zero budget films

‘How do I become a film maker, I’ve been struggling to do so for so long ?’

How often have I been asked that question.

“is that a Video you are running on your cell phone ?”

“yes ”

“Do you have access to some form of editing system on your computer or on the cell phone ?”


‘Do you know how to upload to youtube or hundred of other similar sites ?”

“Of course,”

“Then do just that, and you are film maker, right ? You’ve just created, edited and distributed your own film for no money”

I see doubt cloud his face. I swear I am not just getting rid of him. It’s a serious, relevant answer.

” You are not asking me the right question, are you ?”

“Means ?”

“You are not asking me how to become a film maker, but asking me how do you become a famous film maker, get a theatrical release, right ?’  

He looks really sheepish, for more often than not, that is what is on people’s mind. For that is the only way they see it.

” It took me 12 years of knocking on people’s doors to make my first film, Masoom. If I had this technology it would have taken me 12 days”

You want to sing. You then want to then be a singer. And then you want to be Lady Gaga. You want a record deal. What happened to just singing for the pleasure of it, for the passion of it ? Especially now as you can sing and put it out there for people to participate in your passion ?  I collaborated with Midival Punditz and Karsh Kale to put my poetry to their music. We just put it out there on SoundCloud and thousands have heard and appreciated. We did it for the joy of it.  At zero cost.

And why don’t we see that simple answer as possibly the right answer ? Because we are stuck in another world. In a world of yesterday. I believe that technology and it’s practical use is more hampered by an addiction to the old ways and culture, rather than technology itself.  Our desires tend to cling to us, even though technology is creating fundamentally different ways for us to express them.

Lets talk film. The 35 mm film when first developed had very low light resolution. So artificial lights were needed to boost illumination. That limitation then became the art of film itself. The art of lighting the face. The art of lighting the set etc. A relationship between silver halide and light. A limitation became an art.  It always does.  Technology often provokes an expression of art,  and the limitations of that technology itself creates the culture of that expression.

On film we rehearse a shot, then the actors leave the set, as the Director of Photography lights the set. Once done then the actors come back on the set and we take the shot. Do you have any idea of how long that takes ?  Other than actors having to recreate the rehearsal again, possibly loosing the absolute passion of the moment ? Digital has changed all that. Even some consumer models are more light sensitive than our eyes. Lars Von Triers and his colleagues started the Dogma 95 movement , which were a bit extreme and the movement has faltered since. It disallowed even music and props. But technology has developed leaps and bounds since then and I really wonder why Hollywood film budgets average out at $ 100 m each.

It’s the old model. Today a child can make a film and put it out there for people to see. And they are. I judge an annual world wide competition called ‘One minute to change the world’. One minute films often shot on cell phones on the environment. Some of the most innovative ones come from kids. Really. I often tell my friends in Hollywood (and myself) that our competition is not from each other. It is from those kids that do not carry the burden of the past and are adapting so fast to new technology and the Internet, that one day the theaters may be empty . Other than a few successes, the box office take is directly proportional to the amount of money spent on marketing. No wonder Hollywood is banking more and more on pre sold franchises and on 3 D.

There is a new model available. Where you make a film by your own passion. Like you paint, or write poetry. Or write a book. It is possible now to make that zero budget film, and put it out there for the world to see. Not every story you write will be zero budget, but hey (I say to myslef) there are stories you would like to create that are possible on a zero budget.

I must practice what I preach. Lets just go out and express our passions.

26 thoughts on “zero budget films

  1. Slowly and steadily all our self-deceptions will go away. May be someday all people will make their own films on mobiles, enjoy them for a while and then delete them, like our dreams.

  2. I see films as no different from life itself in terms of its ingredient and a film can provide a very equivalent value of experience as life itself & at times more concentrated depending on the film-maker. A film is not really a living medium if it is not screened/seen in theatres. It is not about fame…it still is the best way to get connected to the viewer in a ‘wholesome’ way. Internet or mobile viewing is an additional medium with its advantages and limitations but not an alternative.

    To share it out here – stanley ka dabba is shot surprisingly on Canon DSLR D70 camera. Great news for all of us as outsiders from the film industry. I saw it on PVR big screen and it looks perfectly okay. And massively encouraging for budding wannabe film-makers. Technologically what you are saying is right and has come as icing on the cake in regard to the re-assurance u have provided to finally go ahead now. Thank you shekhar: )

  3. “Technology often provokes an expression of art, and the limitations of that technology itself creates the culture of that expression.” Very true. And put in such a beautiful way.
    What you’ve mentioned about the new model is applicable not just to movies but also to any form of literature. There are many aspiring fiction-writers and poets who’ve effectively used the medium of blogging to share their art with people, before they try to publish.
    A very relevant and timely post.

