustainable conflict and conflict is what propels your story from A to B. For the western, modern though it was, one of the biggest hurdles I faced was the copious amount of costume changes that you normally have in a movie, so when rewriting the story, I realized I needed something connecting to keep the story limited to the span of a few chronological hours and yet maintain tension. I decided my hero Seth would be poisoned. 

It was one of my favorite scenes. The hero winds up on some beach (I grew up in awe of Saving Private Ryan), dazed and confused and with a pulsing pain in this chest and abdomen. A shadowy, foul-mouthed figured would arrive on the scene and immediately be hostile when he found a person there in the middle of his drugs shipment. It takes place about 16 minutes into the story, and it kicks off act 2 with a bang. I ended up reshooting this entire scene by a lake in a small town called Stockton, Utah because the Saltair location was home to too many concerts and attracted lots of attention and casual visitors. When I phoned the marine patrol to shoot the teaser, they were okay with me hauling a 12 gauge out there in the desert. Clearly others had as well - used shells littered the sandy floor. Or was it really sand? Again, the shrimp poo story is what a lot of locals stick to and maybe it’s true, but I’ve never looked into it. It looks like sand and smells like something fierce; that’s all I know. When I called the officials a second time to shoot the real scene (and this time around, my actor Marcus would have a full beard), they hit me with the red tape and a 60-day turnaround to any sort of permit request. Guys, gals, I’m an indie filmmaker. You are too or some sort of craftsman where some measure of rebellion is the norm. Take that word with a grain of salt. By rebel, I mean you have to innovate. You have to think outside the box, and you have to take “no” in stride. When it comes to lugging around guns as props in a movie, especially in this post 9-11 culture we live in, I wasn’t about to show up a second time, not without the parent blessing of the local authorities. But you have to be rebellious. You get a no? You go elsewhere. If you’re told your art is too cliché, too niche, you pack your bags and try elsewhere. Seth Godin went to 900 or more publishers to release one of his books, and they all said no before he finally found the one. You just have to go elsewhere, which is why we ended up in Stockton, Utah.

Shooting outdoors can be tricky, especially when being blown away by gale force winds. Sunscreen, coolers of food & water, a tarp/tent, a blimp and cat tail for your mic, and shooting at midday all work together to mitigate the challenges of shooting outside. Pack 'em up. We brought in a DP/camera operator and a makeup artist who ultimately did not join us for the real shoot. They're both very talented individuals, but time, family, and other commitments pulled them away from the longer project, but we're thankful to have had them along on the teaser. And that's a benefit of being in this sort of indie outfit: you get to try some talent out, figure out what works, and if nothing else, extend your network that much further. We got to the Saltair beach around 9 am and we wrapped and were out of there by 6 pm. I was working with a DP that I had never worked with before and so our chemistry was developing on the spot. Again, great guy who I have respect for, but we didn’t vet one another out before the shoot so the whole process took about 7 hours from start to finish instead of the 2-3 hours it would have taken under other circumstances. That’s my fault and no one else’s.

If you’re told your art is too cliché, too niche, you pack your bags and try elsewhere.

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The edit took another day or so. It was a whole scene! What would normally have been a 3 minute scene boiled down to 30 seconds, give or take. TEASER. There’s - reason we use that word. It’s a promo. You’re not promoting some mundane household item like bleach. It’s not a TV spot for Henry Ford’s new pickup. Get your crowd pumped. Show them what you’re up to, but for Pete’s sake, don’t show them a 3-minute clip. We are in the age all of things instant. Attention spans diminish by the day. Keep that in mind.

Chapter FUNDS

Money.

Try as you might, it is impossible to spend $0 on a movie shoot, particularly a full-length story. Even if it's just money spent on gas in getting from one place to another for your shoot - you need to raise funds. Period. Shooting for your small business? Factor in the indirect costs. Look at the opportunity cost of devoting time to the video instead of your usual work. Every video costs money to make. I laugh when I hear folks say they made a “zero-budget” film. Even this book’s title is a farce. There is no such thing because every product or service can be broken up into direct, indirect, and opportunity costs, and even then, I’m simplifying the process. You’ll burn through at least one of these costs with any creative endeavor, not just film/video.

First, start reading entrepreneur.com. Commit 5 minutes a day. Start small. Learn how to lead. Find information on finances. I’ve been reading it daily for over 2 years now because film and business are two sides of the same coin if you really want to grow a as a filmmaker. But I don’t want to do the producer-y stuff. I get it. But a director is a leader, and a leader needs to know the nuts and bolts of the ship. Head on over to the Entrepreneur site or download their app. Browse their articles on crowdfunding. This can be done by way of a simple search on their site: "crowdfunding." Consider reading a related stub from the folks over at nofilmschool.com. Bottom line, there is a handful of new legislation about crowdfunding, so it's your responsibility to be informed. Remember, whatever money you pull in from crowdfunding needs to be treated as revenue.

