Five steps to making your movie when you have zero money.

Published, MovieMaker Magazine, February 19th, 2013

Prologue

This is the article you have been waiting for. You have a movie that you are aching to make but you can’t, because you have no money. This is nonsense. I’m here to tell you that actually, you can. Read this article, then go make your movie.
“Pft.” “Shaa.” “Whatever.”
I can hear you.
“Come on, ZERO money?”
Yes. I dare you to read further.
Five steps to making your movie when you have zero money
I’ve heard it as often as you have. I’ve heard my friends say it – heard myself say it – heard the entire “industry” say it: “I am ready to shoot my film but I need to raise the money first.” Dear earnest writer/actor/director/producer: No you do not. You do not have to raise the money first. It is possible to make a movie that audiences will love with “zero money.” It absolutely is. I know this, because I did it.  And our moviemaking adventure is still going, this February of 2013. We are screening at festivals. Shopping our movie to distributors. Earning great reviews and awards. And we started filming our movie with zero money. Here’s our trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gTVq66DyVI4 …And here’s the second trailer we made, after we shot the whole movie:http://vimeo.com/14757487
To be true: in this lucky millennium called the 2000s there are ALL KINDS of ways to raise money to make your film. But the fact is: You do NOT need money in your pocket to start the cameras rolling. You heard me right. You can make a movie with zero money.  You can also make a movie with $50. Or $100. Or $600. Your movie is right beside you, ready and waiting to be made. Read this article, then get to it.
No-Money MovieMaking Rule #1: DECIDE that you are going to make your movie NO MATTER WHAT.
This, my voracious storytelling friend is the crux of your task. This decision is the most important, the most pivotal mental & emotional step that needs to be taken. And this decision comes part and parcel with a DATE. Ain’t no decision made dear colleague, without a date. Bottom line: your date for THE EXACT DAY YOU WILL BEGIN SHOOTING is WAY more important than how much money you have in the bank.
You think I sound crazy. But “crazy,” dear openhearted reader, is one of the requirements for saying out loud the most empowering sentence there is: “I am going to make my movie no matter what.” Committing to making-your-movie-no-matter-what is synonymous with making a Leap Of Faith. Which to some I suppose is an act of “craziness”. I beg to differ. This leap is the necessary self-catapult into your clear, blue Sky of Success.
Which is what we did. We launched ourselves into the stratosphere of our movie RUBY BOOBY by promising to start the cameras rolling December 10, 2009. Ruby has now screened at festivals in Los Angeles and New York, has offers from indie distribution companies, and has earned a Best Actress award at the International Film Festival of Manhattan.  And Ruby Booby would not exist, had we not said “We have zero money, but we are going to begin filming on December 10, 2009.”
No-Money MovieMaking Rule #2:  Ask, offer, repeat. 
Ask. Ask anyone and EVERYONE for what you need. Don’t stop asking. With humor, grace and courtesy. No shame in your game. Ask and ask, and you will find what you need, from cameras, to lighting equipment, to sound equipment, to wardrobe, to props, to food. Ask and ask and ask.
Offer. ALWAYS imagine what the other person might like in return. Get creative here. This person might simply want to observe the love and chutzpah that goes into filmmaking. This person might be praying for a small role in your film. This person might be young and hungry for experience and credits. This person might be building their own catering company and looking for a track record. All of the above was true for us on the set of Ruby Booby.
No-Money MovieMaking Rule #3:  Always Say Yes. 
When you have no money, you will get your film made when you say YES to every opportunity / favor / gift / volunteer that comes your way. Say yes, then find a way to spin said opportunity/favor/gift/volunteer into an element that supports the movie you are making. Can your scene be set in your neighbor’s kitchen instead of that park that requires a permit? Can your characters’ wardrobe be a little more flexible? 
On the set of Ruby Booby, the home of writer-director Jon Rannells served as five different locations. I did my own make-up. We found a motel room that – well – it smelled of urine. But the owner was an absolute angel. An infinitely generous host. He brought us lunch daily without being asked. We happily embraced our aromatic surroundings. At the outset, we had no camera. So we asked everyone we knew: “Do you have a camera we can have for a few weeks?” Eventually, when the question is asked with humor, grace and courtesy, someone will say yes.
Ruby Booby was filmed with two borrowed Canon HV20s. We found a guy who simply didn’t use his anymore and didn’t mind loaning them to us. He was happy to receive a “special thanks” credit in return. We were elated to now have TWO cameras to shoot our movie.
