Finding affordable actors for your low budget sci-fi film


Ingrid Bergman
Ingrid Bergman

Can you afford good actors?

I’m keeping this short because it’s the holidays and many of us have a lot going on.

Last week, on the show I talked about how you can make your science fiction movie for less than a thousand bucks.

Sidenote: Today, I found a supernatural thriller that cost $500 to make: The Cube. That’s half price!

When I posted this on Twitter, not everyone thought this was possible or reasonable.

“What about good actors,” some friendly folks on Twitter asked.

Thanks for asking, Danny and Kevin!

Danny advises, “Good (actors) rarely work for free. And free ones aren’t always that good.”

Well said!

Sometimes, free ones don’t even show up!

If your script, sets, lighting, cinematography, directing, editing, and music are outstanding, but the acting is terrible – you’ve got a big problem.

Without good acting, your movie won’t even be watchable.

Good actors are not optional.

This begs the question: can you make a science fiction film for less than a thousand bucks and still get good actors?

You can do it!

I’m not saying it’s easy or a sure thing, but you should be able to pull this off.

Let’s be realistic; there’s no way this will work if the actor is union (SAG-AFTRA). Maybe you’ll be able to use them on your next film – or the one after that.

On last week’s show, I suggested offering a key cast member a producer credit in the project instead of paying them. If the movie makes money, they get a percentage on the back end.

Make them a collaborator.  Hopefully, they’ll be excited about your movie. And it’s their movie, too.

Not everyone is going to go for this. What if they say no?

We’re filmmakers! We’re supposed to be creative. It’s time to get creative. Here are a few ideas:

  1. You could produce an amazing showreel for the actor. Notice, I said “amazing”. This showreel could even include a scene from your movie.
  2. Find out what else they need that could help their acting career. Ask them what they need. It’s not always about the money.
  3. Another method you could try is to work on their project(s) for free in exchange for them working on your project for free. Many actors have a project they would love to get off the ground.

Don’t be afraid to ask.

And remember, you shouldn’t be trying to take advantage of these actors. This should be a mutually beneficial arrangement if it’s going to work.

Let’s get real

Sometimes, you’ll just have to pay for a good actor. You may not be able to make your movie for less than a thousand bucks, but you can still keep your costs way down.

One secret to keeping your costs down is planning. I talked about this last week. If you plan your project well and shoot efficiently, your actor can get in, shoot their scenes, and get out quickly.

Keep your cast size as small as possible. The larger the cast, the longer it takes to shoot your scenes.

Minimize the number of locations you use. Use just a few great locations and reuse them as much as possible. This minimizes the expense of moving cast and crew and really speeds up the process.

To me, these are obvious techniques. I absolutely believe you can still make your movie for less than a grand. Or a little more.

I’m sure many of you have other ideas on getting actors for free. I’d love to hear them. Reach out to me on Twitter. My handle is @mediamitch.

Go out there and prove me right!

As always


Make your 10 million dollar sci-fi movie for under a thousand bucks

Small movie crew shooting on location

What’s stopping you?

Last week, I ran a simple poll on Twitter and asked “What is stopping you from starting your next movie project?” 

Every poll respondent answered “Need money to shoot it.”

If you are waiting for money to fall out of the sky so you can make your science fiction magnum opus, you’re going to be waiting a long time.

If you don’t have a track record as a successful filmmaker, you’re facing a lot of challenges when it comes to raising money for your project.

Recently, I listened to an episode of Jacob Krueger’s podcast, “The Write Your Screenplay Podcast”, where he discussed writing the low budget movie.

On the show, he talked about the low budget horror film Don’t Breathe.

It’s a great template for independent filmmakers on how to make a very low budget movie. It’s budget was just under ten million dollars.

We’ll talk about making movies for less than ten thousand dollars.

How about less than one thousand dollars?

What can you take from this low budget horror film that you can apply to your own low budget science fiction film?

Following are five steps you can use to making your science fiction film on the cheap.

Step 1 – Spend more time planning

On a super low-budget movie, you need to spend more time on your planning, pre-production, and writing.

The time spent planning your project will save you time and money when you’re on set.

According to Krueger, every hour you spend on your script and planning can save you 20 hours of production time.  That’s time you don’t have to spend paying for cast and crew.

