Filming a No-Budget on the Other Side of the World: 3 Things You Should Prepare Yourself For
What if you were to cross the globe and shoot a no-budget feature in a foreign language? It might sound a bit crazy and yet, passionate filmmakers Laura Zimmek and partner and Maximilian Götterd did just, that going from Germany to New-Zealand, and proving once again that when there’s a creative will there’s a way.
The best thing: they came back with a lot of knowledge they’ve decided to share to empower us in our creative journey, and maybe add a bit of spice to the way we think about our creative projects.
It is a powerful piece that might leave you jumping on your seat, with the desire to drop everything and just go for it. You’ve been warned.
Filming a no-budget on the other side of the world:
3 Things you should prepare yourself for
a Guest Post by Laura Zimmek
As a long term backpacker, you got a lot of time on your hands. That’s basically everything you got, a lot of time. Why not use all this time and freedom of any duties to do what you always wanted to do?
In december 2014, my partner in crime/cameraman Max and I decided to shoot a film while traveling in New Zealand. We had only been in the country for 2 months and time hung heavy on our hands.
We wanted to shoot a short film for a long time but we always felt we were too busy or didn’t have enough money to start. Now we were living in a van and somehow thought it was the most perfect time to do it.
Finally, in March 2015, our script was ready to send out to the first actors we had already contacted.
We had chosen Wellington to be our production location. So we short-termed swaped our hobo lifestyle in the van for a room with power and a bathroom. Suddenly we were living in the coolest little capital in the world, about to shoot our film White Sugar.
It took us roughly 8 weeks of production. After that we were back on the road, traveling the country for another 9 weeks.
Since the beginning of August 2015, we are back home in Munich and currently in post-production.
In total we worked with a budget of 2000 € or roughly 3.500 NZD, so far. Not including any of our traveling or living costs.
The equipment we brought with us:
– Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera
– EOS 550 D (not used for filming)
– 18 -50 mm Sigma EOS lens
– 50 mm 1.8 Canon EOS lens
– 2 Photography Tripods
The equipment we build ourselves in New Zealand:
– Shoulder rig (20 $)
– Slider (30 $)
– Wheelchair dolly (80$)
It seems like we needed to leave everything behind to realise that we already had everything we needed.
Don’t get me wrong. When you are living in a van, with no power and on the constant hunt for another free shower and you decide to shoot a film, you obviously have no idea what you have gotten yourself into.
But it also taught me that there is no reason why you should ever not just do it. Wherever you are and whatever you have in your pockets, Just start filming.
But don’t forget: there’s no place like home. And filming while travelling confronts you with certain challenges. Based on the assumption that you are working with a low budget or no budget at all.
So before you start packing, have a look at the three challenges you should prepare yourself for (and how you can handle them):
# 1 -You have nothing but the contents of your backpack
You probably got not much more than a backpack full of dirty clothes, an overused toothbrush and your camera on you.
If you have to buy a pen and paper to note your actors names, you start to realize what you have gotten yourself into.
- Get a network
So get out there. Ask everyone and look for groups on social media platforms. In nearly every city you will find some fellow filmmakers and like minded who might be able to help you out. Whether you need some props, another actor, a special location or just a printer.
- Go thrift renting
You don’t have your huge network like at home. Organising and storing props or costumes can get very tricky while travelling. So ask for deals in local thrift stores. This was our main resource, from props to costumes. They’re often happy to rent you nearly everything, for around 15 % of the selling price and you find them nearly everywhere.
- Gear up
As a traveller you are in the need of keeping your luggage and belongings rather small and handy. So you are probably low on equipment. Get some inspiration and then do it yourself.
We ended up building ourselves the classic wheelchair-dolly, model “Pauly”. When it’s time to pack your stuff and move on, you can always donate big equipment to fellow filmmakers for good karma.
- Get a car
A suitcase full of props, the costumes, your wheelchair dolly, the food for the actors and sometimes even the actors themselves need to get on set. A big car makes your life a lot easier. If you don’t have the money for your own transport, try to rent one or borrow it from someone.
This sounds simple, but you have to make it as easy as possible for you to move all your gear from one place to another.We didn’t and spend hours carrying all our equipment up an endless hill at 2 in the morning. Just to be back at the car with all the stuff before 8 a.m.. There was no budget for something like parking.