But we need to pause and talk about revenue. Revenue? Now you’re getting all business-y on me again. Well, why do you think business folks got behind film very quickly in the early days? It’s because it’s a powerful medium for communicating. The director (you) is simply a piece of the puzzle. Your jigsaw puzzle has many other roles in it, even if you are filling all 27 of them. Consider this: do you have a house? A car? Do you have anything you can’t part with in a court of law? The retired businessmen and women in the Las Vegas Score chapter have a running joke: there are more lawyers in Vegas than in the entire country of Japan. Driving 5 minutes around town illustrates this. Billboards lurk around every corner like churches in the south, promising cash for accidents, injuries, and spilled coffee. So do a personal inventory. Do you want to risk losing your house? If not (can you hear the Billy Mays infomercial yet), then you need to incorporate as a business in your city and state, and let Uncle Sam know too while you’re at it. The reality is of course if you’re a small timer, your odds of running into a lawsuit are slim, but they do happen, else Glen Lerner wouldn’t have such a pearly white grin.

Read: bootstrapper... yes business... What? Did you really think filmmaking was just about storyboarding and coffee meetings? Buck up slugger. Sides, if you're already creating shorts, eventually, you're gonna get noticed, which means you'll do a heap of wedding videos, music videos, bigger gigs - you name it.  Get paid, and get paid the right way with a bit of separation between you and your personal assets once the work starts rolling in or you set out to do a feature. We live in a broken world that’s in need of grace; unfortunately, we have folks who would love nothing more than to sue you over split hairs. So don’t panic. You can set up an LLC with your spouse or other trustworthy person. For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, it’s fairly simple actually. An LLC represents a limited liability company. They are the easiest form of a business to launch outside of the sole proprietorship. If you’re married, I recommend setting up an LLC with your spouse or going solo - you’re already married; you don’t need a 2nd partner. Now, if you're making a feature movie, hopefully you have a team in mind, and hopefully one of those teamsters is your closest confidant and best friend, so it may be worth exploring the idea of incorporating as a multi-member LLC (fancy talk for “more than one person in the business”). If you’re just running and gunning as a casual filmmaker or you already have the parent blessing (i.e. protection) of a business or a nonprofit (e.g. a church), then all this business jargon is optional. Fast forward as needed.

Here's a breakdown of how it would work for a bootstrapper in SLC, UT back in the summer of 2013. Every state is different. For Nevada, you have to start with the Silver Flume. But for Utah, it was (and may still be) a bit of running around.

1.    Apply for an EIN (done through the IRS website). This is free - don't fall for the gimmicky sites that try to sell this feature to you.

2.    Draft up articles of organization. Find a mentor who is running a successful LLC, and ask to be walked through this portion if needed and ask for a copy to model.

3.    Go to the Chamber of Commerce located downtown, approx 2nd E and 3rd S - register your LLC with the state by paying about $70 and providing articles of organization. Again, this advice applies to Salt Lake City, certainly in the summer of 2013. In 2015, Nevada has a lot of infrastructure invested into their online portal Silver Flume so that you don’t have to burn gas to go bug a government John or Jane.

4.    Go to the Business Office for your city and file for a home biz license, 'less of course you guys already have a dedicated office space to fire up your biz at (different for every city) - I went to South SLC 'cause that's where my apt was located. I've since moved and set up home base in West Valley City, UT followed by Las Vegas (twice) and then unincorporated Clark County (nameless parts in the Las Vegas valley).

5.    Once all of this is done, you will need to open a biz checking account (which you can do at any bank or credit union - shop around) to make sure all the funds for your movie are not in your personal account (or anyone's), but in the business that is spearheading the project. I used the name “Prior Service Productions” from my time at film school with veterans from pretty much every branch of the military.

6.    Bear in mind, by opening a biz, you are now a biz owner. That means taxes are involved at some point (which I'm still learning as well, and always will be - the IRS has more to say on this than Arlo Guthrie did about Alice’s Restaurant). 

The reason you do all this is to PROTECT you. A lawsuit-hungry thespian is more likely to hit a wall if you have an LLC running your production than if you're a regular ol' Joe Schmoe with a sole proprietorship (where personal & business funds coexist in the same account). Be wise as serpents - again, find a business mentor in your community and start having lunch with that person, watch football together, develop a relationship. These are the kinds of friends and influences you will need in your life to

a) have the guts to bootstrap and

b) grow.

Iron sharpens iron. John Lee Dumas of entrepreneuronfire.com always goes back to the observation that we are the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with. Do you need funds for a feature? Of course you do. Better than acquiring the funds, and you should make this a daily part of your prayer, is knowing how to manage God’s resources in a Godly way. I wasn’t praying that prayer when I shot my feature, but ever since launching Church Films, it has pretty much been a daily prayer. God, teach me how to multiply your resources and honor you. Remember, money is not the root of all evil - it is the love of money that is the root of all evil. Money is a tool. Ask for wisdom and ask believing that He is faithful to give you that wisdom. Then seek the counsel and company of others who will mentor you in this area, be it bootstrapping, fundraising, or video/filmmaking.
 

