What do you do when you’re an aspiring filmmaker and the budget for your latest short film is roughly the cost of a McDonald’s Happy Meal?
The smartphone revolution changed no-budget filmmaking. With inexpensive and sometimes free apps able to replicate some of the expensive equipment and software used by the pros, allowing you to make the most out of your limited budget.
Here are the mobile apps you need as a no-budget filmmaker.
1. Light Meter
A light meter is a device that reads the surrounding area and gives you the information needed to calculate the proper aperture, ISO, and shutter speed for a particular camera shot—more commonly known as the exposure triangle.
The light sensor in your smartphone does much the same thing. Only it uses the information to automatically perform tasks like adjusting the brightness of your screen or turning it off while on a phone call so that you aren’t pressing buttons with your cheek.
Light Meter – Lite for Android and Light Meter for iOS are both relatively simple apps that can translate that information into the same data you would get from a professional light meter, at a small sacrifice of accuracy.
Download: Light Meter – Lite for Android (Free, in-app purchases available)
Download: Light Meter for iOS ($6.99)
The clapper isn’t particularly expensive or complicated. In fact, depending on whether you are recording your audio separately, it may not even be necessary.
Its snapping sound is used to sync up the audio and video tracks, while its dry-erase surface is used to mark down information such as the scene number, the shot number, and other bits that the video editor then uses to organize the footage. This digital clapper comes in very handy when you don’t have a real one.
Download: Clapperboard for Android (Free, in-app purchases available)
Since our clapper choice for Android is not available on iOS, we’re including a capable alternative for Apple fans.
No-budget filmmakers have been making do with whiteboards for decades. And a loud clap from one of your actors can sync audio nearly as well as a clapper can. So why bother with an app at all, even a free one?
The answer to that is accuracy. The snap of a clapperboard makes a very distinct spike on an audio waveform, giving the editor an exact moment to sync the audio and video in their video editing software.
Download: DigiSlate for iOS (Free, in-app purchases available)
4. Magic Lumix Viewfinder
Magic Lumix Viewfinder was created specifically for Panasonic Lumix cameras. But don’t worry, most of its best features are applicable to every camera, as it allows you to preview things like aspect ratio, lens aperture, and shot composition without your camera equipment in your hand.
There are some features, like calculating the crop factor, that would be slightly different if you are not using a Lumix camera. But if you want to use it as a way to quickly frame up shots or scout locations while you’re out and about, Magic Lumix Viewfinder is the best way to accomplish that.
5. Shot Designer
Many of Shot Designer’s features are locked behind a premium paywall that is comparatively expensive. Its free version is limited, and other than bug fixes, it hasn’t been updated in a couple of years. So why is it on this list?
The reason is that what it does in the free version, it does extremely well. It allows you to quickly block out a scene with your actors and cameras before shooting.
You can insert props, furniture, and even walls. You can coordinate the movement of the actors and the camera, saving yourself some time and headaches by giving your crew a solid top-down view of where you want them.
Essentially, in its free version, it makes an excellent football coach’s whiteboard, just with actors instead of quarterbacks.
6. Filmic Pro
Similar to Shot Designer, Filmic Pro is not free, but it has a subscription model instead of a one-time payment. A free version is still available, although lacking in a couple of the more professional features—such as the ability to film in ProRes format, or making use of Frame.io, a handy video collaboration service that has become a crucial part of many filmmakers’ workflow.
Despite its limitations, however, Filmic Pro remains arguably one of the best manual video cameras for your smartphone.
Even in its stripped-out form, the app boasts an impressive array of features, like image stabilization and manual control over pretty much every aspect of the camera’s settings.
Depending on your smartphone’s camera quality, it won’t necessarily replace your DSLR. But it does an admirable job as a secondary camera to capture a different angle or an insert shot in a quality that can be seamlessly edited into place.
There’s Never Been a Better Time to Be a No-Budget Filmmaker
Some of us remember a time when DIY filmmaking meant using a shopping cart as a dolly and a broomstick as a boom mic. Now, thanks to smartphone cameras and apps, getting at least the basics of a good filming rig is within the reach of most budgets, no matter how low.