Wednesday, 11 June 2014


Many regional bodies in the UK have low budget film schemes. Like them or loathe them, they give many first-timer feature makers a way in, within a supported network. These opportunities are available to you but the trick is to apply for them in the right way. To understand more, I spoke with the team behind the Microwave initiative and asked them for their tips on making a low budget film. 

Film London recently relaunched Microwave, their feature film training through production fund. This year the scheme has come back bigger and is better than ever with £150,000 for up to six films over three years. 

Microwave helped to produce Hong Khaou's critically-acclaimed Lilting, BAFTA-nominated Shifty and Plan B's directorial debut, iLL Manors as well as Borrowed Time, Strawberry Films and Mum & Dad.  

The scheme looks for ambitious teams driven to tell singular and authentic stories which embrace and make a creative virtue of the challenges of micro-budget film making. Their aim is to support bold and surprising cinema that will grow and excite audiences, contributing positively to an increasingly diverse landscape for British film. 

Deborah Sathe, Head of Talent Development and Production, said: 'We are hugely delighted to launch our Microwave feature film fund again – and excited to find the next generation of storytellers to follow in the footsteps of LiltingShifty, and iLL Manors.' 

I asked them to share their insight into things that work and to consider when applying.  

  1. One of the first questions to ask: is this a film that will compromise itself in order to be made on a low budget? If so, it’s not the right project.
  2. Preparation time and development is your most abundant and valuable resource. Just because you've been funded, that doesn't mean you're ready to go shoot. Is the script the very best it can be?
  3. On a low budget, the narrative has to work seamlessly on the page; the script can’t hide behind production values of a higher budgeted film
  4. Do an actors read-through in advance of the shoot and incorporate changes. With a limited budget, there is no time to find the scene on set.
  5. Consult with the editor during the final draft to ensure everything needed is there, and vice versa. Low budgets don’t allow for extra fat on the script; you need the most efficient ratio possible between what’s shot and what makes the final cut.
  6. Make a panel of trusted readers to read at key stages to save on a script editor. Keep it small and consistent, too many voices are unhelpful
  7. Have the script embrace the realities of the shoot – location, budget, schedule – and not fight against them. Has it made a virtue of them? Embrace constraint as an opportunity to make something better.
  8. What is your films key location? Or are there two? Three will most likely be be your maximum, both in terms of cost, and in terms of logistics.
  9. Does it really have to be at night? Does there have to be a crowd? Is there really a child there? Is there really a dog there? Does the car really need to be moving? Do you really need that song? Find the essential narrative purpose of the scene and be faithful to it, remove the extra details that will strain your budget. 
  10. Choose your project very carefully. Are you prepared to dedicate the next three years of your life to it? No matter the sacrifice, no matter the lack of money, no matter the odds against it?
It really is worth understanding and following these guidelines when considering submitting a project. You don't have to lose the story just because you will not have the perfect budget to make it - in truth no film ever does have enough money - you can adapt it. You are the creator of that world so be challenged and be creative. Should you find you cannot create a world in which this story can exist at this budget level, then perhaps write a different story that does. 

Film making from script to screen will always be filled with compromise. The films that work have a a truth, a fundamental truth, at the heart of the story they tell - what's yours? Remember the script will carry the film from start to finish. I'm a firm believer that all writers and writer-directors are more than one idea - commit to a career not a screenplay and use schemes such as this to springboard you. 

The closing date for entries is 30 July CLICK HERE for more info. If you qualify, apply and see where you get to. Good luck! 

Keep writing!