How to Produce a Micro-Budget Film

By: Dan Benamor, Voyage Producer 

In film, there may be no key creative more marginalized than the screenwriter.

Screenwriters are fired and re-hired, rewritten and written out, and generally cede power to the director, producers, studio executives, and so on in the filmmaking process.

If you are fortunate enough to sell a screenplay, once you as the writer have signed on the dotted line, you relinquish control.

The writer is often on the low end of the totem pole in the film world, but it’s a reality screenwriters usually have to come to terms with.

As tough as it may seem sometimes to break through and maintain a creative vision of your script as described above, there is an exception to this rule…

You can decide to produce a micro-budget screenplay.

Taking this journey will require a screenwriter to utilize skillsets more akin to a producer, and/or (if so desired) a director.

But by taking control of your own career in this way, you can guide the process, both creatively and pragmatically (there’s no one to blame but yourself if the film is not made).

Micro-budget films can be made for extremely low budgets with the modern state of film technology. Crowdfunding has become a valuable resource to the micro-budget filmmaker, and on the back end of the process, VOD has democratized everything.

A case in point here is a film I co-wrote, INITIATION. 

The film was released on just about every VOD platform last August.

That means that if you are scrolling through VOD titles on ITunes or Amazon or any other VOD platform, you could easily find my film next to another film made for ten, twenty, or one hundred times the budget.

Awareness of those films, though, is likely to be much higher. This is where you really must earn your keep as a writer. Is your concept powerful enough to stand out from the crowd? And will people enjoy your film enough not just to watch it themselves, but also to recommend it to others? Both aspects are crucial for success in this realm.

In our case, we worked from a concept we felt would jump out quickly. A group of strangers are kidnapped at random by a mysterious cult, which forces its members to fight them to the death in order to be initiated. That sentence IS the movie.

We also were very vigilant about pacing. In my own anecdotal experience, I’ve found many micro-budget films tend to play a little slower paced than your average studio release. We knew our audience would be comparing us to a “regular” film (i.e. a film with a regular budget) and made a conscious effort to keep our foot on the gas narratively as much as possible, especially given our genre (horror/thriller).

I say “we” in reference to our entire fantastic team, but in particular from a screenwriting perspective to Oren Benamor, my cousin, who co-wrote, directed and edited the film.

If you are a screenwriter only, and not well versed in directing or editing, pairing with someone who is pulling the trifecta in this fashion is a fantastic way to limit the “too many cooks” scenario that often troubles studio films. And on a low budget, it’s likely also a necessity that allows more of the budget to go on screen.

Finding someone you creatively vibe with who has these skills should be the first order of business if you do not possess them yourself.

Ultimately, if you decide to make a micro-budget film, you know going into it you’re unlikely to reap a grand fortune doing so. But the sacrifice is paid for in creative control.

And as much as it’s much easier to write a screenplay, if you succeed and wind up with a film you are a proud of, you’ll not only be a produced screenwriter, but even more rarified, a produced screenwriter of a GOOD movie.

I feel that way about our film, “Initiation.”


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