The difference between the creative and the consumer is often perseverance.

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After two rounds of crowdfunding for the feature 12 Til Dusk, I had nowhere near the amount of money I had sketched out, and in hindsight, I was shooting for that distant planet Anne Hathaway landed on instead of the moon where the Apollo needed to land. I’ll be honest because like you, I don’t like it when vague generalities are offered. You’re in the trenches too. So here we go. We were shooting for $16,000 or thereabout, and we wound up getting from multiple sources a grand total of about $5000-$6000. Did we really need $16,000? Nope. We needed much less to go and shoot the film. It was the microbudget’s microbudget. We needed money for gas, food for the crew, and a handful of props and film gear (assets). I didn’t blow the budget on a spiffy new camera. We picked up a B-camera in the form of a Canon Rebel T4i because we had to meter out our limited budget on what was needed. In a later chapter, you’ll understand better what I mean when it comes time to talk shop (i.e. camera gear). 

Map out what you need and go for that. Did you catch that? MAP OUT WHAT YOU NEED. Not what you want. Then, if it’s in God’s will, keep asking for that need. We wrapped up a Kickstarter campaign to create short videos for recovery and care ministries in September of 2015. Remember Anne Hathaway in Interstellar in the ending? Yeah that turkey would have been the $40,000 we were hoping to get with piles of ministries signing up for subscriptions of digital and physical copies of recovery-themed videos. Did we get past the Earth’s orbit? Barely. We made it to the moon because that’s what we needed for the crowdfunding to succeed, ultimately. All glory goes to God. The September Kickstarter campaign didn’t have a quarter of its funding until the next to last night. It fully funded with about 25 hours to go on the clock. I had all but given up, but not in a pouty way. Days before the funding ended, I came to terms with what I can control and what I can’t control (the former often being an illusion). I put my trust in the Lord that win, lose, or draw, I was going to trust and obey.

Easier said than done Jacob. I agree. I had my dark days. You will too. I’m sure there’s a nice, inverted bell curve somewhere that shows the activity surrounding the average crowdfunding campaign. There is a lot of excitement in the first few days and then it’s deadsville and then there’s a stellar finish to bring it on home (or nothing at all towards the end). Put your hope not in numbers - use them as a tool, but nothing more. Remember the God we serve is a God who uses the few to influence the many. Look at the story of Esther, Gideon, or even the 12 disciples. All throughout the Good Book, you see examples of small numbers in the face of (seemingly) insurmountable odds. Look at the story of the lost sheep. There was/is more celebration in heaven over the one sheep than the other 99 who were/are more squared away. God wants our entire faith. He wants us to put our faith and hope in Him; numbers are temporary anyways. Think about it. Every dollar represents a finite amount. Why would you trust something so temporary? It’s tough. I realize that. I have my days even now where I question God “where is the money going to come from?”

Today, choose to trust the King. Our hope is in the promise of life we have in Christ. Jesus is our hope. Surrender to him, and pray it several times. “Your will be done. How can I be a part of what you’re doing today? How can my ministry be a part of what you’re doing today? How can this video bring glory to You? How can this film impact the lives of others?” Find peace in Him. He authored it after all. If the crowdfunding doesn’t work, guess what - Edison would not write you off as a failure (and God certainly doesn’t). He’d agree that you just found one way that doesn’t work. Try again. Go to the throne of grace and thank our Father for shaping your life. He is developing you. Do you think David started off as a stud? Or Joseph? Not even close. Both guys had years of development before they were handed the keys to the city. David wasn’t even included in the roundup with Sammy and the other sons of Jesse. He was a warrior shepherd fighting bears and beasts, and then he was a servant in Saul’s court: he played the harp to soothe the fiery King Saul. Joseph was trafficked to Egypt over a little envy. He wound up in prison because his integrity wouldn’t let him bend in the face of temptation. But you already know how their stories turned out. Endure. You need to endure. The difference between the creative (artists, entrepreneurs, church planters, etc) and the consumer is often perseverance. God’s always shaping you, and His timing - while perfect - just doesn’t make sense half the time with our limited human understanding. Remember this Proverb: the horse is made ready for battle, but victory is the Lord’s. This was my battle cry with my crowdfunding campaign in September of 2015, and it’s my battle cry going back into the fight with crowdfunding any time (speaking of, here's how to raise $8,567 for your film). What’s yours?

