Tips for the low-budget filmmaker; an actor’s perspective.




Since graduating from drama school eight *gasp* years ago, I have had my fair share of work on low-budget films. Experiences range from awful to sublime, I have made friends for life and also cried, wet, in a puddle, in the rain.

So here are a few low-cost things you can do as a filmmaker, which will make for happy actors and a great filming experience. These are mere suggestions; but they will make for a better film, in less time.

  • Provide healthy and filling food at mealtimes. Takeaway pizza, the low-budget film favourite is so expensive! Plus, your cast and crew will feel like passing out an hour after eating. Protein=energy, as do fruit and vegetables. You can make the most amazing, cheap, easy and nutritious food at home – I’ve attached a handy guide at the end of this article, as well as some of my favourite budget recipes.
  • Hire a makeup artist; having someone on set to make your actors look and feel beautiful or to create awesome special effects can make a HUGE difference. Sure, you could make fake blood out of corn syrup and food colouring but – there are hundreds of final year makeup artists desperate for experience! More often than not they will charge a small fee for supplies and that’s it, though its always best to pay if you can. I recommend calling Greasepaint/The Iver Academy, they will put out a call to their graduating students and boom you’ve got an MUA. Delamar Academy is also great.
  • Provide somewhere warm and comfortable for the actors to wait between setups; the UK can get especially cold and you may not feel it running around on set. Make sure there are enough seats in the room for everyone (I love rolling around on the floor but not at 2am in costume). Have some scripts lying around so people can rehearse. Keep a couple bottles of water and some plastic cups to hand. Tea and coffee making facilities are a bonus.
  • If there are costume changes, make sure there is somewhere for actors to dress. One of my favourite memories is changing dresses at 3am in Piccadilly circus, behind two towels being held up by runners, while it snowed. Bonus; I got double-hand groped by a drunk we didn’t know was kipping behind the statue.
  • Directors. After calling cut, and before going for another take, check in with your actors. Did you love that take? Hate it? Are we just going again just for sound? Am I fired? If actors don’t get feedback, they are likely to assume you didn’t like the performance, and they will try something different which might not be what you’re after. They may also think you don’t give a damn about performance, which will lead to them not giving a damn. Movie over.
  • If you go over time (and this will happen) check in with your cast and crew and make sure everyone is ok with staying. I was recently on a shoot which was due to wrap at 5pm – we wrapped at 6am. Don’t worry, nobody wants to be the person that walks away and ruins the movie, but you do want to make sure everyone is happy. If you’ve unexpectedly gone past public transport hours, offer to group people up in minicabs to get them home.
  • Respect the elements. If it’s raining and freezing, and everyone is soaking wet, and you can’t afford shelter, you might just have to postpone. People can get incredibly sick and you don’t want that on your shoulders. I recently did an outdoor shoot where I had to change costume ten times under a muddy umbrella, in the pouring, freezing rain. The filmmakers were lovely but about half way through, I was shaking so hard I broke down and had to take a half hour break under the hand-dryers in the loo.
  • For goodness’ sake, wash your props. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked to drink out of a dirty cup or eat off a grease-encrusted plate. And if we have to eat something in a scene, try and make it edible, even if it means popping it in the microwave for a minute.

Ideally, you will be paying your cast and crew. Equity guidelines for student films for instance are a mere £65 per day per actor, which is excellent value and makes a world of difference. Trust me on this one – if you need to postpone your shoot by a couple months to get the savings together, it’ll be worth it!

So those are my two cents; maybe they’ll help. Let me know if there’s anything I’ve left out.

Feeding your cast and crew on a budget; an actor’s guide.

Whatever your job is, eating properly and keeping hydrated is essential for getting through the day. This is even more the case when you’re a filmmaker working 14 hours at a time, facing the elements and battling parking attendants. It’s easy to cast catering to one side and deal with it on the day, but it’s a decision that will cost you – both money and time. Good food = Energy, and that’s exactly what you need to run a film set well. Keep several healthy snacks around, like nuts, fruit and vegetables. Don’t overload on the sugary treats, they’ll only make you crash and feel terrible.

Here are some ideas for sandwich fillings which aren’t much more complicated than dry baloney on white, and don’t taste like disappointment.

  • Tuna salad – tuna, half yogurt and half Mayo, sweetcorn, salt pepper
  • Chicken salad – cooked chicken, half yogurt, half Mayo, celery salt pepper
  • Cheese and pickle – what it says on the tin
  • Ham and cheese – don’t forget the mayo
  • Curried egg salad – chopped boiled egg, curry powder, mayo, salt pepper
  • Easy Coronation Chicken
  • Hummus and roast vegetables – peppers, courgettes and onions roast low for 1 hour

If you get tired of bread, try this recipe for the best baked potatoes. Keep ’em warm in a slow cooker.

A slow-cooker is a fantastic investment. Hot food goes a long way to making people feel nourished. They are not just good for preparing meals, but for keeping them warm or heating them up from cold, too. A hotplate and microwave are also good investments and none of these cost the earth.

If you’re not much of a cook or seriously don’t have the time, set up a toastie making station; all you need is a toastie press, ham, cheese, bread and spread. Hey presto, hot food. Serve with a pot of soup and you’ve got a meal.

Here are some of my favourite, budget recipes.

and finally, my absolute favourite for feeding a crowd –

Ma Metaxa’s incredible barbecue spare ribs (or chicken drumsticks) – super easy and can be served cold.

  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • 4 cups passata
  • 3 cups water
  • 3/4 cup vinegar
  • 1/2 cup worcester sauce
  • 4 tsp paprika
  • 1 tblsp mild chili powder
  • 1-2 tsp tabasco
  • 2 tsp ground pepper
  • 1 tblsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 2 cups brown sugar

Combine ingredients in order given.  Heat to boiling and simmer 10 minutes.  Place 8-10kg of spareribs or chicken legs in a single layer in baking pans.  Pour sauce over meat and bake at 170 (160 fan oven) for 2 hours, turning once.