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How to Make a No-Budget Zombie Short. Part 1 of 4

I was checking out the website for the RIO THEATRE, wanting to see if I missed the Adam West/Michael Keaton Batman double bill (I did). I then came across this:

“The RIO THEATRE presents the 2ND Annual DEAD ON FILM Zombie Short Film & Video Competition!!!

We’re looking for YOUR 5 minute Zombie Short Film or Video!!!

The TOP 10 shorts will be screened on Friday Aug 19th – the winner will be decided by audience vote & will receive the coveted ZOSCAR Trophy, a CASH PRIZE of $1,000 and other unspeakable delights!!!”

The submission deadline is July 31st. That couldn’t possibly be enough time to write, cast, shoot, edit, etc. and have it look decent enough to be a contender. So how could I make it stand out from the other entries? I’d be up against people who’ve had a ridiculous head start on me. So no, it wasn’t anything I intended on doing.

Then I started talking about it with a friend of mine while we were going through the birthing process of a Build-a-Bear in Metrotown. In that conversation we talked about low-budget film-making, zombie films that we love, and the fact that I have no job. So now would be the PERFECT time to make a short film! I have my own camera and I know a few local actors. I figure I could bang out a script and shoot it the next weekend.  We even came up with this “brilliant” idea to shoot it “POV” style because that wouldn’t cost much.

It wasn’t until I got home that a few things popped in my mind. First off, a POV zombie movie is extremely unoriginal. Second, I should think of a way to write this that would set my zombie movie apart from the rest, while finding a way to keep the (non-existent) budget down. Blood, make-up, props, zombies? All cost money! So I figure I should write a script that uses ALL of those key elements that make a zombie movie to an absolute minimum.

At this point I decide that this will be an exercise in no-budget film-making. I want to prove to myself that it could be done with no time and no money. Could I make it decent enough to even compete? I hope so. Would I make an ass of myself more than I already do?  Yeah, probably. Watch me fail, or watch me surround myself with professionals so good at their jobs that they make it look like even I know what I’m doing!

The following is the process:

Tuesday July 05

It started with the treatment I scribbled out on a page and a half. No dialogue. It was Tuesday and all I had was this:

Wednesday July 6

I pitch the treatment idea to a couple of friends including a local actor. He agrees to act in it based on the treatment alone. I make him co-producer. We put the call out for other actors and crew.

I now have to turn the treatment into this:

Which is really just more scribbling legible to only me. I always hand-write first. Scribbling in a yellow notepad is the way to go.

Thursday July, 7

At this point, we have all but one role cast! That of a 1950’s high school gal, bobby socks and all! Some great prospects, but scheduling conflicts get in the way. So we continue to search.

We also found a documentary filmmaker who is extremely OVER-QUALIFIED to hang out with such litte people like me. He’s agreed to help out though, provide equipment, even a crew! Officially he’s the DP/camera operator and hopefully my co-editor. Now it’s within my best interest to work extra HARD on this project because not only have I surrounded myself with REAL professionals, but I got myself SO deep in the pre-production phase that I simply HAVE to see this through to the bitter end!

I send out emails to cast and crew welcoming them aboard and thanking them for agreeing to come and play in my little sandbox. Also this note:

As it’s a no-budget production, you’ll be working for credit and I’ll definitely have food on set. However, if our humble little production actually wins this contest, then I will be splitting the $1000 cash prize between everyone! All I want is the “Zoscar” trophy.


Friday, July 8

We still need one more young actress to fill a “Lorraine Baines” type. I would like to get ALL of the actors together for introductions and a table read of the script by the weekend. It’s at this point I realized that I’ve never worked with ANY of these people before! Crazy.

I now have a young musician on board to compose original music! For free. Wow.

I still have to set up a meeting with the DP so I can go over the shooting schedule including a shot list, which I can’t provide until the script is done. So Friday night I type until 3am before I’m done.

Now that I can send the actors the script, I have to GO BACK to it and compile a shot list. I might even storyboard a few scenes! I suck at drawing. Could be funny.

Saturday, July 9

We need to lock the final actress down before tomorrow as we are shooting next weekend. There are a few different actresses being considered so we’re just trying to figure out scheduling. As most people have real jobs, I can only expect that people are available on weekends. Even then, people still have weekend jobs so we have to schedule around that.

So I have actors coming over tomorrow for the first table read. Next weekend we shoot. Then it’s pick-ups and editing by the weekend after. I’m excited but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. I’ll be back here next week to let you know how that’s going. Wish me luck!


I know I haven’t mentioned who’s involved and what this movie is even about yet, so stay tuned. I will say that it involves fellatio!



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