How To Make A Feature Film With No Crew

Last year I made a feature film with no crew, and it was one of my most rewarding creative experiences to date.

When I embarked on the project, I had already made two other features, and considered scaling things up for my third. Instead though, I decided to do something I always wanted to – shoot the entire movie by myself.

The idea was to scale it down as much as humanly possible, to see what creative benefits might arise.

It was a tactical experiment from the get-go, and I had no real expectations about the results. Just a curiosity to try something new and explore a different type of methodology.

Maybe it was this lack of expectation that made the experience so worthwhile, and allowed many of the potential drawbacks to actually become strengths. I worried that it would lack collaboration since I was working without a crew, but the opposite was true. It opened up more opportunity to explore ideas with the actors and collaborate with them on a deeper level. Just as one example….

There are definitely caveats to working this way (more on that below), but for the right filmmaker it can be incredibly liberating.

I’ve written a bit in the past about this project, particularly how I shot the film over the course of many months, my audio setup, post worfklow, and my approach to the cinematography. These pieces were all written while I was in the midst of production or editing.

Now that the project is fully finished though, I’m finally able to reflect on it in a deeper way.

With that in mind, here is everything I did (and avoided doing) on this film that benefitted the final product.

Embrace the smallness of the production. I knew from the beginning this movie had to be shot with a crew of one. If there was even a single additional crew member (boom op, let’s say), that would have completely changed the dynamic of how we shot, when we show, and how flexible we could be. Resist the urge at every step to make it bigger than it needs to be, as that can completely derail your process.

Be a documentarian. I found it really helpful to think of myself as a documentary filmmaker on this feature as much as I did a narrative filmmaker. If we had to switch a location or change a scene or pivot in virtually any way, I didn’t fight against it. I used it as another building block, as you would have to on a documentary film. This mentality extended to performances too. I was less interested in forcing the actors to conform to what was on the page, and more interested in documenting their unique interpretation of it.

Use gear you own. I shot this on my Fuji X-T4 despite owning other cinema cameras. It’s the camera I can use most easily by myself, and it’s small enough to shoot exteriors virtually anywhere while still remaining a fly on the wall. For some the best choice is an iPhone, or a C200, or an old DSLR. The camera only matters in so much as it benefits your workflow on set. Same for sound. Technique over gear every time.

Use natural light. Had I not shot my film with natural light exclusively, I never would have captured our main scenes in just 12 days. Nor would the film have the unique aesthetic that it does. I would have spent too much time tweaking lights, and still falling short because I was unable to get the exact look I wanted without a G & E crew. By shooting the entire movie (including green screen shots) with natural or available light, everything became more streamlined.

Avoid lens swaps. I decided to shoot the entire movie on a single 50mm Leica R lens that I already owned. It is not a cinema lens and not perfect by any means. But it’s small and compact and by limiting myself to just that one lens I was able to save precious time on set – rather than experimenting with different focal lengths and swapping out glass every two minutes. It also created a positive limitation that helped build on the stylization of the visual palette.

Lock focus when you can. In general I avoided pulling focus whenever possible on this project. I can pull focus fine when I operate with the right lens and rig, but with my bare bones setup it would be too clunky. Plus, worrying about fancy focus pulls would just distract from time spent with the actors. It was easy to block our scenes and adjust coverage to avoid focus pulls, and that freed up headspace for more critical tasks.

Tripod inside, handheld outside. Our movie was shot about half indoors and half outdoors. In general, I shot everything inside on a tripod, because it was easier to juggle sound and production design (among other things) that way. But when I moved outside, I switched to handheld (with no rig, just using the built in image stabilization). This let me move more quickly and try more shot ideas since I was less restricted. It’s not an absolute rule, but a worthy distinction for those working this way.

Prioritize mic placement. If there is one thing I did spend time on every day, it was ensuring the actors were mic’d up properly using the triangle technique. Sound is everything on these micro-budget films, and when you are working as a one person crew, there is no margin for error. One basic lav mic per actor (we used RodeLink Wireless mics) running into a Zoom recorder or similar is all you need for great sound. Take as much time as you need at the top of the day to get it right, and you will thank yourself in post.

Record wild lines and effects. After each scene we also recorded wild lines for all of the dialogue. This was to be certain that we had clean audio for every line, in the event there was an issue I wasn’t able to hear while also operating camera. These wild lines were typically recorded with a handheld Rode NTG2 boom mic in addition to the individual lavs I mentioned. In some cases we would also record sound effects or background textures when it made sense, all of which were used in the edit.

Avoid locations that require production design. If you don’t have a production designer, you need the location to do the work for you. We shot in our own homes (because they worked for the story), but also in motels, at the beach, in the desert, and all sorts of other places that just worked as-is. You need to go the extra mile and find locations that have production value baked in if you are aiming for the best possible visuals.

