Film Fund-amentals: On the Cheap

There are two great things in life: free stuff and stuff that’s almost free. Unfortunately, it seems as if nothing is free in the filmmaking process, and there are plenty of companies looking to make some nice profit from every aspect of the industry. All the more reason why any available freebie is more precious than water to a thirsty man in the desert.

Personally, I’m a strong supporter of the freeware movement. OK, I’m also a notorious cheapskate. But I am a big freeware person. So naturally I not only use Firefox as my main browser, but I also use OpenOffice for my main work system. On days when I feel especially ticked with Microsoft, I even threaten to switch to Ubuntu, though I’m just a little too lazy to make the extra effort. So obviously I’m deeply committed to something for nothing.

Which may be why I had a minor fit the first time I priced screenwriting software. Now first off, let’s be clear that you don’t really need special software for writing a screenplay. You can actually format it yourself. You can also probably do your own appendectomy, but most doctors advice against it. There are many types of software available on the market. Too bad only one is completely designed to meet industry standards, and that is Final Draft. I hear it’s a really fantastic program with lots of extra, useful features. Too bad it costs around $249.

But you can get the next best thing for free by using the Cinergy Version 5 Standalone Script Editor from Mindstar Production. It’s the freeware version of their rival system to Final Draft. It only helps you structure and format a script, but it does a good job and does it at industry standards, and it’s quite useful.

So now that you can write your screenplay, you still have to make the movie. That involves a lot of pre-production work. Really, really boring pre-production work. Things like budget planning and script breakdown and all of that kind of stuff that resembles accounting more than the creative process. People working on a big budget production get to stick somebody else with this work. Independent filmmakers are simply stuck.

But some help is available from Dependent Films: Tools & Utilities for Filmmakers. For one thing, they provide an extensive list of forms. Yes, forms. items like budget breakdown sheets, location sheets, equipment lists and all of those other forms you never thought of until you realized that you need something like this to figure out what you are trying to do. I remember when I was in film school, we had to make these types of forms up on our own (and this was pre-computer). This site is a godsend, trust me.

However, there are two things I should mention about the forms they have for download use. Several of them are zip files and you have to unzip them. If you’re like me, you’ve probably refused to buy a copy of the WinRAR or WinZip program. And since zip files are a rapidly decreasing concern on the Internet, most people have lived happy lives without dealing with this issue. But since you’ll need to unzip some of these files, I would strongly suggest that you save your money and use Ken Ward’s Zipper, the highly regarded freeware rival to WinRAR. OK, I did have a client once who saw the title on my desktop and thought it was a link to a porn site. But it gets the job done.

Though many of the Excel spreadsheet files at the Dependent Films site are extremely useful for production work, it should also be noted that they were mostly created on the MS Excel 5 system. Since I use OpenOffice, I had no problem downloading and using the files. But given Microsoft’s infamous distaste for backward programming in their office systems, I have no idea how well this works with such modern programs as MS Office 2007. It’s suppose to, but I really don’t have direct experience.

You will also find at Dependent Films forms for such legal purposes as Actor Release and Location Use. As important as these forms are, I still would recommend having an attorney involved in legal matters (or at least as much as your wallet and budget will allow). In terms of legal forms, you might also want to check out the Affordable Legal Forms and Business templates page at Just scroll down to the section headlined as Arts and Entertainment. You pay for these forms, but they are actually honest-to-goodness legal forms that are used by attorneys (and not just lazy ones). They can be worth the extra cost.

Freeware versions of film editing software are plentiful. It is also the one item I have the least familiarity with and would obviously express the greatest concerns about. Sometimes you do get what you pay for, and this could be such a case. Internet Video Magazine is one place to start when searching for free editing software. I strongly suggest starting here, because many other sites will steer you into the more slippery land of “shareware” (where you will discover that the term “share” has a lot to do with your credit card).

Obviously, the real question is what works best for you. Even though I use OpenOffice, the rest of my family will only use MS Office. It’s different strokes for different folks. You might just be one of those people who has to go first-class, in which case you will want to skip most of what I have said and go straight to and get the latest edition of Showbiz Budgeting (edition 8). I hear it is a good program. At $399, it better be.