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The $5,000 FEATURE FILM (14 Great Secrets to No-Budget Movies)

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Anyone can write, produce or direct a feature film, especially with budgets of $5,000 to $1,000,000, once they get realistic and approach their first project maturely.

Below are 14 Filmmaking Secrets or Tricks, not taught at USC, UCLA or NYU, to maximize production value for your first feature film.

(ONE) SCREENPLAY: KISS (Keep-It-Simple-Stupid), 90-pages, 1-location, character driven, dialogue story.

(TWO) SHOOT: 1-Weekend, 2-Day Shoot, 90-minutes, real time (“Rope”, “12 Angry Men”, “Birdman”, “Tangerine”)

(THREE) LOCATION/SET: 1-house, 1-bar, 1-elevator, 1-courtroom, 1-classroom (think you get the point)

(FOUR) GUILDS & UNIONS: You are Independent. Thus, 100% non-union but can hire actors/crew who are in unions

norma-rae-union-sign (Thank you “Norma Rae”. 95-99% of Union (SAG) actors will work Non-Union for an Opening Title Credit)

(FIVE) ACTORS: Offer Opening Title Credits, Non-Union (You are independent. Again can hire Union or Non-Union Actors)

(SIX) CAMERAS: Not Film, Electronic/Digital, 4K, use 2 GoPros, BlackMagics or iPhones.

(SEVEN) SOUND: 1 Soundman. 1-weekend. Lighting can be adequate but Sound must be perfect.

(EIGHT) CREW: 7-8 People, 4-5 Keys (Cinematographer/Shooter, Director, Soundman, Production Designer, Production Manager) & 3 PAs

(NINE) VANS/TRUCKS: Don’t hire 4-year film school grads. Only hire PAs who have a van or pickup. (PAs are called “Gofers” & Need a Van to Go For…)

(TEN) DIRECT: 90-pages, 2-days, real-time script. Mostly Master Shots (“Birdman”). No 2nd Takes. Few Mediums. No Close-ups.

(ELEVEN) DAY/NIGHT: No Exterior-Night scenes. All scenes Ext-Day, Int-Day & Int-Night.

(TWELVE) CATERING: 12-15 people. 3-4 Actors. 7-8 Crew. 2-3 Relatives. Morning (Coffee & Muffins) Lunch (Burgers-n-Fries, Pizza & Souvlaki)

(THIRTEEN) POST/EDIT: Edit 3-weeks, Sound Edit 1-week, ADR & Foley 1-day, Music (original) 


PRODUCER:   $0 (same as you’d pay yourself to produce a short)

WRITER/SCRIPT:   $300-$500 (Cost for Software & 1,000 sheets of paper)

DIRECTOR: $500 (It’s a weekend shoot, who doesn’t want to be paid $500 to direct a feature in 1-weekend)

Casting-3-CattleCall (Got a script. 90-pages. Offering starring roles. You will be inundated with free actors.)

ACTORS/CAST: $400 (4 actors, SAG or Non-SAG at $100 each/weekend). Plus, an Opening Title Credit & great Demo Reel.

***ABOVE-THE-LINE: $1,200-$1,400 

LOCATION/SET:   $200-$400 (1-house or 1-room) for 1-weekend

PROPS/WARDROBE: $300-$500 BBS (Beg-Borrow-Steal) shoot. Wardrobe: Actor’s closet

CAMERAS:  $400 (two 4Ks) for 1-weekend (Likely come with the DP/Shooter you hire.

LIGHTS:  $200-$300 (3-Light, Key-Back-Fill) rental for 1-weekend (just think about Key Light, no time for Back or Fill)

SOUND: $500 (Hire Soundman with own equipment). Your Boom/Mike man will be a PA happy with Burgers-n-Fries

CREW:   $1,500-$2,000 DP ($500), Director ($500), PD ($400), UPM ($400), 3 PAs ($300)

FOOD:  $480-$600 $25-$30/day (Breakfast: Coffee, Muffins & Fruit  Lunch: Burgers-n-Fries & Pizza)

PERMITS:   $0 Yeah, sure (Guerilla Filmmaking)

INSURANCE:  $0 Yeah, sure (Be careful, lenses & microphones disappear)

MISCELLANEOUS:  $0 Yeah, sure (10% of $0 is $0. PAs are always glad to help)

LEGAL/ACCOUNTING: $0 (Yuk Yuk Yuk. You think “Blair Witch” or “Paranormal Activity” had any?)

***BELOW-THE-LINE: $3,580-$4,700

FILM SHOOT-3 (Weekend shoot. 1-Apartment. Guerilla style. 5-7 Crew. Burgers-n-Fries)


***ABOVE-THE-LINE: $1,200-$1,400

***BELOW-THE-LINE: $3,580-$4,700

*** TOTAL BUDGET: $4,780-$6,100 + Post-Production



Yes, I said $5,000 and now adding up a weekend shoot, with two 4k cameras, a skeleton crew, fast food, and 4 actors getting Opening Title Credits, with a script that is shot in real-time for $4,780-$6,100.

However, I know you’re sharp-shooting me now and proclaiming “What about Post? the Editor? Music? Lab?”.

Well you are right. There are at least 5-6 line items that I totally left out and 10-12 line items that I’m sure you can nit-pick, say “how about” or “you forgot” and add some bucks too but the bottom-line is you are no longer thinking $1-2 Million or $2-3 Million or $3-5 Million is the budget for your first feature film.

You are now thinking $5-10 Thousand or $20-30 Thousand or $50-70 Thousand… which is a doable budget and are ready to accomplish a 1-week to 2-week shoot to launch your career.

And now SECRET #14: Have you ever heard that “El Mariachi” was shot-for $20-30 Thousand or “Clerks” or “Blair Witch” was shot-for $20-30 Thousand.

The key phrase is “shot-for”.

For in the Micro-Budget / No-Budget world when a distributor distributes a super low-budget movie they actually like to deflate (aka: make smaller) the budget even more and create a marketable darling concept and state the movie was “shot-for”.

Happy Filmmaking & Welcome to Hollywood,

Dov Simens

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