Shoot sequentially when possible. It’s difficult, if not impossible to keep track of continuity when you are working as a one person crew. The solution is to avoid the issue entirely by A) writing a script with fewer wardrobe changes, prop requirements, etc. and B) shooting mostly in order so you can easily reference what’s been shot. If you can’t shoot every scene in order, try to get as close as possible to avoid confusion.

Workshop scenes at the top of the day. Our shoot days on this production were very unconventional to say the least. But a core component of our process was meeting for an hour or two every morning before rehearsing or shooting, just to come up with ideas. That got all the discussions and questions out of the way quickly, while improving the scenes in obvious ways. From there, we were able to shoot everything at a rapid pace, knowing everyone is on the same page and we were all excited about the material.

Focus on quantity (in addition to quality) when shooting. One of the major benefits of DIY production is you can gather far more footage far more quickly. This becomes a major asset in post and can really help your film stand out. Leverage this by rolling the camera nearly at all times throughout the day. On our film I would routinely shoot rehearsals or capture b-roll during lunch. Or just shoot out the window when we drove from location to location. Almost all of that footage is used in some way in the final edit.

Avoid back to back shooting days. If you plan well enough for your production, the actual production days themselves can be easy and fun. But it’s hard to pull that off as a one person show when you don’t have enough days off in between to re-calibrate and organize for the next shoot day. On our film we shot in several blocks of 1 – 3 shooting days, which made it really easy for me to schedule and plan ahead without overwhelming myself.

Driving shots on green screen. We decided early on that it would be safest and look the best to shoot all of our moving car scenes on a green screen. This was simply a matter of parking our two vehicles in a friend’s garage and lighting the screen with the natural sunlight. Then in post, background plates were added, along with camera shake and sound design to sell the effect. This saved us a ton of time on set and I would certainly recommend it as an option for any film with a substantial amount of driving scenes.

Shoot day-for-night when possible. It’s perfectly okay to write night scenes into your film, as they can be shot with high sensitivity / low light cameras if needed. But depending on the specifics of those scenes, day for night might be a better option. This is when you shoot during the day but using a color grading LUT or custom conversion to make the footage appear as if it were shot at night. If you are filming in a big outdoor space with no actual lights (forest, beach, etc.) this is often the way to go.

Avoid playback on set. This applies to most productions, but is especially crucial on a no-crew feature where every minute matters. Watching playback on set (when you really don’t have enough time for that luxury) achieves very little. If anything it can work against you by creating insecurities in the actors, or shifting your focus to a minor visual issue when it should be on the bigger picture. If you think something might be drastically wrong – play it back. Otherwise just do another take.

Bring enough media to avoid transferring footage. If you make the mistake of not bringing enough memory cards, you’ll find yourself transferring footage on set and waiting for it to copy before you can shoot again. This is never a good thing. Avoid the issue entirely by always having more cards / memory than you need, and waiting until you get home later to back up the footage. This also greatly reduces the likelihood of error when transferring.

Enjoy the process. At times it might feel like you’re not really making a movie when you’re working this way. And that may cause you to doubt yourself or the process – but trust in it. Great movies are a result of great ideas well executed, that’s it. Just because you aren’t making a film in a traditional way, doesn’t mean it won’t live up to or exceed your expectations. Try to enjoy it, because you probably won’t have these same benefits on many other projects.

As a whole, I found working this way to be incredibly smooth and resulted in stronger creative output. Clearly it’s not a model that works for every story or every film, but it’s a wonderful option to explore for the right filmmaker.

The main caveat is that you have to be okay with doing the work yourself. There is no sugarcoating how much heavy lifting it takes to make a feature film by yourself and with actors. Especially when it comes to post-production, which can take months and months of long hours in the edit bay. And it should go without saying that a certain degree of fluency with camera and sound is mandatory to ensure you don’t get bogged down on set in the technical details.

But if you feel up to the task and have a working knowledge of camera and sound (even if you’re just really great with Filmic Pro), you can make a movie on your own.

Our film was shot for just $6000 (almost all of it went to the actors), and that was possible because of this unconventional approach. Many other filmmakers are seeing great success with these types of models too, and I only expect that trend to continue in the future.

Hopefully this was helpful for those of you looking to shoot your own movie!

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About Author

Noam Kroll is an award-winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and the founder of the boutique production house, Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television, and in various publications across the globe. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!


  • TIM

    Fantastic article, as always. I bought a Fujifilm XH2S a few months ago to use for my first feature. Your experiences over the course of your feature projects have spurred me on to make my first feature by close of this year as soon as my script is locked. Thanks, Mr. Kroll.

  • Rich

    Hey. Great article. I am in the preproduction phase of shooting my 90 minute horror feature. Two questions. Did you use any ADR? Did you start editing as you went along or did you wait until you completed shootong?

    • Thankfully we didn’t need to do any ADR! And yes I did edit a bit as we shot, but did 90% of it once we wrapped.


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