On the DVD director’s commentary of writer/director Edward Burns’ recently released film, Nice Guy Johnny, Burns offers a lot of insight as to how he and his small crew shot the feature film in just 10 days. Burns says the film was made for $25,000 (under $75,000 including deferments) by cashing in a thousand favors.
Burns used mostly free locations (shooting often at homes of friends and family) and had the cast do their own make-up and provide their own wardrobe. And because they had a 3-5 man crew on most days the lighting was keep to a minimal and they shot with a digital Red camera, so there were no film costs.
Edward Burns: I have Will Rexer our DP here and he can tell you a little about our minimal lighting package and shooting this daylight scene.
Will Rexer: We approached this entire movie looking at locations and looking at light— looking for things that worked naturally for us. I think we had two lights in here (shoot at Puffy’s Tavern in above photo) that just sort of complimented with what God already gave us, and that’s pretty much how we approached most every scenes. We found locations that worked and lighting that worked and then we just complimented it and that was pretty much it.
EB: And one of the challenges, but also one of the blessings maybe, is we knew we weren’t going to have any generator obviously, we knew there was no truck with an entire lighting package. It was lights that could be plugged into any outlet that would have to be carried by our four man crew. And what that did was it freed us up to work much more quickly than we could have given sort of the normal size of a crew and a lighting package. But it also freed our actors up to be able to play within the spaces in a way that they probably couldn’t when you have more detailed lighting.
WR: We could pick the time of day we wanted to be at a location and make that work for us and then we could compliment the lights. We didn’t have to turn around and have to get a reverse shot of you. We didn’t have to be moving 25 flags (light modifiers) and having a whole crew march around— we could just do it. It allowed us to work pretty freely.
EB: And it allowed us to make a film in ten days—which is unheard of. But there is a little bit of magic that comes with that because you’re shooting so many pages in one day that the actors are sort of in character the whole day. You’re knocking off so much work there’s a rhythm that everybody falls into that provides a certain kind of creative freedom.
So if you’re writing a script that you’re thinking of making as a low-budget feature it’s good to have a set of locations in mind that will work not only for the story but that will simplify the production process. In larger budget films there is always a concern of what is called a “company move” where the 75+ person team and equipment must be moved from one location to the next. Even on a big budget film producers and production manager have to find creative ways to limit the company moves.
For instances the entire Georgia part of Forrest Gump was shot within a ten mile radius of the opening bench scene in Savannah, Georgia. (The Viet Nam scenes were even shot on the same plantation where Forrest grew up, and where they also shot Jenny’s house.) That meant the cast and crew could stay in the same hotels and the producers could avoid all the expenses involved with moving the cast and crew.
One of the reasons Sleeping with the Enemy (in which part of the story takes place in Iowa) was shot in South Carolina is because they could shoot the beach town and the small town that’s supposed to be in Iowa both in South Carolina without doing a major company move of shooting in two states that are far apart.
One low-budget trick that is often used to keep costs down is to shoot in one primary location. Burns doesn’t stick to that approach, but because he has such a small crew they are able to shoot in cars, at the beach, in a bar, in homes, and in New York City and on Long Island without it being a major hassle.
Related posts: Edward Burns on Telling Smaller Stories.