A consumer video camera can absolutely be used to make a good movie. We all know it’s about the STORY you’re telling. At the end of the day the tale you’re telling is what will make your movie. (That, and good sound.) From there, you can build the aesthetic of ANY CAMERA into unfolding of your narrative/non-narrative. (We did. Had no choice. Worked with what we had. Pretty happy with the turnout. See trailer.) Examples of films with international audiences shot with consumer video cameras abound. Google’em.
If you have no money, your job is to accept whatever camera / microphone / breakfast / free-house-to-shoot-in comes your way. If you have no money to begin with, you have SCORED when someone offers to help you make your movie.
No-Money MovieMaking Rule #4: Thankfulness = Enthusiasm = More help getting your movie made. 
If you’re making your movie with no money, thankfulness is your only currency. It is in fact, the backbone of your shoot. It is the very marrow of the skeleton of your team. You think you’ve been thankful before? When you’re filming with no money, turn your thankfulness up to eleven.
On the set of Ruby Booby, we were daily amazed by the help that poured in. Amazed and gushingly thankful. We said thank you all over the place. And lo and behold, more people wanted to join in. We found volunteer P.A.s, camera ops, a cheap motel, 10 ex-gang members, prop guns, danishes, casseroles, post-production equipment, color correctionists and more. Say thank you throughout, fellow filmmakers, and everyone helping you will seek to help you further.
No-Money MovieMaking Rule #5: Raise money as you go. Or: How to acquire things like motels. 
I knew the motel thing got your attention. Indeed, all filmmakers could use a little petty cash in hand. (I can hear you chuckling wryly – don’t think I can’t hear you.)  Financial needs arise, it’s true. Some of your volunteer crew members may be broke as well, and out of gas. Your free catering staff might need more supplies. Your donated camera might fall off the hood of that car – yes it happened to us – and you’ll have to repair that thing. Sure. You could use a little dosh while you make your movie.
But careful here. You are not off the hook. Not for one second. You broke-ass Burgeoning Auteurs out there better hit the pavement and start filming because you have no excuse not to. For some of you, a motel is easy to acquire! You know someone who knows someone! Ask, ask, ask. Don’t ever let me catch you delaying your film shoot because “you need a motel, and you have no money.” For some of you, antique furniture is a breeze to borrow. For others, you have access to a pool, a playground, a view of the ocean, hockey equipment, free soda, limitless cream cheese, a dialect coach, a stunt woman or free bowling shoes for everyone.
Still, when you’re out there leaping dear brave and hardworking artist, you can line your pockets a little by raising money as you go. 
This was our final Ruby Booby m.o. Once filming was underway, we asked our friends to spot us $50 here, and $100 there. We kept track. We posted an ad on Craigslist and found a web designer for cheap. (We found our entire crew on Craigslist.) Kris Fitzgerald built our entire site for $100. (Don’t get hung up on how the site looks. Say Yes. Be thankful. Someone just built your freakin’ movie website for $100.) We sent the site to everyone we knew and asked for $5. We didn’t go the Kickstarter route because we needed the money right away. When we wrapped shooting we continued to ask for $5. Some gave far more. A few people donated $1000 outright. We paid all loans back. All told, our exact shooting budget totaled $7000. Our post-production budget totaled the same. We hustled equipment, invented production design, galvanized troops and wrangled cash as we went. Our COMMUNITY made Ruby Booby. Your community will make your movie.
Epilogue
This approach to filmmaking I will concede takes considerable patience, open-mindedness and faith. My husband wanted to kill me – but loves me all the more now for what I have accomplished. Most important: Humor. Please have a giant sense of humor while filming. I don’t care if you’re doing a remake of Sophie’s Choice. Humor will help you to not strangle or get strangled. And breathe. One must remind oneself to breathe. Things will get challenging, yes. But isn’t that how life is anyway? You might as well make your movie. Just begin. Make it. And finish it. I guarantee you: New doors will open for you. Surprising opportunities will present themselves. You will now have a calling card film. You will have MADE A FILM. Your life will be changed, because you completed your own movie.Now go. GO.
T.S.
Tara Samuel is a “Best Actress” award winner for her role “Ruby” in Ruby Booby. Also an award-winning producer with an ongoing slate of films in development and production. Tara is the co-founder of both Busterhouse Productions and of the notorious Los Angeles indie film collective www.wemakemovies.org Tara is also a screenplay editor and consultant with clients around the world, www.sriptkicker.com – and teaches screenwriting in Los Angeles: www.scriptkitchen.com