- Be strategic
Get a place with as many roommates, as possible. We shared a house in Wellington with 14 other people and suddenly you have an opera singer right next door. It never hurts to know an opera singer, or just someone you can ask for any kind of help.
A nearby hostel also turned out to be a very good resource whenever we were in need of extras. Usually there are plenty of travellers from all over the world lingering around. They have a lot of time on their hands and are just waiting for you to invite them to a little adventure they can add to their journey.
- Find ways to back-up your data
In the middle of production we came upon the big question: How to save our material while travelling?
We knew that we would be on the road for at least another two months after shooting. So we always kept a copy of everything with us, even in the supermarket. Imagine the tragedy if your car with your whole life in it gets stolen. Better to be safe than sorry.
Most travellers return home at the end of their journeys. In that case you can always send one copy back home. This definetly helps to overcome the fear of loss.
# 2 – You speak a different language
Shooting a film in a different language than your mother’s tongue is a challenge itself. Even though I consider my English as “kind of good”, I sometimes found it unbelievably hard to express my thoughts to an actor. Don’t underestimate a lack of vocabulary.
It can be nerve wracking when you’re trying to explain a certain feeling you have in mind and you don’t have the words for it. How do you tell someone to feel Weltschmerz in English?
- Be honest
If you don’t feel a hundred percent confident in the language you’re shooting in, you should always ask for help. Find someone to read over your script. Ask your actors to tell you if something just sounds weird. And then change it.
Since English is not our mothers’ language, we gave our actors a lot of freedom with the script. They helped us evolve the dialog and shape the characters out of themselves. The result was a natural dialog with just the right timing and very convincing characters.
- Use your accent
Whenever you get in trouble with authorities because, let’s say, you „forgot“ your permit, just get out your best worse-tourist-accent. Be very friendly and absolutely clueless. You can get away with murder if you look at a policeman with a stupid expression on your face and say: „I’m so sorry officer, I really didn’t know this is a thing in your country!“.
# 3 – A Crew of 2
As a travelling crew of two, we faced an overwhelming amount of work. You find yourself in a country where you don’t know a single person. You have no connections or network whatsoever. Let’s face it: you’re all alone.
We couldn’t have done it without our absolutely realiable and amazing soundie and stylist. So on set, we worked with a crew of four. You need to be able to see what you just can’t do by yourself and where you would do a horrible job. Find people who can do it better to help you out.
- Be flexible
But the smaller the crew, the more flexible you are. You can shoot in very small places, move around on set very easily and it also allows you to quickly change locations. Don’t worry about what you can’t do with your crew, figure out what only your crew can do.
As part of a crew duo we had an amazing overview of everything that was happening. This allowed us to quickly react to changes and work with or around them. At least most of the time. It definetly helped, that we love each other. People tend to be more forgiving when they love each other.
- Trust each other
You will be surprised what beautiful places you can get for next to nothing, if you just ask nicely. Those places you’re not paying for with money, you’re paying with time.
We were able to shoot in a room in a very fancy hotel. They didn’t charge us, but gave us only 3,5 hours in the room. This includes prepping, setting the lights and deciding on camera positions, as well as marks for the actor. We had never been in that room before and planned our three minute scene based on pictures on the hotel’s website.
The often rather short time frames we had for setting up and shooting at those locations left us no time for doubts. We absolutely had to trust each other with our judgement. Someone has to say: that’s it, next shot.
- Just the two of us
Shooting a film as a backpacker is an insane adventure. You start with nothing, all by yourself, in a place where you have never been before. You will meet amazing people and have the time of your life. The country you are shooting in will change your film, like it changed yourself. And at the end, you’ll get to look back on your journey and know:
We did it. All by ourselves. Out of the ordinary.
Just the two of us.
So grab your beloved partner in crime and your camera. Get on a plain to the other side of the world and shoot your film. Everything is possible.
Now Laura and Max are back in Munich and in the middle of post-production. They’re looking forward to release their film White Sugar and to start a new adventure. Find out more about White Sugar and what’s next.
Contact them at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit their site at http://whitesugarfilm.weebly.com
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