The Joys and Challenges of Shooting a No-Budget Music Video

This weekend, we finished shooting another chunk of a music video I’ve been working on since mid-summer. This shoot is unlike any other I’ve done thus far in that it has literally no budget.

While the lack of budget has provided a healthy dose of frustrations, on the flip side it has also given us a staggering amount of unexpected freedom.

Frustration: No one’s willing to give up their bread and butter.

The Flip Side: Without a Budget, We got nothing but time.

Which will it be?!

This music video is a passion project for everyone involved (the band, actors, crew).  Thus, it’s proven very difficult to schedule around everybody’s individual day job schedules, as no one can really afford to skip work to do it.

There’s this triangle that people refer to when discussing what you can accomplish with a project.  On one side you have FAST, on the second side you have CHEAP and on the third side you have GOOD. The saying goes that you can only have two sides of the triangle, but never all three. I tend to agree with this theory.  So, seeing as we want this project to be GOOD and we know that it is as CHEAP as they come, we went into it knowing that it couldn’t be FAST.  This is not to say we don’t set deadlines, but it is to say that we have realistic expectations for how fast we can do things, which includes accommodating everybody’s schedules.

The other liberating thing about accepting that it’s going to take time is that if something goes horribly amiss at a shoot, we know that we can simply reshoot it, as time isn’t money when you’re shooting something for nothing.

Frustration: Not being able to afford everything you need.

The Flip Side: Learning how little you actually need.

A significant section of the video takes place on a subway train or subway platform.  We knew going into it that it is legal to shoot on the trains without a permit, but that you’re not allowed to put down tripods or lighting gear and MTA employees reserve the right to ask you to leave at any time.  In order to accommodate for these restrictions, we knew the subway shoot had to be just me, the DP and the two actors running around on the trains with a camera.

I was nervous going into it, but it turned out that not having to worry about all the gear and crew proved super liberating as far as how much we were able to shoot in a day and how mobile we were between locations. Sure, we had to get a lot of takes when focus was an issue (since we didn’t have an AC), we had to wait around a lot for the same trains to come by again and again (since we couldn’t control the location), and we had to constantly frame out the background so that it would match (as we weren’t paying any extras), but at the end of the day, we got it all.  And guess what, it still looks great!  This is not to say that we will be shooting everything this way from here on out, but it is nice to learn what you can do with just the bare essentials.

Frustration: Having restrictions.

The Flip Side: Finding creative solutions.

We all know that restrictions help breed creativity, and this project has been no exception.  I’m looking forward to discovering the flip sides of any other frustrations that may lie ahead.