Step 2 – Find a few cool locations

“Don’t Breathe” has very few locations.

Every location you add costs you money and time. You have to move people and equipment. Every location has to be set up, lit and, later, cleaned up.

“Don’t breathe” is shot mostly in a dilapidated house, a dilapidated street, and a dilapidated car.

As a super low-budget filmmaker, think about what super cool locations you can use in your movie.

Figure out what locations you could use to make an amazing-looking movie – one that doesn’t look super low budget. Daz Scales did that brilliantly on his short film Darkwave: Edge of the Storm.

What locations do your friends and cast and crew have access to?

I live near a very small town with an interesting-looking main street.

I can use that as a set. There’s an old bank on the main street that’s over 100 years old that was used by Bonnie and Clyde.  It’s a hair salon today and still houses the original giant bank vault.

How can I use this vault in a movie – assuming they give me permission?  

Ask yourself how can you squeeze every bit of value out of these locations. Don’t just shoot a scene and move on to the next location.

Step 3 – Build your story around these locations and other resources you have

Make an inventory of all the locations and resources available to you. Put each one on a notecard.

Who do you know and what can they bring to your project?

Maybe you know people who can do cool costumes, sets, or props.

Do you know any re-enactors, or gymnasts, or martial artists (is that the right term?).

I know cosplayers who make their own costumes and props. Some of my friends are set builders, artists, musicians, and composers.

Once you have your inventory of locations and resources for your movie, figure out a story that takes advantage of them.

For example, maybe you live in a small town that grew rapidly in the ’50s. As a result, your main street looks like it is still 1956.

Perhaps your father’s pride and joy is a DeLorean he bought before he got married.

Ask yourself what-if questions:

  • What if the DeLorean could take you back in time?
  • What if your lead character hopped in the DeLorean and accidentally went back in time to 1956 and ran into his parents before they got married?

You could make an interesting movie answering those two questions and you could probably find a way to make it for very little money.

What locations and resources do you have access to you could use to build your movie on?

Step 4 –Limit the number of characters

“Don’t Breathe” has three characters.

This makes it easier to get to know the characters. This also saves you money.

You don’t have as many mouths to feed, characters to create wardrobe for, or bodies to transport with a small cast of characters.

Scheduling is simpler with a small cast.

Step 5 – Put your money and effort into the very first shot of your film

When Krueger mentioned this on his show, I realized it was a game-changer.

Make that first image amazing. It doesn’t have to look like everyone else’s cheap indie movie.

The first shot should be a trailer moment. It should help you make the sale.

This is important to the reader of your script, your producers, your crew, your actors, and your audience. 

Can you really make your movie for less than a thousand bucks?

You can if you believe you can and make it happen.

Cool locations and resources are free.

You can shoot your movie on your smart phone if you have to. You might have a friend with a great camera. You can shoot with available light. With today’s cameras, it can still look amazing.

You can download free editing software from Black Magic or use a friend who is an editor.

Can you get cast and crew to work for free?

If you’re smart and plan well, you can.

By doing your planning ahead of time, you can shoot very efficiently. You can find ways to keep the time commitments from your cast and crew fairly small.

Many people will work for free if the project is really good.

If you find some cast and crew who won’t work for free, make them producers and give them a small piece of the back end.

This isn’t rocket science. You can make your science fiction film for less than a thousand bucks.

Why should I make my movie for less than a thousand bucks?

Your first movie is not going to get theatrical distribution. You are not Kevin Smith or Robert Rodriguez and it isn’t 1990.

And your first movie isn’t going to be a masterpiece. Make your mistakes when you’re spending very little money – not when you’re spending a lot of other people’s money.

I did say “first movie”. If you’re a storyteller, you have many stories to tell. We’re talking about your first movie.

Once theatrical distribution is off the table, you remove a lot of expenses, such as distribution artifacts.

You can release your movie without a distributor on platforms such as Amazon and Vimeo.

You can use a distributor if you want.

Since your movie costs so little, it isn’t too hard to make your money back and even turn a profit. You can go on and make more movies after that.

Lather, rinse, repeat. Maybe you’ll have a $2,000 budget on your second film.

As always


Recursor: The new platform for science fiction shorts and series

What is Nina Unlocked?

