How I Made My First Micro-Budget Feature (& Got a Distribution Deal)

How I Made My First Micro-Budget Feature (& Got a Distribution Deal)

Filmmaker Stories are crowdsourced articles directly from members of The Filmmaker's Process community. To learn more about writing and submitting your own Filmmaker Story, click here.


FILMMAKER: Nick Felice

STORY: The Making of My First Micro-Budget Feature, Getting Out

After pursuing filmmaking for nearly 15 years with writing scripts and making shorts, I finally decided to make my first feature movie, and self financed it as well.

I spent a couple months doing research on movies that were made on a micro-budget and self financed by the director like what Robert Rodriguez did with El Mariachi. Since I knew this would be a micro-budget project, I wrote the script in a way where everything was minimal—such as locations, number of characters, props, etc. so everything could be pulled off within the budget but at the same time tell an engaging story.

I wrote the script while residing in Missouri, where I'm from, and then locked in a cast/crew through a Michigan acting website and moved to Michigan, having never met the cast/crew before, to make the movie.

The film was shot over fifteen days spread out over three months in the fall of 2013. I chose Michigan because I went to film school there a few years prior and I knew finding people here, where I live, to make a movie was next to impossible. You have to find the dedicated ones on a project like this.

As far as obstacles that got in the way of making the movie, everything went as well as could be expected. The cast and crew (this was our first feature for all of us) all brought their A game and went above and beyond to make this picture happen. The cast/crew, except me and actor Michael Renda, had all worked before on other projects so they were kind of like a small "family" and we all got along very well.

I was extremely nervous as to how this movie would turn out working with a bunch of strangers and risking all my money, but in the end, it turned out better than expected.

Writing a script that makes sense for your budget

After watching some micro-budget movies like The Puffy Chair and Edward Burns' Newlyweds, Primer and Christopher Nolan's Following, I wrote the script in a way to where everything was kept to a minimum.

While writing I kept in mind how much everything would cost and days needed at certain locations, etc. When I was writing I was thinking about wardrobe changes and certain props needed and locations I could actually get access to all while trying to write a solid story. Believe me, it was not easy.

You want so much to write an awesome car chase scene or maybe a cool fight scene. All of that takes time and money and choreography and planning. It looks easy on paper but not so easy to bring to the screen when you have a limited budget.

Not only that but I wanted to focus on the characters and dialogue and have the story be driven by them. We all want to make something different, something original when it comes to film. With Getting Out though I wanted to create characters that I felt the audience could connect with which would then suck them into the story.

So, with keeping the budget in mind, I created a handful of characters and locations and let their dialogue and actions drive the story. I kept it simple but at the same time made the story as engaging as possible without coming off "weak".

In a picture like this, so much revolves around the acting since you have no major props or locations or effects so you have to find solid actors that can carry the story which the actors in this movie, I felt, did.

While writing I kept in mind how much everything would cost and days needed at certain locations, etc. I was thinking about wardrobe changes and certain props needed and locations I could actually get access to, all while trying to write a solid story. Believe me, it was not easy.

Four actors - Kevin Hartzman, George Avgoustis, Ashley-Rene Everest and Denise Emilia all won awards on the festival circuit for their performances.

To me the script is everything when it comes to making a movie. That's where the story is. You can have the biggest budget, the biggest effects and biggest actors but if you don't have the story to hook an audience in, what good is all that?

Finding dedicated crew to bring the script to life

I graduated film school in 2008 from the Motion Picture Institute of Michigan. During my time there I became aware that there were a lot of productions going on up there in the indie film community.

I began writing the script in January, 2013, and finished it around June. Once I felt it was good to go I figured the best place to shoot it would be in Michigan since I was somewhat familiar with the Detroit metro area and I had friends up there from film school, plus I knew there were more actors up there than where I lived.

