Five Things Not To Do When Shooting a No-Budget Film By Yourself (And Why I Did Them Anyway)

D.P. Sean Porter’s credits include Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, Eden and, opening on Friday at the IFC Center, Eliza Hittman’s It Felt Like Love. Here he contributes a guest blog post on the latter film, listing the five rules he made for himself that he wound up breaking when shooting this highly recommended micro-budget picture.

1. Use other movies as references in preproduction.

When I sat down to prep It Felt Like Love with Eliza Hittman the first thing we did was talk about movies. It makes sense — it’s the most direct way discuss tone, lighting, framing and style. But you quickly realize every film you’re looking at had a significantly higher budget than yours, a longer shooting schedule, and certainly had something that resembled a crew. I love Lynn Ramsay’s work, especially the films she did with Alwin Küchler, and I really love Ratcatcher. We talked about the compositions, the use of available light and the way they used contrast and palette. I told Eliza it was a good example of what can be achieved with a very low budget. Eliza replied politely, “I don’t think that was a very low budget.” Right.

Ratcatcher was financed for £1.8 million, almost $2.9 million in 1999. Alwin surely had his struggles on that film, but not having a grip & lighting department was probably not one of them. All of a sudden you wonder, is there anything we can point to at this budget level to realistically look at as a reference? Not really. You’re about to do something people really don’t do – I mean they’re out there, and there are more films being made this way every day, but even five years ago you’d have to be a pretty comprehensive cinephile to find one. And even if you did, the chances you’d be able to point to it and say, “Yes! This is the look we want – see it is possible!” are pretty unlikely.

So then you break my first rule – and reference Ratcatcheranyway. Because it’s not about what has or hasn’t been done on your budget. It’s about what you and the director want to do, and it’s up to you two to decide how to get there. It’s about having a visual beacon to guide your decisions – no matter how ludicrous. Maybe it’s shooting a single scene across several days all at the same time to get that perfect dusk lighting you couldn’t afford to create. And you wouldn’t be the first one to do it.

2. Actually shoot the movie by yourself.

There are really good reasons not to try and shoot a movie yourself. The best three I can think of are a 1st a.c., a gaffer and a key grip. These folks are specialists so you don’t have to be. They know every detail of that latest camera build that seemingly changes every week…

Read the rest of Five Things Not To Do When Shooting a No-Budget Film By Yourself (And Why I Did Them Anyway), originally found on Filmmaker Mag.