  4. yesterday i watched the clips of a film i loved in my childhood – yahi hai zindagi in which sanjeev kumar is occasionally visited by krishna at different stages of his life. beautiful film. another is How to cook your life which is like zen in everyday life. Also comes to my mind is Meera(especially the last half an hour) by gulzar.

    just as life tends to feel like leela once one is settled within…creating a film tends to feel like life itself. the barrier drops. and as uncle harb has said if it is a self-deception…slowly….eventually that too will drop: )

  5. For some time, I have been working on the potential of targeted film making. The flaw in our current film making marketing is so simple that it seems stupid. Attention spans are zero. Tastes are varied. And we have no time. The only way to entertain this audience is create personal entertainment. But unfortunately, Shekhar, people also need to eat. Film makers also get hungry. For food. For fame. For recognition. Why do you blog? Why not write and just keep it in the computer? Why put your poetry on the cloud? So that people enjoy. So that people appreciate. So what is wrong in creating a model that helps people appreciate the work of a film maker? The answer in my mind is Advertainment. How else will the entertainment reach the audience? All media lives on advertising. Unfortunately no one wants to see advertising. So we need to merge the two worlds. Create film makers from within the audience. Let the advertisers meet these film makers. It is not just about technology. Tech is just the means. Yesterday it was bards who sang for country liquor and love. Tomorrow it might be something. The aim remains the same. Get people to watch and appreciate. And keep the spirit alive.

  6. Right!
    off topic or perhaps not– Stanley ka dabba is hilarious, sensitive, smart, quick, REAL.. Must watch.
    Also parts of I am were shot low-tech, so I read.

  7. Movie-making maybe is easy but releasing within the dark room(theater) maybe is not that easy. And if you have released a movie more the struggle…

  8. Shekhar, isn’t that easy to say, even if you make a zero budget film eventually it should bring you money and fame, for someone who is starting out in the industry should and must first learn to earn, hence working for pleasure can only come after fame and money…cuz art suffers from these very challenges…

  9. WOW..Your words of wisdom are absolutely true. I believe in you and now i am going to practice it soon. On coming Sunday i am going to shoot one short film on ZERO budget and will post that on Facebook, and will share with you also ))

  10. I firmly second the Zero budget film concept. It’s existed in the USA for a while with creative people joining hands (maybe for experience or building resume or simply networking). Most importantly the technology has become accessible for the common man in india to make the Zero budget possible.
    Here’s a sample of Zero budget spec commercial i created to prove it works and not just in words.

    Get a camera and start shooting..
    production value may be small but the vision shouldn’t be.

  11. Technology is playing a level playing field lately and cinema should not be an exception to it. This whole web 3.0 innovation is going to create a new medium of expression for creative artists. The huge dependence on the so called publisher community will diminish or that market will get consolidated. Very soon we can have hundreds of handy cam/ Mobile shot films on the web with varied subjects/stories. Lets welcome this new avatar of expression.

  12. The fundamental problem, and also the potential solution is, media. Media has made us believe that only known film stars are stars…That only famous singers are singers…. Media has concentrated talent to only the few. Long gone are the days of the village odd ball doing a little painting and getting recognized by his follow villagers as talented…because simply he had a little more talent then they did. Today the village painter (or replace with any artistic leaning here) is compared to Chagall or Miro or worse still Picasso…. Or to be a little more modernist, U2 or The Rolling Stones.
    Now possibly, youtube and soundcloud, flickr et al, have democratized media and thus may allow one to reach people and touch them. Again the operative word is may….The issue with this type of media today, is its abundance. Creating a type of information overload, also referred to as the white noise (tv screen analogy and not a racial one).
    However in terms of fame, more often than not, it is the goal. I doubt people think that it was the ability of one to touch another, and many others, that made them famous in the first place. Even Lady Gaga, of whom I am not a big fan, is famous not because of what she wears, though that does help, but rather because she touched heaps of young girls who bought her albums (CD’s) and go to her shows (concert events). Perhaps the conversation could be framed like this: sensation versus discretion. Today (since the mid 60’s) it is more about being noticed, jumping out, being shocking than about discreet talent perceived by others and followed… Perhaps the best analogy is Bob Dylan’s transformation from protest singer to electric pop star, though I think he would argue differently. From a song one needs to listen to and understand to a song one taps one’s feet to. Both valid, though the later is catchier and hence sells more records, which in turn skews the direction of an industry… From a film standpoint, I doubt Taxi Driver could be made today…Perhaps an interesting experiment Mr Kapur, would be to release two identical tracks (poems and music together) one with the author’s names attached to it, and the other with pseudonyms, and see which one gets more hits….Or even better still, release a great poem/track with pseudonyms and a less quality one with author’s famous name attached and see where the ball falls? Just an idea….

  13. I know my friend has done that already… He bought a basic camera kit and started shooting short documentary in India… Left his professional job… How cool is that…

    And best of all the quality is on par with some of the professional films.

    Apparently he is using a consumer camcorder.