Chapter AUDITIONS

Hopefully by now you’ve assembled a crew. One man cannot do it alone, nor should he, a mistake I still learn from! So your script is done, as was in my case, mostly done. I had penned the entire full-length as a period western. When I finally had the guts to shoot my western, I realized I needed to modernize the story. I’m working on this exercise daily, as there is no “can’t” in the vocabulary of a filmmaker, unless it is immediately followed up by “can’t right now,” and even then, that’s dangerous rhetoric. Having said that, at the time, I was convinced I couldn’t shoot a real period piece given the wardrobe, the sets, etc, so I scrambled after watching El Mariachi to re-imagine the events of my western into a modern setting. Needless to say, the script was 100% finished only days before shooting. I hear Quentin Tarantino does this with his scripts, even while in production. A little reworking here, a little reworking there, just to make it right. I don’t advocate this method; rather, you shouldn’t beat yourself up if this is the case when you shoot your short or feature film.

I don’t think Robert Rodriguez is the rule when it comes to limited resources. I think he’s the exception. He has a gift and a drive to match that gift. Every one of us who picks up a camera does as well; we all have drive - we may just take longer to catch up. I saw that time and time again when I was teaching math. Some people are just high-rep learners, and that’s just how they are wired. If we could live for 250 years, we might be able to catch up to ole Rodriguez. But whether you’re precocious with your 50 mm lens, or you really have to dig deep to find that creative spark, it doesn’t matter. Try, try, try.

What a preamble. Okay, you’re setting up your auditions. I highly recommend going somewhere neutral as opposed to inviting scores of strangers over to your house. For us, it was the fine guys at Innovative Inks. They are our screenprinting friends; they’ve worked with us and served with us on many different platforms. It’s just like any enterprise - you start with your personal network and grow from there. Innovative Inks is a silkscreen and embroidery shop in South Salt Lake City, and we used their shop a number of times in the film, some more obvious than others. They were first, however, the hosts to our auditions.

Bring out some light refreshments for yourself and any others you invite with you, block people into 20-minute blocks, and schedule, schedule, schedule. 30 minutes are too long, and 15 minutes just ain’t gonna cut it. This will allow you some time to connect with people. Don’t be that turd director that doesn’t make eye contact with the folks auditioning. Smile, suppress your introvertedness (if you have it), and engage them. Thank them for their time, and mean it. If you’re going to direct these people, you best start treating them with some respect. Some of these guys and gals will sacrifice much for the sake of your film (and even after the film with IMDB pages and referrals), and some of them will challenge you in ways you can’t even imagine. Some of them you’ll build up and get them started on their latent talents. Filmmaking is a people business, and if you’re not comfortable with that, you might need to stick to stocking the backroom at Target. And don’t forget; don’t forget. You have to know their availability during your shoot dates. This is CRITICAL. Know what their availability is and treat it like the footage you’ll be backing up. Preserve, save, preserve, share with your team, and backup the original info so nobody accidentally deletes the info on Google Drive.

The second day we had auditions, my wife and I set up shop at Innovative Inks, and we get a call from my friend Jorge. It was rather cryptic, but it was clearly a cry for help. My wife is a superhero, so she drove back to our apartment complex where Jorge also lived. It turns out he was loopy (and this was coming from a guy who to this day, wakes up at 4 am to study and jog, and then goes to bed by 8 pm - faithfully). Okay, that’s putting it lightly. My wife knew something was amiss, and in one of the rare instances of purpling (a term we coined for our youth group for a guy and a girl spending one-on-one time), she drove him to the ER. He was passing a kidney stone and was in excruciating pain. He was delirious, and there’s no telling what would have happened had she not gone.

That left me by myself for a chunk of the auditions that day. Not ideal by any means, but the moral of the story is try to block a team of three or more (including yourself) to handle auditions for a feature film. If it’s a short film, you be the judge. If you’re putting together an internal video for your business, you won’t be holding auditions, so jump to the next chapter. 5 or more seems excessive because then you’re inventing gopher jobs for that extra wheel. Few are ready and willing servants when it comes to gophering - we’re human after all. That’s not an excuse to try though, mind you. Our Father gave us the perfect example of servant leadership in His Son, so let’s keep that in mind when working in a capacity that’s beneath you.

Back to the auditions. Some folks will show up early, others late, and some not at all. I’m convinced whether it’s parties, film shoots, or Sunday school classrooms, anytime you invite a large number of people (10 or more), at least 1/3 will not make it. I swear it’s a consequence of the law of large numbers, so I call it as such. The same is true with auditions, though the number is smaller, but nonzero. In other words, PEOPLE WILL BAIL. At this level, you will see very quickly with budget limitations (i.e. in many cases, no budget as the title of this book suggests) that there are some folks that are in it for the money. Others have lower thresholds of risk. I get it. I do. I’ve had to turn down a number of jobs because the return on investment (ROI) wasn’t worth it. Suck it up, don’t take it personally, and move on.

