The good news is the filmmaking method of a Hollywood studio, and a low-budget movie is almost identical. If you are making an independent film, you will learn lifelong career skills from your experience. We’ve prepared some tailored advice for indie filmmakers who are making low-budget, feature films.
Below you will find a step-by-step breakdown of how to make a film for new producers. Plus, all of these paperwork templates are entirely FREE to download in our filmmaking template bundle! Get the bundle below:
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Filmmaking Checklist
- Story Treatment Template
- Script Breakdown Template
- Budget Overview Template
- Film Crew Contract
- Storyboard Template
- Stripboard Schedule
- Equipment Rental Agreement
- Call Sheet Template
- Day Out Of Days
- Professional Shot List
- Location Release Agreement
- Notice of Filming Letter
- Music Release Form
1. Filmmaking Checklist
Before you go any further with your project, it’s important for you to take a minute to consider what it is you’re trying to accomplish. Many beginning filmmakers have dreams of creating a feature-length movie, but feature films are not the best idea for absolute beginners. No matter how excited you are about learning how to make a film, it’s always a good idea to make shorts before features. Short films give you the chance to practice filmmaking with a modest budget. It’s the less risky option, and a short film can act as a calling card for producers. For example, a successful short film can help you find funding for a feature film and convince talent to work on your upcoming project. Use this filmmaking checklist to ensure that you don’t miss an important task when making your film.
2. Story Treatment Template
It’s likely that you already have locked your screenplay before film pre-production begins. Even so, a film treatment can still come in handy during the funding and hiring stage. A treatment is a summary of your film, and it covers the story outline from beginning to end. There is no standard length for film treatment either. Depending on the project’s scale, it can be between 1-10 pages long.
As an independent producer, you will need to find a script or hire a screenwriter. Either way, you should always have your film budget in mind. This might seem like a block to your creativity, but if you make your story too complicated or expensive, you will struggle to make it. Think carefully about what type of film you are making and what is feasible given your current experience and resources.
If you are doing guerilla filmmaking, then write a list of local locations, the equipment you own, and actors you know. Then you can build a script around what you have access to and keep things simple.
3. Script Breakdown Template
Now that you have a screenplay, you will need to complete a script breakdown. This is a breakdown of all the different elements you need to gather before you can make your film. To make things easier, we have a template that you can use. To break down a script, each template page will represent an individual scene. Read through each scene carefully, underlining and making notes whenever an element appears (e.g., actors, locations, props, costumes, and vehicles). On your template page, list all of these elements in the given box sections.
Each department on set will complete a script breakdown, and this will let them know what they need to source before production begins. It’s likely during this stage, you will have an idea of how much your budget will be, but it is only from completing a script breakdown that you can figure out your exact film budget.
When making a low-budget film, consider what you already have access to (what locations can you use without the need to hire out or what equipment you already own). It will also be cheaper to hire local crew and cast as you won’t need to pay for accommodation.
4. Budget Overview Template
One benefit of completing a full script breakdown is that you can create a detailed film budget breakdown. This includes all of your costs from pre-production to distribution. Many low-budget filmmakers budget only for production and leave the additional costs to worry about after filming. At this stage, your budget is only an estimate; however, it is still better to know what to expect before you go any further with your project. Additionally, make sure you factor in distribution costs, such as entering film festivals and film markets.
When it comes to funding your film, there are a lot of options. Beginner filmmakers tend to use less risky funding, for example: using savings, crowdfunding, and asking friends/family to donate. Other options for filmmakers include: state tax incentives, applying for grants, and getting private investors. It’s typical for this stage to be the longest filmmaking stage.
Throughout the production, you should be keeping track of your budget. It’s easy for a production budget to skyrocket if not effectively managed. The places where independent films often get caught off guard are: travel expenses, petty cash expenditures, and overtime hours. Ensure everyone on set knows the rules around spending and what they should expect in terms of payment before you start filming.
