Independent films work on a smaller budget with limited access to top-of-the-line recording and audio equipment. Still, some obstacles will allow more creativity, a much personal process, and a learning experience in taking your place in the filmmaking industry.

The meaning of an independent film from states, “An independent film is a professional film production resulting in a feature film that is produced mostly or completely outside of the major film studio system.” Creating a film can be seen as a daunting task to some. The idea of formulating a compelling story that will capture the audience’s attention requires a level of skill that some have spent years mastering. The next part is to bring that story to life in physical media to watch, which can be a bit more complex when making an independent film.

Making a movie on this scale allows first-time and veteran filmmakers the opportunity to produce their passion project and flex their innovation muscle. These helpful and insightful tips are the steppingstones in creating your film most effectively and hopefully open the door to new possibilities.


Script: The Power of Your Idea

Every pre-production starts with the script. There are many stories out there waiting to be told, and finding the right for you is the first step. Final Draft, StudioBinder, Movie Magic Screenwriter are some of the top screenwriter software today. A picture can look great, the costume designer can be on point, and the idea might be something fascinating, but if your story makes no sense, then it’s dead in the water. So, writing and re-writing your screenplay as many times to perfect it is key to starting on the right foot.

During an AMA on Reddit, Director Sofia Coppola said, “I think it’s important to tell the stories you want to see and make the films you feel aren’t being made. And to express your personal experience.” Never forget that you’re working with a microbudget, and it’s something to factor in as you write your script. But above all, know your voice and where your story is going.


Storyboarding: Let’s Visualize What You Want

Storyboarding is crucial to your vision coming to fruition. Breaking down your script in this media will help give you, investors, and your crowdfunding patrons—more on that later—a better idea of what you’re trying to accomplish. Many directors of the past and today still use this strategy to set up angles or shots, characters’ positions, and even help showcase the movie’s flow. In addition, there are many storyboard software with different prices to suit your needs.


Get That Money: Financing the Movie

Financing your project will tell you how far your film will go. Film backers have played vital roles in making movies positively and negatively. Film backers can come in the form of friends, family, and those you trust the most with your vision. However, some investors will want to take more control of your independent film than you feel comfortable with, and financing might have to be done through other means.

For example, Director Robert Rodriguez collected $7,000 for his freshman movie, El Mariachi— half of it by participating in experimental clinical drug testing. Fortunately, you don’t have to go that route.

Today, there is Kickstarter or Indigo to secure the funds for your movie. Both crowdfunding services allow you to sell your idea to patrons online, so they may help finance your film. Indigo might be your best bet as the service will enable filmmakers to keep what funds they’ve gathered from the public, even if they fall short of their goal. For example, Jennifer Kent, the director of the critically acclaimed horror film, The Babadook, is a success story via crowdfunding.

Other funding sources include grants, pre-sales, negative pickup deals, tax incentives, and product placement. Remember that you must calculate how much of that budget will go to marketing and possibly distribute it yourself. Your independent movie won’t make waves if no one knows about it.


Production Trail: Organization

Organizing everything from call sheets to release forms and production logs will help your production and crew run smoothly. It never hurts to plan your shot for days or even weeks—if need be. Consider trying out Revolution Entertainment Services’ ProCal to help within that area. This web-based production calendaring software is great to use anytime and anywhere.


Cast Crew: Both Will Help Make a Great Movie

Hiring an experienced, hard-working crew will help you realize your vision. If you’re not an expert director, a professional cinematographer can better aid the film’s look and tone. It’s essential to remember that cast and crew are crucial to the movie and ensure that your staff has worked at your budget level before. Your team needs to consist of professionals who bring creativity, flexibility, and problem-solving skills. It’s your call as a director to see which role behind the scenes will better suit your film, stay on task, and stretch your micro-budget.

Actors can be expensive if you’re using SAG-AFTRA’s low-budget criteria—the current rate per day is $686. That type of price may push your production to search for talent at local theaters or talent database services. is an excellent source of information on finding the right performer for your project.

For more help onboarding your crew, try Revolution Entertainment Services’ ProHire. This software will help you keep track of time cards, break down the union and nonunion state-specific wages, and so much more.


Location, Location, and Location: Scouting for the Right Scene

Shooting on location can be a complicated task. First, you’re going to consider the site’s background and how you can make an area look grander than is allowed for a shoestring budget. Some permits and permissions need to be completed and can be very costly if the location must shut down for your production. Your best bet is to talk to the establishment owner about shooting at their site when there’s little to no traffic or during closed hours. Also, have other location ideas in your back pocket if some fall by the wayside before shooting your scene(s).

The filmmaking process can be a volatile journey, and offer your friends and family another opportunity to help out. People close to you might’ve not been able to contribute to your budget, but they can help by offering their home or business to shoot your scene. Using that opportunity is another excellent way to save as much money as possible.


Action: Filming

Long gone are the days of shooting strictly on film. Digital recording has been able to make a movie bit easier for filmmaking. There are a ton of cameras and other equipment options at your budget’s disposal. Apple has been making filming dreams a reality with their latest iPhone features like “cinematic mode,” designed to help filmmakers shoot and edit footage. Director Steven Soderbergh used an iPhone 8, clip-on Moondog anamorphic lenses, a DJI Osmo stabilizer, and recorded in 4K using the Filmic app for High Flying Bird. South Korean director Park Chan-wook recently made a 21-minute short using an iPhone 13 Pro for Apple and can be seen on the tech company’s YouTube Page.

A massively expensive camera won’t guarantee you the best-looking movie imaginable. However, sometimes the best qualities in filmmaking can fit in the palm of your hand.


Post-production: Close to the Finishing Line

Post-production is a skill many people outside of the filmmaking industry don’t see in action. Editors and sound designers work hard to make your good film look great. Shooting a movie is a series of puzzle pieces needed to be put together to create a cohesive story that will hit the audience the right way. Editing helps by giving the movie’s action and plot a smooth flowing transition from scene to scene. Sound can invoke the proper feel to the story. Bad editing and sound mixing can devalue your movie and make it come off as amateurish. These areas in post-production are sections of your budget that will elevate your film.

It’s a good idea to pay professionals at this crucial stage in your creation—giving it that extra polish can genuinely surpass your expectations.


Film Festivals: The Learning Market

Submitting a finished product to film festivals can be a learning experience. The film festival market is a great place to network your film, sell to investors to help with distribution, get feedback from your peers, and bring recognition. Sundance, Cannes, SXSW, and Toronto Film Festival are top-tier level film festivals. Smaller ones include Slamdance, Beyond Fest, New York Film Festival, and the Austin Film Festival are just some of the other events you can showcase your film. Knowing the genre of your movie can help you decide which festival better suits your needs.


In Conclusion

What you’ve learned while making your independent movie is something that carries on to the next project. You’ve spent this journey building knowledge and new relationships with like-minded folks that can be brought on board for your next production. So one thing to think about while you make another voyage into your next film project is to keep going and learn from that as well. Moonlight director, Barry Jenkins, delivered an excellent motivation keynote at 2018’s SXSW.

Jenkins declared:

“Being talented is not enough. Making a wonderful film is not enough. You kind of have to just keep making the work, and in some way, you just have to have faith that as the work gets better, as the skills get better, somehow, not that the industry will come, but you will find your place. You will find a place to apply those skills, and I think, most importantly, be fulfilled both financially and spiritually in the work.”

It’s just a little something to recall as you head to your next filmmaking venture.