Now, I prayed about this film. I did, and I sensed God saying it was a fork in the road, and in retrospect, I can clearly see that. I didn’t have to do the film, and at the same time, I could. I picked the latter, fueled by this inner drive to be the next Rodriguez. Whatever your motivation, don’t let it be about money. Especially at this level - keep in mind they say about 98% of independent films do NOT recuperate their budget. Don’t let that stop you either, just realize you will be in this heart, mind and soul, so it can’t be about money. If you love telling stories and don’t quit (at anything), go for it. Set up your audition space, hit up your local networks (Facebook, talent agencies, etc.), and be transparent. You’ll be surprised at just how contagious your passion can be. People that want to be a part of filmmaking just as much as you do really exist. They do. The worst thing you can do is not ask. The saying goes you know what happens when you quit. You don’t know what could happen when you keep trying

Chapter SORTING

You taped your auditions, right? Of course you did! Now back them up. Really, you should make backing up your footage a practice. DO IT. Routinely. It’s 2015 now, and there are more cloud storage options these days. Amazon is a fine pack mule. Back it up on your hard drive. I still have a USB 3.0 drive from two summers ago. Half a TB for $70 at the time. It’s slower than thunderbolt, but it still works. No excuses, just back up your footage.

Two eyes are better than one here. I asked my wife be the casting director for the film. The reality is you can’t and shouldn’t shoulder everything. If you do, you will fail. Do an ego check and find people who are more talented than you and get them onboard, and it should start with a casting director to be that extra set of eyes. I used the same strategy on our short film Fight The Battle Together. It’s not that I don’t love people - I do and I’m very extroverted - but with your actors, they deserve (even on the most microbudget of efforts) someone they know will be their point of contact, their go-to-guy or gal, their upline. This need a champion in their court, someone who will be able to shoot the breeze with them when you’re off coaching your DP on a scene (camera gal/guy). You will be working with these guys and gals directly, make no mistake, and don’t get me wrong, you can and should be building those relationships when they’re in the trenches with you. What I am saying is they need to know they have someone they can go to when the going gets tough and you’re pulled in many different directions. Try as you might, you can’t love everyone and do all of the other 965 things you’ll need to work on. Make the casting director that person who will stand in the gap, and their job is to cultivate time and talent, and more importantly, be that person that will validate and show actors love. Yes, I think a casting director should be primarily concerned with the morale and welfare of the talents. Here is an example of the lasting importance of a casting director - mind you, your casting director on a microbudget movie, video shoot, music video, etc. might wear a few other hats. Think of it as a role, and less of a person, but one that must be accounted for. My wife, as I already mentioned, served in this capacity. Because she was that champion, people knew they could trust her and go to her in the downtime in between takes. My wife Shalom is amazing. She naturally cares for those around her. It’s not even a thought for her; it’s more like a reflex. Later, during post-production when tempers flared up, an actor let me know we weren’t on good terms, but that it was all directed at me, and not my wife. “Your wife is great,” the actor said. So even though I had a falling out with an actor, my wife was respected and remembered because of the care she brought to this person and our people in general. She’s always known for that, film or childcare or ministry - that’s how she treats people. 

Find that innate caretaker. That’s who you want in this role of Casting Director. Or recruit that person who is a natural servant - or both. It is a service position, so bear that in mind. For me, it was our friend Tay Tay that we met through church. She serves where needed, and while she might not have picked a casting director role, she did it wonderfully because she is one of those rare people that can handle several projects simultaneously. 

You’re sorting through the auditions, and your casting director is (and should) have the final say in the selections. They’re getting to know the talents more than you are at this point, and they know your story, so let go. You’ve delegated, now delegate. Trust their instincts, offer input, but leave the final say-so with them. It’s worked 2/2 times so far. In the past, when I tried to juggle everything, I did not do as well (of course), and my efforts were too divided across everything that goes with being the captain on the ship. Get through your auditions, pen down the ones you like, and thank everyone that came out. Affirm people. Find what they did well, even if they didn’t make the cut, and thank them for their time. Your team’s job at this point is to validate, and every creator, be it an actor or a poet has a stake in the creative process. Constructive criticism is fine, but don’t leave out what they are doing well. And please, don’t offer the generic “I’d love to work with you in the future.” I’m guilty of that, and actors are jaded by it. It’s heartless and super generic. Just lock that phrase up and throw away the key. Try something like “Thanks for coming out. I won’t be using you for this role because we need a quieter, older interpretation of this character. I think your comic timing is your strength, and I hope you never quit. This industry is tough, and we all face doubt and uncertainty. But if you press on, same as me, if we press on, we’ll make it.” That’s a little more human than just “thanks, hope to work with you in the future.” No you don’t. Don’t lie to them. Again, I’m guilty of this, and I apologize to all of my past, present, and future talent. The work God started in me, He is continuing, same as what He is doing in you.