At first, I was stuck on how to reach out to actors and a crew to let them know I wanted to make a movie and was willing to pay for it all. After searching on the internet for Michigan film sites, I came across the Michigan Film Office, where you can post casting/crew calls for upcoming projects, which I did.

I spent the next two months getting bombarded with auditions from actors.

The first actor I cast was Jerry Hayes who portrayed "Bronson" the hitman. Once he was on board he pretty much recommended actors in all of the remaining roles except Michael Renda who portrayed "Derek Chimes". I picked him out myself. Also, Jerry recommended the crew to me as well, consisting of a DP/Gaffer, Sound/Boom operator, 1st AD and a post-supervisor.

I came to find out later that all of them, except Michael, had all worked together before on this local TV thriller series call Lee Martin's The Midnight Hour. So, they already had like a small "family" established which helped in the production of Getting Out.

Once I moved to Michigan in the fall of 2013, I immediately met up with the cast and crew and we hit it off from the start. None of them had ever made a feature movie before so they were just as eager as me to make it happen. I went through rehearsals with the actors and scouted locations in and around Detroit with them.

They were all very helpful in all capacities of the production. Plus they all knew I was serious about seeing this movie through. Especially since I was willing to move all the way to Michigan to work with a group of strangers just in hopes of making a movie.

You can have the biggest budget, the biggest effects and biggest actors but if you don’t have the story to hook an audience in, what good is all that?

"Why not just make it in Missouri?" they would ask. Well, sometimes you have to go where things happen and as far as film goes where I live, it just doesn't exist.

During the shooting of the movie the cast and crew all worked together great. Everyone knew their roles and they brought their A-game every day.

Hitting the festival circuit

After spending nine months up in Michigan seeing the movie through from shooting to post-production, it was finally ready for festivals in the spring of 2014. Once it was ready I submitted to a number of festivals, including Sundance.

It didn't make it to Sundance but it did go on to festivals in Las Vegas, Detroit, Kansas City and Hollywood to name a few. During its festival run it has also managed to rack up over 10 awards so far.

In early 2015 I reached out to a sales agency to try and get distribution for the movie. Surprisingly, it received a distribution deal right out of the gate with Gravitas Ventures and was released in July, 2015 nationally on a dozen VOD and cable platforms.  Come July, 2016 it will have a DVD release as well.

The movie may have not made it to Sundance or Tribeca, but for what it is, and with the recognition it has received, I couldn’t be happier.

Since its release last summer this little indie movie has gained quite the recognition among the indie film community with all the publicity it has received through its audience, festivals and movie critics alike. The movie cost me less than $10k to make. 

I wasn't sure what to expect making a move like I did. Going out of state and working with these people and worrying how they would work with me, but it all went great. I really had no complaints and everything just clicked. The movie may have not made it to Sundance or Tribeca, but for what it is, and with the recognition it has received, I couldn't be happier. 

Making a movie is a huge enough gamble as it is, regardless of budget. You just hope you can pull off a good enough movie that audiences will enjoy. That's what I wanted with Getting Out. The cast and crew and I must have done something right because here it is, two years since its completion, still getting attention.

It is probably the most exhausting thing I’ve ever done, but was worth every second. Come June I plan to start shooting my second feature Desperate Cowboys in Kansas City.

I'm self financing this picture as well.


If you'd like to keep up with Nick on his filmmaking adventures, you can find him on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and IMDb. You can learn more about Getting Out on its official website.

Lastly, if you'd like to watch Getting Out, you can find it on a number of popular VOD sites, including Vudu, Google Play, Amazon, and iTunes.



Filmmaker's Process is ad-free and always will be because of readers like you. If you find this content useful and want to see it continue for years to come, consider becoming a patron today. Plus there are some pretty cool rewards!


If you enjoyed this article, you'll love the Filmmaker's Process newsletter. Each week, we share our latest posts, a weekly filmmaking resource, curated stories from around the web, a short film that we love, and a healthy dose of filmmaking inspiration.

Are you ready to take your filmmaking to the next level?