Filming Big Ideas With Small Budgets

“Dress for the job you want, not the job you have”. I’m sure we’ve all heard this saying at one point in our lives. Even though I never took the advice (In your face Mom!) it can easily be reworked into something I firmly believe. “Film for the job you want, not the job you have”.

A few months ago I got a call from one of my favorite clients: Original Joe’s Restaurant - a great chain with 60 restaurants in Western Canada. We had done a few web videos in the past but I was excited to hear that they wanted to create something bigger and better.


Our brief from the restaurant:

1. 30 second commercial

2. Viral potential

3. Highlight their infamous “Dill dip”


We had our work cut out for us creating a short, memorable, and polished commercial… about dip. If that wasn’t challenging enough, we were dealing with a budget that screamed “Play it safe!”

I had two options: film a simple concept and take the easy paycheck or spend the budget creating something that pushes my career in the direction I want it to go.

I decided to think big and began writing the script. I kept the concept realistic – but just barely. A week later, the client on the concept and we moved into production. Over the next month, I filmed in eight locations scattered around Western British Columbia with a crew of twenty (Actors, stuntmen, aerial videographers). Here’s a look at what it was like:

Here are a few tips to help push your production to the next level:

1. Location, Location, Location


Location is going to make up a huge part of your video’s overall aesthetic and vibe. Make sure you fight the urge to be lazy in preproduction. Get out and scout some locations.

Also, never underestimate the power of guerilla filmmaking (shooting at a location without a permit). There’s always a risk of getting kicked out, but the reward easily outweighs the risk.


2. Use Modern Gear


You might say: “Wait! These guys are shooting with RED cameras and octocopters!!”

I realize that some of our gear choices don’t necessary scream “Budget Filmmaker”. But hiring an octocopter operator worked out to be very affordable compared to an actual helicopter rental.

The RED camera was only chosen because I own the camera. I’m confident that we could’ve achieved very similar results with a DSLR. Taking advantage of modern gear is the best way to stay ahead of the pack and give your videos a polished look without breaking the bank.


3. Understand Light

It seems obvious, but having a proper understanding of light is one of the most important skills any filmmaker can have. Personally, I would choose to shoot a well-lit scene with a GoPro over a poorly lit scene with a RED camera.

If you’re shooting outdoors, make sure to scout locations beforehand, look at the weather forecast and use an app like Sunseeker to understand your lighting conditions. With the proper planning, all you’ll need is a simple reflector or bounce board.


When it came time to light our internal shots, we used a 6’ x 6’ Scrimjim as our key light. The Scrimjim is a very simple yet effective way to give a wide and soft light output (essentially a 6x6 foot softbox).

By firing an Arri 2k Fresnel through the Scrim, we easily lit the three girls without having to deal with any hard shadows. After adding some rim/background light from two Arri 650s, we were ready to shoot.


Final Thoughts

It’s natural for any entrepreneur to chase the easy paycheck. But I’d argue that the easy paychecks are the ones that can hold you back the most. In my experience, it’s easy for big money to stifle creativity and turn any filmmaker into a glorified tripod.

No matter what level of videographer/photographer you are, make sure to keep pushing for the work you want, not the work you have.

If you have any questions, leave a comment below or come find me on Twitter.

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So inspiring! Thank you for sharing Dave!

Thanks Julia! I'll need to experiment more with coloured gels in the next one :)

thats what i love about film theres always room for inprovment and your always pushing yourself to make the best shot possible

Really cool. I wonder how much it all ended up costing, including time costs.

Not many people discuss the actual end cost of things. I'd love to know a real world cost estimate on this project too though. I mean the title of the article was "filming big ideas with small budgets"... but what is 'small' in the eyes of this crew? lol they said it wasn't a half million dollars. Still, amazing work guys and thank you for posting this bts and talking about making the cool piece of work!!

Killing it Dave! keep pushing forward!

The voice over kind of ruined it for me. There should be echo!!

I was waiting for someone to point that out! Glad you did. To be honest, the ADR on this project was the only part I was disappointed with. There is reverb on the voice over track, but it wasn't good enough to make it sound believable. In hind sight, I should have found a very similar (and quiet) room and mic'd our actress again.

Live and learn!

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Excellent article and great BTS, thanks Dave!

When the actress says "mmmmnnnnn... this dill dip is so good" - that's *supposed* to sound like she's saying something else right? Right?? If not, then this definitely has viral potential...

Get your mind out of the gutter ;)

Thanks for taking the time to put this together. Really insightful. Given me some new ideas about what to do with videography and stretching myself!

Glad to hear it!

Thanks Dave! Really enjoyed that piece and your work! Keep rocking!

Sorry, boys, your "eagle" is a red-tailed hawk.

Eagles sound like a squeaky wheel :-)

Great writeup guys. I'm dealing alot with similar issues and people always wanting to "shoot in their client zone" rather then push for better clients. Its nice to see I'm not crazy in thinking forward instead of being stuck in the present. xx