Chapter CONTRACTS

Use them. You’re an LLC right now, and if you have no budget, you can discern who is a volunteer and who is a deferred payment. But use contracts. There are a number of sites that offer some works to get you started. Google is your friend here, and I’ve used Shake Law, and I also use Cuda Sign for digital signatures. The site Docracy is a large collection you can peruse too. Use a good ole fashioned handshake while you’re at it. We’re wired for connection; we just are. A handshake, a high-five, or a hug - whatever the case may be - are why we’ll never lose brick ‘n mortar shops, no matter how big Amazon gets. But the point here is that you need to have things in writing. It’s for your protection, and it’s for theirs. Some folks gloss over them. Others will take them to their lawyers for a look-through. Show grace and patience, and don’t be pesky like a used car salesman from those side-of-the-road dive shops. Seriously. Remember, respect is huge. You will have fallouts with some of the folks on your shoot. It happens. But what you can do is remember to serve and respect those around you. Do I always get this right? Of course not. But it’s a daily growth process, one that you should be taking to your grave as well. This industry is especially formed around relationships, just like any community, so be respectful, don’t burn bridges, and lead well.

      But I’m scared of asking them to sign a dotted line. Why? Examine the root of that fear, put it before the Lord, and then together, crush it. The good ole book tells us that fear is a huge root of a lot of brokenness in our world. The moment you decided to get in front of a camera or use it to tell someone else’s story is the moment you decided to fight the critics and the naysayers anyways. That’s huge! Celebrate the fact that you are pushing back against fear, and you are building your confidence! Remember, a contract is something that protects both of you, and it is in that light that often I will ask folks for their John Hancock. I’ll say, “we want to protect both of us, and if there are any questions, I believe in total transparency, so please ask.” Most folks, if they understand the vision (what is your goal, who is your audience, and how will you serve this film/video to them), and if they’ve bought into it, they’re not worried about money, and they’re going to give you their all. Remember to reciprocate that as well when the time comes. A little forward thinking doesn’t hurt here. Entrepreneur Dale Partridge says you should be focusing on how to make a million lives better. You don’t want to get wrapped up with tomorrow (worry about today, it has enough troubles of its own), but some strategic forward thinking is necessary from time to time, especially when it is on behalf of others. You’re making contracts now to protect the integrity of the persons of this project so that ultimately, you are able to serve those millions of people. Why settle for 300 views? Trust that God can use 300 views (or 300 guys, like Gideon), but go boldly before the throne of grace and ask for more. If it’s in His will, if your heart is truly for the things He has a heart for, then you just need to ask like the good book says in James 4. Ask for the project to impact a million lives, and then carry that goal with you everywhere you go. A contract to further that goal is just another step in the journey.

      Still have that deer in the headlights feeling? Fight it. Visit those sites earlier in the chapter and get a move on it. I’m a bit of a bulldozer when it comes to tasks, and it is by the grace of God that I am no longer a math teacher, but a Son of the Risen King. I am no longer a budding filmmaker, but a dearly beloved child of the Almighty. My identity is found in Christ alone, and His validation is enough for when the world tries to tell me to quit. Don’t bother. Put on that full armor of God every day (if you’re married and/or with kids, you especially need to be doing this anyways). The ole devil and his fallen angels want you to quit. Of course they do. If you’re acting on something God put in your heart, you can bet you’re going to run into some heavy shellacking. Dig deep in the foxhole and press on. Take these steps incrementally if you must until you can start running. Always, always, always invite Him into your battles. Something as simple as God, I need Your help right now. He’s big enough.

      If you’re still not sold on contracts, here’s a story. I wanted a bar so badly in my microbudget feature. I needed one. My antagonist had his “saloon,” and it was his HQ. He did everything from his bar. Trouble is, I was just a 26, almost 27-year-old kid with an LLC, zero revenue, and zero budget for locations. I scrambled, and I scrambled some more to find a bar. I even started shooting before landing the right place. I narrowed my options down to two, which wasn’t hard. The two were the only ones I could shoot at. One of them was way out in Stockton, where we were already making several trips for this shoot, and at 45 miles one way, it was just too much to put on my actors when we needed three, back-to-back days to shoot inside a bar with several people each day. Thankfully, the proprietor of that Stockton bar was running more of a mini Cracker Barrel. Sure, it had bar seating, but it also had a whole section for family dining. Yikes. It didn’t have the low lighting or the neon lights that make a bar a bar. What sealed the deal for me is the conversation I had on the phone with this owner.

      “What’s this film going to be rated?”

      “It’s a western, and we’ve got some language and some violence, but the language alone would make it an ‘R.’”

      “Well that’s a shame it would have to be an ‘R.’”

      Don’t tell a kid who hasn’t learned how to field input how to tell his story. He won’t listen. I certainly didn’t. I still don’t a lot of times, but daily reading of Proverbs has allowed me to grow a great deal in this area. Would I have adjusted my salty language to make it friendlier to a wider audience if I started over from scratch today? Yes. I certainly toned down all of the violence in post, following Christopher Nolan’s example from his Batman series. But I kept the language intact, and hindsight is always 20/20 anyways. At that time, I wasn’t about to let anyone, not some country bumpkin or Oprah Winfrey tell me how to tell my story. Be open to input. Always be open to input. You will be a better leader for it.