5. Film Crew Contract
When you have your budget, you can begin to hire cast and crew. Film industry veterans say that a film is 90% casting; get the right actors, and the rest will follow. You can find actors by sending out casting calls to agencies, advertising on job sites, and holding open auditions. It’s typical to start casting your lead actors in early pre-production because you might need to create a schedule around an actor’s availability.
Your above-the-line film crew will come next (director, DOP, and production designer). When learning how to make a film, you will find that you get what you pay for – free work will mean inexperienced cast and crew. Spend the most time hiring these key positions, and they will also help you hire the rest of the team.
No matter what your budget is, it’s crucial to create work contracts. These outline the work terms for both you and your employee. At this point in the filmmaking process, you will need to decide whether your project is union or non-union. Hiring SAG actors ensures that you pay people fairly and don’t overwork people. You can use the free contract template below, but make sure to alter it to fit your project. Ideally, you should also be investing in an entertainment lawyer to look over all contracts.
Feature Film Paperwork Bundle
6. Storyboard Template
Storyboarding and concept art (also known as pre-visualization) gives you the chance to share your vision with the rest of your crew. A storyboard is a series of boards with drawings depicting shots within a scene. You will need to decide if you will storyboard your film. While storyboarded is not essential, doing so can be beneficial. For example, storyboarding can save you time on location and allows the director to communicate their vision with the crew.
If you are making a low-budget movie, you can save money by creating the storyboards yourself. Each panel on a storyboard page represents a shot; underneath, there is space to write a short description. The drawings only need to describe the action and don’t need to look great (stick figures are perfectly fine). We have a free storyboard template in our filmmaking bundle.
7. Stripboard Schedule
Pre-production for film is all about finding the best possible schedule to make your film. To do this, you will want to create a stripboard schedule, or one-liner schedule, containing a list of scenes in shooting order. A stripboard schedule is a scheduling format that is easy to amend, which is a good thing since schedules often change during the planning process of film production. (For example, changing the schedule to fit around a location or an actor’s availability.) Try to take these changes and mistakes in stride – you will get better at everything with practice.
If you are doing guerilla filmmaking or working on a low-budget, you need to decide how many hours you will be filming each day. You can expect to shoot six days a week for 12 hours a day, with an hour lunch break on a professional feature film. However, you might not have the budget for this work schedule. If you pay people less than their going rate (and can’t afford overtime), you may need to create a less demanding workday. If you are unsure how to schedule your workday, you can always ask your crew for advice.
After you have created your stripboard schedule, you will find it easier to make your call sheets.
8. Equipment Rental Agreement
An equipment rental agreement outlines the terms of renting any equipment during filming. Filmmaking equipment is expensive, so even if you are renting from a friend, make sure they sign a form. It would also be a good idea at this stage to get filming and equipment insurance.
You might be making a low budget movie, but you still need to clear all the legal red tape. This means getting all of your permits, forms, and paperwork signed. It’s tempting to skip this part, but you will put yourself at risk of getting sued or sabotaging a future distribution deal. When it comes to distribution, you need evidence that you have permission for everything used in the film. This is called a chain of title, a collective phrase for all of the documents you need to show to prove you hold your film’s rights.
Even if you are making a guerilla filmmaking project, you need to have all your paperwork in order. This includes talent release forms, crew contracts, location agreements, and music release forms. Films without all of their signed paperwork risk losing distribution deals. This covers distribution on both cinema and streaming platforms.
9. Call Sheet Template
When you come to shoot your independent film, make sure to treat it as a professional production. If you don’t communicate effectively with your crew, things can become quickly unorganized. Perhaps the most crucial piece of communicating with cast and crew is a call sheet.
The film production’s daily call sheet has lots of useful information, including the crew call, cast calls, advanced shooting schedule, and helpful contact numbers. Usually, the 2nd Assistant Director will create an individual call sheet for every filming day and will distribute this to all cast and crew at the end of each filming day.