I’m right there with you.

Dear Noble Writers.

I am your fan, your true-believer, your co-conspirator, your fellow-adventurer.
Here, I will share my thoughts and discoveries around writing, storytelling, filmmaking, and general Do-The-Scary-Thing living.
Read on. Write on. Go Us.

 

Article I finished today, to be published in the Pasadena Daily Photo:
***
It’s true, the story of an independent director-producer team could be set in any city – but for us it was Pasadena.  The filmmaking adventures of Jon Rannells and Tara Samuel are like a Family Circle map, dotting the Pasadena landscape: Cross these train tracks to a fundraising evening of short scenes at the Rialto; jump this fence and attend a publicity stunt balloon launch @ Lacy Park; run down this alleyway and find yourself at a wine & cheese screenplay reading at the Le Petit Vendome!

Our Film-Financing Coming Of Age story was set in Pasadena.

Curious about the balloon launch? But it’s obvious isn’t it? Jon and I decided that financing for his screenplay Dream Box could come from anywhere, including random places where balloons landed.  So we attached Dream Box “Evening of Short Scenes” invitations to balloons, launched the colorful carriers into the air and let fate take care of the rest. Would-be film financiers would find our charming postcards, and mark their calendars! Sit back and collect!

We knew of course that this savvy tactic would need to be complimented by door-to-door efforts. No face-to-face contact – not necessary – just your standard Dream Box Postcard gift bag – complete with Dream Box Pen – left on your lovely Pasadena front lawn. (Perhaps you dear reader are still in possession of one of these collector’s items.) Each unsuspecting  homeowner would be sure to light up at the sight of their bag, read the invitation, and be irresistibly drawn to us! Let the checks roll in!

Cut to the Rialto. Magical baroque setting, trademark sharp and original Jon Rannells script; intelligent and heartbreaking acting. Just a little low on audience members.

Cut to our next fundraiser – tucked behind Lake Ave. – hosted by the generous proprietors of the charming Le Petit Vendome! Never ones to give up – not ever – this event featured another outstanding screenplay written by Jon Rannells, “Stand the Gaff”. The setting was cozy and quaint. We were proud to be there. Just a little short on attendees.

And then, we ran out of patience. Waiting for a silly thing called a budget can get a filmmaker down. So we went into production. Held weekly candle-lit BBQ script readings in Jon’s backyard under the Pasadena stars. Selected our shooting dates. Borrowed everything. Made our first feature film – Ruby Booby – in the nooks and crannies of Pasadena. Now to fund the DVD prints, the festivals, the licensing…sigh…breathe…

My great awakening: Films need budgets. And the Independent Film Fundraiser in me will never die. Film-financing is a welcomed step; fence to jump;  river to scout – in the HOW on the way to the far greater WHY.  As my great friend John Sandel says: “These stories need to be released.” John introduced me to California poet Gary Snyder: “We call them stories because that’s where we store our wisdom.”

So a group that I co-founded, We Make Movies – we are raising funds for five remarkable films. This is the new Hollywood model. And you, dear reader, are a part of it. Have your Film Financing Coming Of Age Awakening with me. I dare you to join the ride. This is just the beginning… http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/wemakemovies/we-make-movies-slate-two?ref=live

Tara Samuel
www.scriptkicker.com