      All that to say, the other option was a bar in the downtown SLC area. The owner met with me a week into my shoot. After I finished shooting one day, I floored it through rush hour traffic to meet up with him. I was late because of a massive police shakeup clogging the roads just outside his establishment, and yet, the owner still had the grace to sit with me for a few minutes to hear my vision. He looked over my contract that I had adjusted from a template and said to me “I’m no lawyer.” So he grabbed a pen and taught me an invaluable lesson. If two parties are present, just write in whatever you want, and sign and date it, both of you. He wanted me to agree to “if you break it, you fix it.” Simple enough. I signed, and so did he, and I asked him if he was running an LLC or an S-corp or what-have-you, just making conversation but also hoping to glean some wisdom from him. He said he was set up as an S-corp and that the licensing (for liquor) in Salt Lake was asinine. You have to understand. Salt Lake City is a very conservative town where even wine is something you can’t buy at the grocery store and most shops are closed on Sundays. This guy was one of the rare people that grew up outside of the influence of the church there and probably migrated to the Salt Lake valley sometime in his adult life. Cool cat though - I really enjoyed his no-frills attitude to business. Even with guns and knives as our props, he let me use his establishment. That man was a life saver. We got to use his establishment for three straight days and it worked like a charm. We didn’t break anything, we cleaned up well after ourselves, and hopefully, he even had faith to let some other indies use his place in the aftermath of our shoot. All of this was possible because of a simple contract and the bull-headed approach I took to the shoot, same as you have to do with yours. Can’t find the right place? Ask again. Ask 60 times if you have to. Don’t quit searching and get your location in writing from THE owner.

Chapter GOING LIMITED

      Scarcity is what drives the economy, or so your college texts will tell you. I’m not talking about a buying and selling relationship here. I’m talking about the LLC mentioned in the chapter FUNDS. I want to circle back to the LLC for a brief minute and add some additional thoughts. A lot of business folks will say getting the LLC and such is unwise if you’re testing out an idea. They call it the “wantrepreneur” syndrome or some juxtaposition like that. I.e. you want to be an entrepreneur. Let’s talk about why you should get the LLC protection if you’re doing a feature film. If you’re just cranking out a short film (or a music video or a corporate video), you can skip this section for now. The reality is, you’re pretty safe unless you already have a huge following, in which case you probably already have some sort of legal entity to separate you from what you do.

      That’s the crux of it. An LLC is a way to separate you from the operations of the business (in this case, film). For me in the summer of 2013, it made a lot of sense. I was working with a lot of talent that I had never met before and I wanted to shoot for the moon. I was buying a house. The old guys at the Score chapter here in Las Vegas always joke about sole proprietors (essentially, for purposes of this book, anyone doing business solo and using their same checking account for business as they do everything else in life) running the risk of losing everything in a lawsuit. The folks who demand blood over spilled coffee might come for your house, your wife, your car, your dog, your cat, etc. Again, that’s the running joke at the score chapter. If you’re starting ANYTHING that has some kind of scope of reaching and impacting others, I highly recommend Score. I’m not endorsed by Score, but I will tell you this. <startplug> The counseling appointments are free, the mentors there have been in the trenches, and for military veterans, the seminars on Cash Flow management, social media marketing, trademarks vs. patents, et. al. are FREE. </endplug>

      So you can see where it made sense for me to incorporate in the state of Utah. I did the same when I moved down to Vegas with every intention of continuing this trade. It wasn’t until August of 2014 that God made a very clear invite to create space for storytellers who follow Christ to share their gifts and the Gospel with the rest of the world. In early 2015, the old LLC became Church Films LLC, which it is to this day. The LLC is easy to set up, and it can be a solo operation. A business license costs money, but again, what is the scope of your project? If it’s a short film and you read this far, kudos, but you’re probably off the hook. If you’re any other kind of artist or dreamer, I say validate your idea and when you gain critical mass, then it’s time to revisit the idea of incorporating. An LLC is an easy business to start. You can always file to change that status later. I won’t spell that out for you because you’re a problem-solver. The moment you create, you start solving problems and wearing 27 different hats (or more). A little search engine with the most web traffic in the world can help you get started on how to incorporate, change your business structure, and so on so forth. Again, I recommend Entrepreneur to get started. I’m not endorsed by them either; I’m just an ardent reader. Even if you’re not doing a feature film, Entrepreneur should be a part of your daily digest. Painting? Do it for God. Read entrepreneur and learn creativity hacks. Coding? Do it unto the Lord and not men. Read entrepreneur and find ways to boost productivity. Writing your first book? Read entrepreneur and learn how to market your book. 

