Spotlight series are those that were made for under a budget of $50,000. This may sound like a lot, but the budget for Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War, is estimated to have been between the $316-400 million mark.

This is, of course, an extreme example; but several of the series in the official selection at this year’s Melbourne WebFest have also had a budget exceeding six figures.

What are some of the ways to keep the budget down? Films like the original Saw did so by keeping the setting limited, others keep the cast small or limit special effects.

That said, some of our 2018 Spotlight series had the ambition to create another world, working within their tight budgets to take the audience somewhere they’ve never been before.

One such series is simply titled, The Bench Series (AUS).

The executive producers, Tim Fox, Oliver Wenn, and Lara Benwell, say “lacking budget can actually fuel a creative endeavour. Bloody hard, but rewarding.”

“We kept repeating that to each other, and honestly, it’s a testament to the passion and creative energy of all the filmmakers who came together to create a series when all the budget goes onto the screen and into the lunch on set. We are amazingly grateful.”

Considering the series involved more than 130 cast and crew, it is no small surprise that such a small budget went into the production itself. This did mean however, that they were all trying to organise their production time with their work and social schedules.

Using fun and colourful effects to forge a different world, the creators ideas flowed to develop a new sense and feel for the audience. “The episode ‘Jump’ cried out for fun and colourful visual effects to both respect and lampoon science fiction films. Here the director (Joshua Mawer) made animatics and test videos to convey his ideas for the fun tone of the vfx sequences, and then toiled with a mouse to create the final semi-lo-fi magic on screen.”

As each episode is a different genre, they needed to be flexible with how they sculpted their settings.

“…the authoritarian future of ‘Like Gold’ (director Nicholas Hope), where with just a few banners hung from lamp posts and a few logos on key costumes, production designer Zora Milevski succinctly and beautifully brought to life the dark world of this episode.”

While some series crowdsource their funding, End Unsung (FIN) was funded entirely by creator Rolf Lindblom.

END Unsung follows several different characters, all from different timelines and collides their realities.

Following multiple storylines and bringing multiple characters together tends to breed complexity. Where most series on a budget might aim to keep it simple, Lindblom is more aspirational.

“The tone and genre changes a lot in the series and will be doing so even more in the future. My big plan is to follow different persons and their story lines in different ways/genres but having kind of universal link between them all. And maybe in the end it all comes together with a bang!”

Although there are several ways to keep costs down – there is an even longer list of things that are difficult to do in film. Referring to the animals featured in End Unsung, Lindblom says “working with animals requires a lot of patience. Even when working with trained dogs, things don’t always go as planned.”

Rather than let the ease or difficulty of filming something he wanted get in the way, Lindblom would rather stick to his idea of what he wants. If that requires some frustration, so be it.

Action sequences can be tricky to shoot at the best of times. Major motion pictures often hire stunt people to take the place of the regular actors, and fill the screen with effects to make it look how they want it to.

Abandoned, written, directed, and produced by Nathan Colquhoun, depicts the story of a small family who must fight for survival in a post-apocalyptic world of violence and death.

Given the setting, action sequences are a given, and as such the effects and stunts must be carefully thought out to keep within budget.

“For a lot of the practical effects we were blessed to have an amazing stunt team who volunteered their time. These guys have worked on films like Thor: Ragnarok and Ghost in the Shell,” says Colquhoun.

Having such an experienced crew to work with is, of course, beneficial, but actors cannot create a world in fight scenes alone. Given the setting for the story, special thought had to be given when scouting the filming location.

“This was always going to be an issue, being a post apocalyptic world we couldn’t just shoot anywhere. We had to find Abandoned places that would give us ‘permission’ to shoot, this was no easy task in a world of OHS.”

Location is important though, so going through the proper procedures is a must. Not only that, but it was in this way that Colquhoun was inspired to write the series.

“I was exploring an abandoned location and thought, what if the whole world was like this? I went home that very day and started writing.”

These series show that with the right attitude and effort, not even a small budget can prevent you from creating the series you want.

Each may have been limited by their funds in some ways, but they have still managed to explore whole new worlds and have amazing effects, not only in spite of, but because of the small budgets they had to work with.

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