    Have a look – India story


  14. Any film/film maker out there that has made, maybe not a zero-budget film, but a low-budget film outside of the traditional production-marketing-distribution model & structures,


    reached *large audiences* (if not more, at least comparable to #s for ‘box-office hits’ …whatever a ‘hit’ means)…not so much to “become famous” but rather to touch a large section of society with the film’s message and the maker’s own journey of experiences


    at the very least come to break-even…

    That begs me to ask –

    Can passion and profession co-exist? without compromises…for the artist or the spectator? Does/can the art of film and the business of film provide the same experience? Can they co-exist with such alignment that the creation and creative process of it allows one to be at ‘zero’ ?

  15. Shekhar,

    Zero budget is good to know. It means zero input. But what about the output?

    A related question, How to get maximum returns (financial) from this film business? How to make money in the film industry?


  16. strange seeing this post here. A couple of weeks back attended a film making workshop, made a short film of about 5 minutes duration and its loaded on the web. All for Rs.4000.

  17. Sir, what you are saying is a true fact but not in my case as I have a strong vision that I can create a story but don’t have a medium not even have a mobile phone that can click a movie for my vision I am trying to hard to buy one but my other crucial expenses doesn’t allow me to buy one. I love your blog. they are very knowledgeable material you give us without any effort of us. Thank you

  18. We are all self seekers. How many friends on FB? followers of twitter? Linkedin connections? Truly we do more for glory and praise of others than for pure passion alone. Thought provoking article. Thanks

  19. The write up on ‘0’ budget film making reminded me of an insistent that I luckily witnessed.
    Around 2 years back I was visiting ladak, bunch of use went to The ‘Shey’ palace. On the steps leading to the entrance there were a bunch of lower middle class real early teen ladaki kids , two out of them were not even teenagers , They were all dressed hip hop style, second hand Nike track jackets, wide screen color monitor chine’s made mobile phones in hand, 2 sizes bigger than there head size base ball caps, stuff that rappers are shown wearing in Videos.
    It looked like they were on some sort of picking / exertion trip form a neighboring village.
    The leader of the gang was a bright face girl she might have been max to max 12 had a permanent mischievous smile on her face.
    They had stopped on one of the mid landing of the steps leading to the palace and were doing something very interesting.
    They were enacting a TV advertisement for Miranda I am guessing it was a regional ad because I could not recollect any Miranda ad that was like what they were doing .
    The cool part of it was they were doing it in this extremely organized manner.
    There was a designated camera man, a director, a lead actor, a supporting actor and yes extras as well.
    The tallest boy was the camera man, the girl was the director, she was organizing the scene asking the camera man when and where to move, in case the act would break down people missing there Q leading to disorder ending with laughter … she was getting everybody back together.
    What they were doing was:
    The girl( director ) was standing to the left had side of the cameraman who was in a bent posture looking into the monitor of a black berry size white colored cell phone that he was holding in fount of him, standing one step below from where the scene was being enacted.
    When she would say “action!” he would start recording, the lead actor (longest dialog guys) walks from the left hand side of the stage to a guy (supporting role) sitting in the center, stops beside him , leans towards him and say something in ladaki , the guys sitting say back a max of 2 words and the two would start laughing, then everybody passes their fingers through their hair in a swift motion and say “MEEEEEEERINNNNNDA” in corus ( everybody includes 3 more guys sitting on the parapet of the steps (Extras) .
    Then she would say cut and all of them would run and gather around the camera man to watch what had been just shot , understand it, and do it again with the necessary corrections instructed by the girl. Instructions like showing the lead actor how to do the walk, suggesting the hand moments.. taking a pose before the says his line …etc, asking the camera man to move back turn the camera towards the extras when everybody goes ““MEEEEEEERINNNNNDA””, … all of them were enjoying themselves to the max and during the shooting …
    The doing and re doing of : Action – startRecording – Walk – stop – bla bla bla – bla bla – Ha ha ha – ““MEEEEEEERINNNNNDA”” went on till the light faded out as the sun starred setting and they had to pack up so to say.
    I have never seen use of a handy cam … I hope and wish the girl go on the become director some day when she

  20. Sheker Sir Your are wonderful poet – Writer . I like your all post . i am lover of your post plz Do work same. 🙂

    baljeet Sharma

  21. Movie-making maybe is easy but releasing within the dark room(theater) maybe is not that easy. And if you have released a movie more the struggle.

    I have never seen use of a handy cam. I hope and wish the girl go on the become director some day.

    atlanta rhinoplasty

  22. hi shekhar, i am making zero budget film.its under pre production now i have some issue with marketing and distribution.How is that possible in zero budget..please give me a satisfied answer,.

  23. Exceptional post however , I was wanting to know if you could write a litte more on this topic?
    I’d be very grateful if you could elaborate a little bit further.
    Many thanks!

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