Make a No Budget Movie: Chapter One

The Birth of Rec Room Movies
February 26th, 2011

The year was 1978. I was ten years old. Star Wars had just come out, and the original Battlestar Galactica had aired on TV. I was inspired. I wanted to make my own movie, my own space opera. So I started. I wrote an entire script, in storyboard form, since a movie starts with a script, with a story – that much I knew. Next I cast my friends in the various roles. They were agreeable, though a little skeptical. Next I began to sort out wardrobe and locations. I even made spaceship models from balsa wood and bits of plastic. I was almost ready.

Then I hit a snag.

I didn’t have any money.

Back in 1978 or ’79, if you wanted to make a homemade movie, you needed quite a bit of cash. This was because the only option available was to shoot the movie on film. My grandfather had an old Super 8 camera, but when I found out how much the film cost, which was a lot, and how much processing cost, which was even more, I knew my dream was at an end. I put away my script and my models. Some day, I thought. Some day.

Thirty years or so went by. I had some success writing prose, magazine articles and historical novels. I grew up and started a family. In 2007 I bought a little standard definition camcorder to videotape family events. The editing software I was using, Adobe Premier 6, had a chroma key function for doing crude green screen effects, so, just for laughs, I started shooting short “movies” with the kids, each an adventure in a different genre: fantasy, science fiction, westerns, pirate movies.  It was easy and fun. Since most of the movies were shot in the rec room in front of a cheap green screen (a plastic table cloth), I called my “production company” Rec Room Movies.

I only kept that standard definition camera for about six months, deciding to upgrade to a High Definition camera. The new camera cost less than a thousand dollars, a Canon HV20, pictured here. I bought it for home video, but soon realized that, with its ability to shoot 24 progressive frames per second in a 16 by 9 aspect ratio, it was really a small movie camera. Under certain conditions it produced a picture very much like that of 16 mm film. In other conditions it looked better than 16 mm film.

I remembered my old dream from 1978. I had learned a lot about the craft of filmmaking by shooting those shorts with the kids. Could I shoot something more serious? Maybe even a feature? I didn’t need to buy film anymore or pay the hefty processing costs. It was possible, I decided, to shoot a decent, almost-professional looking film for no extra money at all . . .

I had found a new hobby. I had no time or need to pursue a serious film career, but it would be no problem to make a hobby film, a demo, an experiment. Was it possible, I wondered, with today’s inexpensive video technology, to shoot a no-budget movie? I thought I was the first person to ask this question, but as it turns out “no budget” movies are a growing phenomenon. In the end I think my film turned out rather well, given the often difficult conditions under which it was produced. So I will give you the answer to my question up front: yes, no budget movies are possible.

Over the next few months I will describe how I made my film, how I conceived the story, wrote the script and storyboards, jury rigged sets, props and special effects, chose my cast, scouted locations, scrounged up wardrobe, and ultimately shot the hours and hours of tape that would eventually become the 71 minute feature A Tale of Bloody Creek.