The simple answer – Nina Unlocked is a new series on Recursor – a new and exciting platform for science fiction shorts and series.

I spoke with E.J. Kavounas who launched and produced the web interview series Nina Unlocked web series with some partners.

Nina is a newly-autonomous android assassin, developed by the military and played by the multi-talented Lana McKissack.  Her memory has been wiped out, so she’s trying to figure out who she is and what her place is in the world.

In an effort to discover her purpose, she interviews experts in many different fields on the show.

According to E.J., the idea for Recursor came out before they developed Nina Unlocked. Nina is a sort of ambassador for Recursor and what they are trying to do – be a destination for independent science fiction.

They want the tone of the show to be funny, but not slapstick, so it is consistent with the rest of the site.

The is a dark undercurrent running throughout Nina’s character and the show which makes it more interesting.

Producing Nina Unlocked

They utilized a crew of about a dozen for shooting the original three episodes.

After the first three episodes, they changed Nina’s costume so there is very little or no CG with the costume. This will make it easier for Nina to make live appearances in front of an audience.

Nina Unlocked

The first three episodes only took two days to shoot, but post production took a couple of months because of all the special effects.

Lana shot her scenes wearing a green suit and the CG components were mapped on in post production.

The director and visual effects supervisor, Martin Hull, is a VFX supervisor for AMC shows such as Into the Badlands.

E.J.’s background

Years ago, E.J. worked on Babylon 5, which was the first show to use all CG for its effects.

After that, he worked in finance for a while and ended up financing a couple of movies.

E.J. Kavounas
E.J. Kavounas

Recently, he came back into the film business and started Recursor and launch the series.

When asked his advice for filmmakers trying to find funding, EJ pointed out he has seen proof of concepts: short subjects, such as those featured on Recursor.

The proof of concept is a tool a filmmaker can use to sell a bigger project, such as a feature. And many have been successful.

These projects can be produced for relatively little money – $50,000 or so. Many look like major features because the filmmaker has a CG background or is able to call in favors from talented visual artists.

The studios are looking at those kinds of short films and have made deals with some of those filmmakers.

The studios are much more likely to respond to your proof of concept if you are able to get it noticed and shared a lot on social media. It’s important to start building your audience.

EJ and his two partners share a passion for science fiction. They noticed there is a lot of great science fiction programming, but it’s very fragmented across many different platforms.

If you’re a science fiction fan, there isn’t one place to go that’s dedicated to delivering that genre. home page

The idea behind Recursor is to deliver a platform that streams indie science fiction.

Recursor is working to showcase more modern, indie, and experimental science fiction projects and get exposure for them.

In the Recursor’s next phase, they will be seeking submissions from indie science fiction creators. Right now, they are curating content that already exists.

They are also producing original series to try to tie things together on the platform.

Currently, the content on Recursor is short form – up to about 15 minutes.

Nina Unlocked 2

Recursor is building a community of “prosumers” – very engaged science fiction fans who are dabbling in creating their own content.

Right now, there is a democratization of filmmaking tools. Many people at home have the capability to produce films that look like studio projects.

Recursor is using the internet to find unique voices and showcase them.

Today there are resources available to aspiring filmmakers such as the special effects school Gnomon. Nina Unlocked director Martin Hull is a professor there.

E.J.’s advice is to plan your projects well, especially on shoestring budgets. Be aware, that it always takes longer than you expect to complete your project.

We look forward to watching as it grows and becomes the popular destination for unique and interesting science fiction programming.

As always


2nd Annual Sci-Fi Maker Holiday Gift Guide

Santa Clause

Let’s go shopping!

I’m putting out this gift guide in early December so you’ll have time to get your holiday shopping done.

What do you get for a science fiction filmmaker or screenwriter?

I’ve created a gift guide if you’re shopping for that special science fiction filmmaker in your life – or maybe you’re looking for something special for yourself.

Some of these gifts are useful, others are fun, and many are both useful and fun.

Gifts for learning

Filmmaking tools

Just for fun

Other news

This past week, I finished my science fiction movie concept and met with my movie poster artist.

We agreed on a design concept and he’s hard at work on the poster.

Once the poster is ready, I’ll record an interview with the artist for the show and we’ll reveal the title, the movie concept, and the poster.

As always