A call sheet is a detailed document that lets everyone know when and where they need to be each day. It comes with lots of helpful details, such as crew contract numbers, actors set times, weather reports, and health and safety advice. You can use our free call sheet template on your upcoming production. The first call sheet gets emailed out a few days before production begins, and then one is sent every night after until wrap. While the film schedule will probably change, you can still make a few call sheets in advance and edit if needed.
More and more producers are choosing to create and publish their call sheet digitally, allowing cast and crew members to receive their call times via text message. If you’re interested in this, be sure to check out SetHero’s digital call sheet software.
10. Day Out Of Days
Another form that is helpful for organizing your shoot is the day out of days form. Also known as the “DOOD”, this is a handy chart that marks which cast members are needed each day. It highlights when an actor is needed on set or when their last day on set is, thus, ensuring that actors are being used efficiently throughout production, which saves you money.
Another thing that is important to remember to plan for is: the production office. On a low-budget movie, you can use any space as a production office. That might mean renting out a room or even using a team member’s house. Keep in mind that there will be additional costs for printer ink, internet, phone data, and electricity. It’s essential to have a place where your production team can schedule and organize smoothly.
11. Professional Shot List
A professional shot list is a detailed list of camera shots and equipment details per scene. Shot lists let everyone see what the Director desires to film. For the Director, a shot list acts like a storyboard, allowing them to organize and communicate their vision. For the DOP, it lets them and their team see what equipment they need. The 1st AD will use the shot list when creating the schedule. For example, if the day requires a Steadicam shot, the 1st AD can plan more time between setups for the Steadicam operator.
Your professional shot list template includes the shot number, shot type, shot details, and a short description. There is also space for the 1st AD to estimate set up and schedule time. Shot lists are useful throughout film pre-production, including when creating call sheets and stripboard schedules.
12. Location Release Agreement
One essential element to plan during pre-production is the filming locations for each scene. Using your script breakdown, you can begin to scout locations. Filming locations need to fit within the film’s story world, be accessible, have power, and be safe. On larger budget movies, they will hire a location scout and location manager, however, on an indie film, you may end up doing this yourself.
Importantly, you will need to get signed permission from the owners of all sites you choose to film within. The location release agreement lays out the exact terms and conditions for each site. It would be best to be honest with each location owner about how you wish to use their property. It is possible to get sued from misusing a location, and owners can also ask you to leave on the day of shooting if they change their mind. This is why having a pre-signed agreement is essential.
13. Notice of Filming Letter
When you make your film, it’s important to respect the location’s community. If you are filming in a public area, such as a residential neighborhood, it’s best practice to inform local residents about your filming days. This is where a Notice of Filming Letter comes in. While you won’t stop residents coming over and asking questions, distributing this letter in the area a few days before shooting will likely ease some curiosity. Additionally, you need to leave all property in the same order in which you found it. Following protocols ensures that you are on good terms with location owners and residents. (And don’t forget: you never know if you might need to return to a location to film pickups.)
14. Music Release Form
During post-production, you will hopefully have all the footage you need. These days it is common for editors to start work during production, cutting together dailies so that you can see if the footage is missing during the shoot. Lastly, when it comes to gathering paperwork, you need permission for everything you hear in your film. Without signed permission to use a piece of music, you won’t be able to release your movie. This is why for independent filmmakers, it can sometimes be cheaper to pay for a composer to write original music than to buy it. Use our music release form as a starting point for the permissions you’ll need on your next project. And don’t forget: it’s always safest to get a lawyer involved to review your paperwork before sending it out.
Don’t forget you can download this indie feature film production paperwork bundle for free:
Feature Film Paperwork Bundle
Congratulations! You have done the impossible and made an independent film! Understanding how to make a film takes a lot of practice, but you will be well on your way after making a feature film.
We know that creating your first independent feature film is not easy. That’s why we’ve worked to create plenty of resources to help you get started. SetHero’s call sheets, production reports, and film crew management software are here to help!