Chapter PROPS

Okay, let’s talk tangible set pieces aka props. Do yourself a favor. Highlight the props as they appear in your scene a different color than the rest of the text. But Jake, my script won’t look as glossy and hifalutin if I mix my font colors. Yeah, I thought the same thing too but the reality is you’re wearing 27 different hats and you’re the one who wrote the script, so do yourself a solid. Use multiple colors.

  The benefit of my microbudget western being a modern western as well as being told over the course of a day or two allowed us to minimize our wardrobe changes and props needed. Each character had a few key props (one or two) that were theirs. So each time an actress or an actor joined us, that character’s prop was required. I learned this simple device from Rodriguez in his El Mariachi movie: keep all the gear to a minimum. Even if your story doesn’t take place over the course of a few hours or a few days, look to cut corners on the amounts of wardrobe and props your characters will need.

  Alas, the purchase of a few key props is inevitable. Raise some funds however you can - if you have zero audience up until this point (or even a hundred followers), you’re likely going to wind up like me and miss the boat entirely with crowdfunding. It wasn’t until the summer of 2015 that I was a part of two funded campaigns to the tune of $1,000 and $4400 - something I did with my Maker and a TEAM of people. For our western 12 Til Dusk, it was just my wife and a few close friends and family members who supported the campaign (which we did two of through indiegogo.com). If it hadn’t been for those close supporters, we wouldn’t have seen a cent. I simply thought that the sage counsel offered to Wayne and Garth applied to crowdfunding: if you build it, they will come. It’s simply not true. Banish that fantasy to the farthest corners of your mind. Crowdfunding takes work, and it’s merely a virtual check register.

  Regardless of whether you use crowdfuding or coach diving for loose change, you will buy props. Here is what I recommend: don’t. Borrow. Borrow as much as possible. Sign contracts if you need to. I had to buy blanks and a gun or two since it was a western - not items you can “borrow.” In that case, the ole pawn shop is your best bet. I don’t recommend going into debt over props (let alone anything other than your house); just recognize you will need to invest some cash into them, but you should only do so after you’ve narrowed down your list of what you absolutely need. I still have a Marshal badge we picked up off of Amazon.

  Jacob, I’m not making a film or a video - what am I supposed to glean from this? I was always asked as a math teacher, what is this good for? I always told the kiddos PROBLEM-SOLVING. In this case, I can promise you this. Whatever your craft is, you will be wearing multiple hats (27 to be exact). You will be asked lots of questions. You will lead others. You will solve problems, sometimes with little to no warning. That’s just the nature of creating something slash leading a project. Have grit. Keep your faith in the King of Kings, and don’t quit. If it’s a painting, you’ll need elaborate objects from time to time (Craigslist is a good place to find items - use caution - meet buyers only in public places). If you’re an ice sculpture artist, you’ll need new chains and a North Face jacket. Whatever your craft is, you’ll need props or equipment that make up a part of the assembly. In the business world, they say these items fall into your COGS or cost of goods sold account. Did you buy a music track for your IOS app? That’s a part of your COGS account. Did your album have paid studio time? That’s a part of the album’s COGS. I myself am learning accounting as I write this book, so I am by now means a seasoned Fortune 500 CPA, but I do know that we all have props in our respective trades. Just have a little more common sense than yours truly. I needed a 12 gauge shotgun, and I hauled 45 miles across town on my motorcycle to get it. It was long and cumbersome, and I barely managed to wrap it in one of those olive drab green Army blankets so I could make my way back home. Don’t ever try that at home young whippersnappers - at 75 miles an hour on the interstates and less-traveled highways, it was not my finest hour.


Bonus: 

There you go. That’s the plan I followed. I started pre-production on my microbudget feature 12 Til Dusk in spring of 2013, and by November of 2014, the super guerilla indie film was done done. I did it by going through these steps outlined in this guide.

I want you to do the same thing.

So I’m giving you several bonus resources to help you.

First, I’m going to give you the first ten chapters as a .pdf. You can pick up the whole ebook in the store, but the first 10 chapters are available to you here in this bonus bundle.

Second, I’ve got a powerful list to walk you through running a video production business if you're brand new to this idea of running video production as a service.

Sound good?

Hit the button below (your email is safe and won't be spammed... promotional offers go out once in a blue moon).



Your turn - when are you shooting your NEXT feature film?

Original release: Sept - Dec, 2015. Re-released Mar 17, 2018.

Jake the film guy

Las Vegas

I want to encourage others and bring honor to the Almighty in everything that I do with film and video. My goal is to take the first 11 minutes of my tv pilot and seek out decision-makers who can further the conversation about developing it into a show. If my team and I can do that, then we can teach 100,000 other microbudget filmmakers how to do the same thing so that we might tell stories of hope to millions. In the meantime, I'm a son of the King, a family man, a lifelong student of film, and the author of two microbudget filmmaking books.