CheapSkate… a one man crew

CheapSkate… a one man crew.

Written by Dave McGone
Did you know that Robert Rodriguez made his first film “El Mariachi” for $7,000? I wonder if RR was making “El Mariachi” today how much he would spend, what with digital filmmaking becoming cheaper and cheaper by the day I’d imagine you could at least half his $7,000 budget. How did he make a film with so little in the budget? He did everything from making squibs to writing the score to selling the picture, and that is how I make my films.

Recently I had a conversation with a fellow filmmaker about our short films, he focused on budget and was very proud of the fact that he had completed his film for just under $5,000. He spoke about how he had bargained everyone down to a cheaper price, it is fair to say that this frugal filmmaker was pretty proud of his achievement. Then he asked me how much I had spent on my film, when I told him that mine cost just $200 I think I saw his jaw hit the floor.

I fielded many questions about how it was possible when you have to pay a crew and feed them, the simple answer is that I am the crew and I did all the work. I don’t have to pay myself and my actors worked for the exposure I promised they would get at film festivals etc, you could try contacting an actors class in your area where I’m sure you’ll find many willing volunteers.

The problem with actors is that they have to eat and drink, your choices are to take a break from filming and bring them somewhere that they can order the most expensive item on the menu, or you can make some sandwiches and cut your costs that way.

When you think about it there really isn’t that much to do on set, you need to rig lighting – which I bought in a DIY store for $40, when the lighting is done you set the camera – which can be anything from a $200 camcorder to $20,000+ professional kit . Finally you must have a sound person, I’m lucky in that my brother is a sound engineer but I know that student sound engineers would be happy to work on your film just for the experience.

Of course cutting back on crew means that you become more than the director, you are now the DP, all of the AD’s, the choreographer and the one who has to keep everyone happy. I won’t lie, it’s tough at first but pretty soon you get used to running the show and you’ll be setting the shot, focusing the camera, smoothing someones hair and giving direction to an uncertain actor all while checking your emails.

I have now made three short films with a total runtime of just under 24 minutes (combined) and I have spent a total of $295, the more astute of you will have noticed that I’m claiming to have made two films for a total of $95, which is only because on the third film and splashed out $65 on lunch for the cast. Take my $295 for 24 minutes of film and think about it for a feature: four times each would mean a budget of $1,180 for a film of 96 minutes. Doesn’t seem so expensive does it?

The one thing I can guarantee if you take on all of the crew work yourself is that there will be no nasty surprises in the editing stage. You’ll have to work hard, and by the end of the shoot you will be in dire need of a couple of lazy days, but it’ll be so worth it when you see that film on a big screen at a film festival.

So out of necessity I made a film for not much money and that was enough to hook me, I was no longer a mere screenwriter I had evolved and grown into a writer/director and I was what I had always wanted to be… a filmmaker. I recommend it to anyone, roll up your sleeves and do all the work, rig the lights, set the scene, play the music, work the camera and call the shots, if nothing else happens then you will appreciate the crew you eventually have all the more.

For me the future is already decided, I’m going to continue on my crazy quest to make movies for as little money as possible and the idea is exciting me more and more each day. I’m crowd funding a little project that I call 3 projects in 1 year, the idea is to make two feature length documentaries and a full length feature film all for the princely sum of $12,000 and all within 365 days. The split is $3,000 each on the docs and $6,000 on the feature but I plan to come in under budget all the same.

For more info about the 3 projects in 1 year idea check out: and follow our progress, it promises to be a crazy year and hopefully we’ll make three brilliant movies that you will find at your local film festival soon!

As for you, count up the money in your piggy bank, get out there and just make films because the more you do the better you’ll get at it.

Dave McGlone is an Irish born a graduate of ScreenwritingU’s Pro Series program, he has written four feature length script one of which was a writing assignment. Dave is the proud writer/director of three short films “Needs”, “Fate” and “Honor of Thieves” of which “Needs” was nominated for Best International Short at the Swansea Bay Film Festival 2010. In 2011 Dave will be attending film festivals all over the world with his two latest shorts all while arranging, shooting and editing three feature length films… And yes, he is slightly crazy!