20 July 2021

How to Make a Low Budget Movie Look Professional: An Easy Beginner's Guide

Shooting a low budget production doesn’t mean you have to come out with a film that looks cheap. As long as you avoid some classic mistakes, learning how to make a low budget movie look professional takes a little preparation and identifying the key things to look out for in your pre-and post-production process. When you’re just starting out, this can make the difference between cinematic success and anonymity.

It used to be nigh on impossible to create a low or no budget movie without it looking as one, but thanks to the ever-increasing quality of cameras, you could figure out how to make a movie with no budget at all, using your phone and a few friends. The secret to then making it look professional will be all in the editing

Here’s a short guide on how to make a good low-budget movie with close to no money and delight your fans and followers.

How to shoot a low budget movie like a pro

The filming process for your movie needs to be well-thought-out and prepared in order to avoid any mistakes that you can’t then sort out with your editing. Without a big budget, or with no budget at all, here are some tips on how to shoot your film.

Choose a good camera

Yes, you can create a great movie with just your mobile phone. In fact, from the past few years onwards, the options available on your iPhone or Android smartphone are amazing. You may even be able to create special effects and get decent sound quality on your phone. The best thing about that? You already own your phone, so no costs are being incurred at all!

If you want to go for a more professional camera, an option for how to make a good low-budget movie could be to buy a second-hand DSLR or GoPro. Even older generations of these are now very high-spec and will give you great footage. If you or someone you know already owns one, that’s a bonus.

Consider any camera kit required

Have a think before you shoot: what sort of gear will be needed during the filming process? A first concern that comes to mind is how you’re going to maintain the camera’s stability. GoPros usually come with accessories like a head or chest mount, but if you have a second-hand one, you may not have this option. The same is true for your old smartphone: shaky hands can ruin your shots.

The best option here, if you’re going for the cheapest approach, is to look at how to film a low budget movie using DIY equipment. You’d be surprised by how many pieces of kit you can make yourself, from camera rigs to sliders. Have a look at some online tutorials or this list of DIY filmmaking gear that will save you considerable amounts of money.  

Make sure you have good lighting

Lighting is essential in making a good low-budget movie. You can shoot outside a lot and take advantage of natural light without spending any money if that’s an option where you are (and it fits your script).

Inside, try buying a cheaper ring light or a high-wattage light bulb for a lamp you can then use with a reflector board. To create your own reflector board, use a piece of cardboard and tinfoil.

Use your network

A lot of successful low-budget movies are acted without professionals. You can ask your friends to star in your movie to cut down on costs. Depending on the script, this may actually work in your favor if you’re going for a pared down, indie movie.

Similarly, you may know talented friends who are able to lend a hand in making your movie look professional without breaking the bank. Sound mixers, video editors, even a friend who’s great on computers… they can all help with editing and post-production. Make sure to ask nicely!

How to make a low-budget movie at home

You don’t need to spend money on sets or rental fees, especially if you’re wondering how to make a movie with no budget. Try to shoot as much as possible at your own home, at friends’ properties, or in places that are free to access such as parks and natural environments. 

Mistakes to avoid when shooting with no budget

If you have close to no budget, or even none at all, you can make mistakes and end up worrying about finances unnecessarily. Here are some tips for how to get away without spending much, but avoiding a finished film that looks unprofessional. 

Using the onboard mic

Wondering how to make a low-budget movie look professional? If you only invest in one thing, that should be your microphone. Using the built-in mic on your smartphone or camera will give you some sound, of course, but you risk the volume being too low for any editing afterwards, and there will most likely be lots of interference.

Buy a cheap sound recorder instead, or a directional mic that plugs into your camera. The sound quality will make your movie appear so much higher-quality for it. 

Mismatched footage

One of the classic mistakes of low-budget movies is that they are shot with a number of different cameras and the end result is blatantly not uniform. You can fix some of this in editing, but the best tip is to try and stick with one type of camera, and with the same set-up. 

Wardrobe and make-up expenses

With a good story and well-edited footage, no one will be able to tell that your actors are wearing thrift store clothing or even their own outfits. The same is true for make-up: budding filmmakers end up spending a fortune on new products, when, in reality, your actors and friends will be more than happy to lend you some or use their own.

If you need specific period costumes, then you can allocate a small part of your budget to purchasing items at a second-hand store. However, look for online tutorials and tips on how to get creative and make your own costumes or embellishments, too. The same goes for make-up: if you need to make wounds appear realistic, for example, you’ll find lots of tricks for doing this with kitchen cupboard items and other things you can find at home for no money. 

Editing tips: how to make a movie with no budget look great through post-production

Large movie studios spend a lot of money on their editing teams, and for good reason. A lot of filming mistakes can be corrected by using a good video editing app and you can also enhance the look and feel of your movie. Luckily, you don’t need to spend a lot to be able to do some high-quality post-production editing. Video editing software or a video editing app like Splice can be bought for a low amount, but will be worth every penny. 

Use color correction 

While editing your video, use the color correction option to enhance the quality of your movie. You don’t need to make massive alterations, but changing your color palette to account for different lighting between scenes can make the movie come together nicely. All tweaks should be subtle, however, or you’ll end up with a finished product that’s a bit off. 

Stabilize sound volumes

One thing that screams “low-budget” is when movies jump from one sound level to another between scenes, so going from really loud to relatively low volume and back again. This is something you can fix easily in the editing process and a good tip for how to make a low budget movie look professional. 

Add professional credits 

Creating a visually appealing color and style theme for your movie’s opening and closing credits will ensure the final product has a movie studio feel. Spend some time thinking about what colors and designs best suit your movie, then create these within your video editing app and add them after you’ve shot your film. 

Whether this is the first of many films for your professional career, or you are looking to shoot a movie for a fun personal project, these tips on how to make a low budget movie look professional should have hopefully shown that you don’t need to spend a lot to create a good film. Enjoy yourself and keep an eye on your budget, but don’t curb your creativity!

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