I am not saying I know everything there is about film production. As a screenwriter, my focus is on story and character, but I do have a handle on some of the basics like three point lighting, green screening, and wrangling erstwhile sound equipment. I’ve taken a required production class at USC (in which I had to write/direct/edit/produce four short films, and then crew on a fifth) have been on countless sets, and have been making and editing videos on Premiere and Avid for the past six years.
Regardless, learning video production is an entire art form, so this article is intended to be about “how I went about production for my web series Antidote 15” instead of “here’s film school in a single blog post.”I’m lucky that I had the help of Avery Xie on Antidote 15. He’s my savvy cinematographer, who makes the series come to life.
Antidote 15 was made on a low budget, since we had four shooting days and five episodes to shoot and we’re all broke college kids.
- Locations: $0. We filmed on the USC campus without permits — which meant a lot of running around with cameras and praying that campus security wouldn’t shut us down.
- Crafty: $200. Feed your actors and crew! Since we were a small group of people, we got away with spending less on crafty.
- Make-up: $90. If you have a makeup artist, factor in makeup costs. Some makeup artists offer discounts to broke student productions like ours.
- Parking/Props/Other: $70. It’s common courtesy on film sets — even low budget ones! — to offer to pay for your actors parking. We also had some prop costs
- Equipment: $200. We borrowed a lot of equipment from friends, but needed to buy a few things. One thing I should have bought was a portable light for the outdoor night scenes.
Total budget: $560
Could we have done the series for less? Sure, if we had made more of our own props and borrowed more sound equipment. Low budget doesn’t always mean low quality — embrace your art and do something fresh and different while you don’t have financiers and investors and the pressures of working for people who are funding your project. Low budget also means creative freedom.
The Low Budget Web Series Set
In order to pull off the run-and-gun guerrilla filmmaking style well, we had to do a LOT of planning and pre-production. You can do something cheaply, fast, or well — but not all three. We took our time on the scenes that required more takes, and I spent several weeks rewriting to make sure we could feasibly shoot everything in the four days of shooting. So make sure before you begin production that you’re organized and prepared.
Even a low budget set can be professional, and a smooth sailing ship is determined by the people you have working with you.
Here’s the absolute minimum in terms of who you should have with you on set as a director:
- Director of Photography (DP). It’s incredibly challenging to direct and operate camera at the same time (trust me, I’ve tried), which is why it’s essential to find someone to do camera for you.
- Producer/Assistant Director (AD). Helps out with everything on set: operates the clapboard, keeps track of the shot list, and is the director’s go-to when things get crazy.
- Boom operator: Good sound is important– get someone to operate your sound equipment!
Producers, PAs, behind the scenes photographers, production designers, grips — all great to have but if you can’t find people to fill those roles, then just make sure you have the above three key crew members.
Basic Web Series Production Equipment
- Camera. We shot on a DSLR — a T3i if I’m not mistaken. You don’t have to shoot on a $10,000 camera for your web series to turn out well. I’ve shot things on lesser cameras that (while not the BEST quality) still looked fine, and we were able to effectively tell our story.
- External shotgun microphone, audio recorder, boom pole. Good sound is REALLY important. Bad sound can ruin a project. So spend the money and get an external microphone and a portable audio recorder to hook it up to so whoever is monitoring sound can do so and make sure the sound doesn’t peak and there isn’t an airplane flying overhead.
- Lights. We used softbox lights for indoor scenes. Softbox lights can be a bit pricey, though, so use whatever available light source you have. Work lights are a good choice as well, but you may need to bounce them off of something else because they can be really bright. Additionally, keep in mind the color temperature of your lights. Softbox lights are more white, whereas work lights are warmer and more yellow.
In this scene of Episode 1 of Antidote 15, we not only bounced the light from a softbox off the ceiling, but our production designer Emma Peterson also brought in some different colored practical lights, like the orange light you see behind Conner. We also had green string lights behind another character that looked amazing. Get creative with lighting, especially in scenes that warrant it (like this party scene.)
You can get creative with some of the other equipment on set. I have a longboard that I use for dolly shots on occasion, and my friend Jen made a rig out of PVC pipes. DIY can be a great low budget solution!
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Also, don’t forget to check out our website, Antidote 15.com to read actor bios, behind the scenes stories, and more!