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Mike Stasko frames a shot of actor Kevin McDonald.Mike Stasko frames a shot of actor Kevin McDonald on the Windsor-Essex set of the independent comedy feature “Boys Vs. Girls.”

Film prof discusses creative approach to small-budget productions

Small budgets can act as constraints on independent filmmaking, says communications professor Mike Stasko, but creatively assessing how to make the most of what you have is where opportunities begin.

He outlines four meaningful ways to embrace small budgets in an article published Monday in the Conversation, which shares news and views from the academic and research community.

Prof. Stasko cites his experiences as writer and director of his fifth feature, the comedy Boys Vs. Girls, to offer these lessons:

1. Think globally, act locally

We’ve heard this as it applies to environmental and social justice causes, but with advances in digital technology, indie filmmaking has benefited too.

I shoot most of my projects in my hometown of Windsor, and this has provided me with numerous economic and production advantages. Renting out all locations — hotel rooms, production offices and cast trailers — would normally eat the lion’s share of a budget. But on Boys vs. Girls, we rented an off-season summer camp that acted as all three for a fraction of the price.

2. Engage enthusiasm

On all my film sets, regardless if some people are being paid big bucks, small bucks, doing an internship or volunteering, I keep track of everyone’s total hours. On the Boys vs. Girls set, that included 30 film students enrolled at the University of Windsor.

My approach is to divide everyone’s hours by the group’s final total and give everyone “ownership” in the film. This means you could have been the production assistant and walked away with a certificate that entitles you to a share of the producer’s net equity.

3. Spend money on morale

This can pay dividends in getting a few recognizable actors on the set for cameo roles. For Boys vs. Girls, I was able to secure the comedic talents of Colin Mochrie to play the camp director, Roger, and Kevin McDonald to play the camp caretaker, Coffee.

As soon as these comedy icons showed up, the rest of the cast and crew immediately felt the rush of “this is the real deal” and everyone’s game stepped up.

4. Throw time at your story

Concede early on to the fact that you won’t be able to compete with mainstream Hollywood productions when it comes to production values like special effects or star power.

But here’s the good news: 15 years into my filmmaking career, I can assure you that story is by far the most important element to filmmaking, and it just happens to be the one thing you can compete with.

Read the entire piece, “4 ways independent filmmakers can make the most of small budgets for big results,” in the Conversation.

Stasko’s battle-of-the-sexes comedy about the first summer a camp goes co-ed, Boys Vs. Girls will receive release on digital video disc and video-on-demand Dec. 22. Find details on where the film will be available by visiting www.boysvgirlsmovie.ca.