The Ultimate Low-Budget Blueprint for Shooting a Scene

June 8, 2011

When you’re shooting a scene for a low-budget movie you must be very smart in how you organize your TIME, SHOTS, and RESOURCES. Often your initial grandiose concepts, beautiful crane shots, or your cinematic one long-take that you spent weeks planning must be re-thought and changed to meet your tight shooting schedule.

This post is designed to give you the building blocks for shooting a low-budget scene to ensure that you GET THE SHOTS YOU NEED so that you can piece your scene together in post-production and stay on schedule and budget.


The Master Shot is the first shot you want to film when starting a new scene. It encompasses all of the scenes actions and dialogue. By starting with the Master Shot you ensure yourself that you have the entire scene filmed. So even if for some reason you weren’t able to get any other shots

that day or the camera broke half way through filming the scene, you have the master shot to fall back on and still have a usable scene for your movie.

As an added benefit to filming the Master Shot first, your actors will have now ran through the entire scene a few times and will be more comfortable with their dialogue, chemistry, and blocking of the scene. This means that when you go to get coverage of the scene you will be able to fly through it as your actors already have the scene down and can give you a good performance in just one or two takes – saving you both time and money!


Once you’ve knocked out the Master Shot, it’s time to move in a little closer and go Over The Shoulders (OTS) of your actors. Why not a Medium Shot or Close-Up? Well, the OTS covers more ground. For Example, let’s say a shot consisted of three actors the OTS could be over one actor while capturing the faces of the other two actors, where if you went with a

Medium Shot or Close-Up you are still stuck doing coverage for all three actors.

Again, the purpose of using this blueprint for shooting your scene is to maximize your time while still getting the footage you need to cut your scene together in post.

Other benefits of using the OTS are that it creates depth, thus making your film aesthetically look more interesting and less flat.


Next, get the actor’s Close-Ups. This shot will benefit you for two reasons:

  • It’s perfect to use when you want to capture those great lines or moments in an actor’s

    performance. Plus, it not only enhances the line or moment but it also draws the audience into the character.

  • The Close-Up also allows you to get reaction shots. Remember, acting is reacting and when an actor has a good reaction it can be a very powerful clip to cut into a dialogue scene to intensify the mood or performance.

Side Note: If you are super scrapped for time but you still want to get some of those crucial reaction shots or lines in a Close-Up. Set the shot up, move the lights in just a little and have the actor say only the lines you know you want to have in a Close-Up. It’s not the ideal scenario but it can/will work if you need it to in a pinch.

Now just with these three shots alone you will have more than enough to cut a solid scene together but there is still one more shot that is very important to get if you have the time and in my opinion will save you many post-production headaches…


Insert Shots can SAVE A SCENE. They are great to use when the pacing of a scene is off, if you want to cut a scene down to make it shorter, or splice two different takes of an actor together to give you the performance you were looking for.

Insert Shots can be shots of anything. Maybe an actor is reading a newspaper while he talks in a scene but he flubs a line, well instead of scraping the whole take just cut away to the newspaper for a second and replace the audio with the audio from a different take and BAM! now the scene works and the audience is none the wiser.

Also, Insert Shots can be used to show an off-screen object that two actors are talking about. For Example, maybe a character in a scene is proposing to his girlfriend and she looks down at the ring. You could then cut to an INSERT SHOT of the engagement ring to let the audience see what the ring looks like.

The 4 Shots above are probably the most crucial shots to get first when shooting your scene, especially if you are on a low-budget shoot and have a limited time to get everything you need. While they are not the most exciting shots, they will get you the footage you need to pull off your scene, giving you the freedom and confidence to have fun with more creative shots at the end of the shooting day, if time allows.

I hope this blueprint has been helpful and good luck on shooting your scenes! If you have any questions or groovy ideas regarding this post feel free to leave a comment and we’ll be sure to get back to you.

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