A no-budget film is a film made with very little or no money. Actors and technicians are often employed in these films without remuneration. A no-budget film is typically made at the beginning of a filmmaker's career, with the intention of either exploring creative ideas, testing their filmmaking abilities, or for use as a professional "calling card" when seeking creative employment. No-budget films are commonly submitted to film festivals, the intention being to raise widespread interest in the film.
No-budget films are financed out-of-pocket by the director, who typically takes on multiple roles, or else uses a crew of volunteers.
In 1960, Ron Rice released The Flower Thief, starring Taylor Mead, to positive reception. The film was produced for less than $1,000 using black-and-white 16 mm 50' film cartridges left over from aerial gunnery equipment used during World War II. In the early 1960s, filmmaker Jack Smith used discarded color-reversal film stock to film Flaming Creatures. John Waters' 1964 black-and-white film Hag in a Black Leather Jacket reportedly cost $30 to make, though Waters has said that he stole the film stock. Craig Baldwin's Flick Skin is entirely made from discarded film, or "found footage", retrieved from a projectionist's booth. The No Wave Cinema movement of the late 1970s, represented by filmmakers such as Vivienne Dick, produced many notable no-budget films shot on Super 8, such as Beauty Becomes The Beast. In 1996, Sarah Jacobson's first feature film, Mary Jane's Not a Virgin Anymore, was made with "one camera, one tape recorder, one mic and, like, four lights". G. B. Jones took 13 years to film, direct and edit on Super 8 film the feature film The Lollipop Generation (2008), which was filmed whenever she could afford to buy a roll of film. In 2012, first-time director Shawn Holmes shot his debut film Memory Lane with non-professional actors and a budget of less than $300. In the same year, Goodbye Promise became the first film distributed online directly to its audience via a crowdfunding platform. The 2013 sci-fi Hyperfutura by James O'Brien employed found footage married to a live action narrative to create a dystopian future on an inventive no-budget scale. The budget for Brian Patrick Butler’s black comedy Friend of the World was so small that it was said to cost less than a monthly spend on coffee, relying on its black and white images and stage play setup.
Footage for no-budget films is often shot on location, either with permission, or without permission (i.e. "guerrilla filmmaking"), using sites such as the filmmaker's home, backyard, or local neighborhood. Jonás Cuarón spent a year taking photographs of his friends and family which he then compiled into his fictional film Year of the Nail (2007).
No-budget films have often been made in the past using Super 8 film or video, but recent films have taken advantage of low-cost digital cameras and editing programs. A notable example of this could be found in the work of ASS Studios, a no-budget film studio founded in 2011 by Courtney Fathom Sell and Jen Miller on the Lower East Side of New York City.
No-budget films can be distributed at film festivals that focus on independent and experimental films, such as the Flicker Film Festival and No Budget Film Festival in Los Angeles, The 8 Fest in Toronto, and the Trasharama A-Go-Go festival in Australia. The Polish brothers distributed their no-budget film For Lovers Only on iTunes and relied on social media to publicize it.
Examples of well-received no-budget films are Kevin Smith's Clerks, Christopher Nolan's Following, Jafar Panahi's Taxi, Shane Carruth's Primer, Robert Rodriguez's El Mariachi, Bruno Stagnaro & Israel Adrián Caetano's Pizza, birra, faso, Nabwana I.G.G.'s Who Killed Captain Alex?, Jörg Buttgereit’s Nekromantik, and Cyrus Frisch's Why Didn't Anybody Tell Me It Would Become This Bad in Afghanistan.