The Pitfalls of Making A No-Budget Short Film During COVID
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While Hollywood has been able to navigate the pandemic to get the productions back on track, is it wise for filmmakers without a budget to do the same?

While 2020 is the dumpster fire we all know it was, we've launched some exciting additions to photography and filmmaking. While many are in a hurry to buy a RED KOMODO or Canon C70, the world itself is in no rush to get back to normal. Many countries are starting again with strict lockdown protocols with the introduction of a more contagious variant of COVID-19. While this pandemic has lifted filmmaking a little from the ground, how is no-budget filmmaking doing?

Note that the experiences listed below primarily reflect my location (Wales, UK).

Filmmaking in 2021

I'm sure by now almost everyone in the filmmaking community, and even those who are just interested in the film itself, have heard Tom Cruise's explosive talk to his crew. For the most part, I would also say that most of the comments on social media support his message. As we saw in the case of Matt Reeves & # 39; The Batman, all production was halted when lead actor Robert Pattinson tested positive for the coronavirus. As Cruise noted in his outbreak, he's trying to keep the crew in work and feed them.

It is important that your crew is safe during production. Image via terekhov igor.

The world of film production has changed dramatically in the past twelve months, with new protocols and some aspects being abandoned altogether. However, the pandemic has impacted the world of short films with little to no budget. No-budget short films are inherently full of compromises. Multiple people have different roles, equipment is used in unintended ways, places are used in a guerrilla fashion, etc. It's a godsend. And certainly not ideal during a pandemic. As reported by IndieWire,

It is impossible for any (indie or documentary) production to rule out all risks, but these recordings do not have the resources to allow the slower processes and complex procedures of their studio colleagues. It is estimated that security measures make up 20 to 40 percent of a movie's budget.

So if I did a no-budget short, I'd have to do everything according to the book and follow the law in force at the time of filming. But is that even possible and worth even more? Let's examine that.

Why do a short right now?

In the summer of 2020, I was commissioned by LUMIX to create a documentary film with the S1H. At that time, cases here in Wales (and the UK) were drastically decreasing, restrictions were being lifted, and while there was still cause for concern, for the most part it felt like life was slowly returning to normal. While there was a limit to the things I could document, there wasn't too much external rebound from nature itself. While I still had to take precautions, the documentary was a successful production.

When trying to produce and shoot a no-budget short film in early January 2021, the story is very different from summer 2020.

To my delight, Blackmagic asked in late November if I could shed some light on the URSA Mini Pro 12K and the purpose of the 12K recording. Given the size of the kit and the three cine primes associated with it, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to take one of my shorts out of the digital drawing of unproduced shorts and get into filmmaking with this prestigious kit as it doesn't be in my hands for a long time. However, I received the kit during Christmas week, the exact week that things got out of hand across the country, and it wasn't the perfect occasion.

URSA Mini Pro 12KThe URSA Mini Pro 12K.

Making a short film on a budget is an uphill battle, but I don't think I was expecting the rough seas that came with trying to make a film safely during this time.

Location Woes

Unless someone on your no-budget crew happens to have an uncle who owns a coffee shop, gaining access to such places with no financial incentive is always a tedious process. This is even more true when there are restrictions. However, it's not just indoor public spaces that have become a black hole for budget-free filmmakers in this new era. Some now find branch offices out of reach.

Golden hour. Welsh coastal landscape. Getting great-looking images has become an integral part of my toolset. Here in Wales, however, we are currently at level 4, which means only essential travel. As a result, local law enforcement agencies deter travelers from the scenic spots as people from all regions of the country travel and come together in a single place. As I live in a touristy district with lots of beauty spots, most of them are no longer accessible because the local authorities have closed parking spaces.

Location restrictionsNote the restrictions at your recording location. Image via Nomad_Soul.

This doesn't leave many options outside of your house or apartment. And while there have been numerous great shorts and even feature films shot in a unique location, if your property isn't big, it certainly won't be able to get a few people dancing around equipment and small hallways. As such, that bleeds into the next issue. No crew.

Skeleton crews become bare bones

In the summer of 2020, when film production got going again with new regulations, there was a lot of talk about how the crews would get smaller, similar to smaller indie or low budget productions. Also, I remember that a filmmaker I follow on social media (for my life I can't remember who) suggested that low budget filmmakers adopting multiple skills – instead of being a master – Will find a lot more work with the new lineup of fewer crew members on set.

Learn new tradesLearning how to do more than one job on the set becomes a necessity. Image via

However, this does not equally result in no-budget films. As I said earlier, budgeted productions often see people taking on multiple roles. When this is scaled down even further to work safely, it becomes almost impossible for one or two people to take on any role. The entire equipment list for the proposed interior consisted of:

  • URSA 12K
  • 3x Cine Primes
  • 2x C-stand
  • 2x light is on
  • 1x microphone stand
  • 1x tripod
  • 1x tripod with slide attachment
  • 1x Aputure 300D
  • 1x Aputure 120D
  • 1x Aputure LS1
  • 3x Aputure MC
  • 1x Pelikan case with audio equipment
  • 1x pelican case with lighting accessories
  • 1x pelican case with handle equipment
  • 42 x 42 inch Scrim Jim Kit
  • 24x 36 inch flag
  • A Fuji X-T3
  • And a can of haze

For a crew of two and a crew of one who allowed a safe distance in a small space, that's a ridiculous amount of equipment. It is unlikely that such a small crew can properly line up while the focus is on the other creative aspects of production.

Equipment accessibility

As a side note, it was equally interesting to see what equipment was currently unavailable.

From the start of the pandemic, certain products have been difficult to come by – from fitness machines to GPUs. This is not only due to disruptive shipping, but to the core level of production. In particular, several cameras delayed their launch last year because manufacturers simply did not have the materials to make the electronics.

Although most areas of production have returned to a sense of normalcy, that doesn't mean everything is like that. It was interesting to see what is in stock with certain filmmaking and photography providers (at least here in the UK).

Throughout pre-production, while trying to plan what additional equipment might be needed to make grinding easier for a non-existent crew, I kept coming across the problem of goods being months ahead of shipping. Items like C-stand, flags, and diffusion material had a high backlog date. As most suppliers found, many employees are working with reduced capacity to allow the warehouse operator to work safely, which also delays the process.

The moral of the short film in the current circumstances

I already knew this short film with the three themes listed above wasn't going to happen. Even if we had the perfect location and enough time to design and move the equipment without external pressure, the moral of making a short film still lingers in the air right now. It just feels irresponsible. My actor lives alone. The additional crew member in whose house we shot also lives alone and also works from home – just like me.

However, without any form of official safety procedures, there has been no confirmed removal of the risk. And, ultimately, it would have been irresponsible to make a short film about the use of this device – whether or not precautions were taken.

Make a short filmJust ask yourself: is it worth it? Image via terekhov igor.

It comes down to: "Is it worth the possible risk to others in making this no-budget movie that only airs to a few thousand people on YouTube?" I'm not sure in which world this warrants a "yes".

Therefore, you will be able to watch my 12K video about a forest in the coming weeks.

Cover picture via AS Photostudio.

For more articles on Shooting During the Pandemic, see the sections below:


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