Techniques for making a horror film on a low budget
By Brandon Lim
If there’s one thing that low-budget horror movies never seem to lack, it’s excessive amounts of blood and gore. Let’s face it, coherent plots and believable actors are not B-movie staples by any means. If you want to make a successful genre movie that’s going to appeal to gore-hounds and horror fiends alike, you’re gonna need some over the top f/x work to keep people interested.
But how do you get the most blood out of your buck when you’re working on a low-to no-budget film? Make up supplies can be very costly depending on the effect, and on top of the money that’s already coming out of your pocket for various other expenses, this might make you less inclined to go through with what you had planned. But don’t let this stop you from doing that really cool scene where the guy gets his head cut off. There is always a way to get what you want done even if your ass is broke. It’s called improvisation!
Here are a few tips I’ve learned in my experience as an amateur make up f/x artist:
Fake blood. You’re gonna need lots of it, so don’t waste your money buying the “professional” stuff when you can just as easily make it yourself. There are tons of fake blood recipes online, almost everyone has their own way of doing it, but when you’re on set and starting to run out because the director needed to do a 16th take of the lead actor vomiting blood on someone, you need to keep it simple in case you have to make more on the spot. Corn syrup and red food dye are staple ingredients for fake blood, mix some of that with some chocolate syrup or cocoa powder to give it a darker consistency that won’t turn pink when it stains on white clothing.
House hold products: You’d be surprised how many things there are around your place you can use in the pursuit of cinematic violence. Need some broken glass shards because dude got thrown through a window and did-n’t quite get back up? Or maybe he did if he’s a zombie…either way, grab one of your old CD cases, put it in a plastic bag, and smash the crap out of it with a hammer. Save some of the more convincing looking “shards” you now have, and apply them to your victim with some liquid latex [another key item no f/x artist can be without] and wait till it dries. Add some fake blood around the entry points and bam, you’re done.
Forgiving camera angles: When worse comes to worst and you’re faced with an effect you can’t pull off convincingly enough because you don’t have either the time, money, or experience to do it properly, talk to the director. If you’re shooting in 16mm or digital, oftentimes the graininess of the camera can be a little forgiving, but if you’re shooting in high definition well-placed camera angles and good lighting, it can make or break your scene.
Hire free help: Chances are you’ve already got a ton of your friends to help you out for free. The more experience you have with film and the more contacts you make will always give you a better chance of getting your foot in the door of the film industry. There are a lot of make up artists out there willing to do this because it’s a good opportunity for them to get their work noticed and adds even more to their portfolio. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten paid for doing make up! The important thing to remember though is, if you have a crew working long hours for you on their own time, keep them well fed and happy.
So there ya have it folks. Making movies doesn’t have to be all about big budgets and effects, you have to start off somewhere and the horror genre has been a great catalyst for a number of established directors like Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi who started off making low-budget splatter features. Gratuitous violence is always a good way of getting people’s attention, but it takes a lot of work, commitment and corn syrup to deliver something really worthwhile. The important thing to do is just have fun when you’re doing it, it’s a great creative outlet that truly lets you bleed for your art.