Filming in a Nightclub with Zero Budget? Here’s How I Did It

Joshua Caldwell
9 min readAug 2, 2023

The ‘Layover’ Nightclub Scene: A Narrative Turning Point

As a fan of scenes set in nightclubs, I was thrilled to incorporate such a setting in my film Layover . The vibrant colors, dazzling lights, and raw energy of a club provide a rich texture and a fantastic palette that can significantly elevate a movie. More importantly, for my film, the club scene marked a critical turning point in Simone’s journey.

Layover is a character-driven drama that centers on Simone, a French woman stranded in Los Angeles overnight due to an airline layover. As the story unfolds, we witness Simone navigating through the unfamiliar cityscape, exploring the nightlife, and forging unexpected connections. The spontaneous experiences and encounters challenge her perspectives and her reserved nature, leading to a transformative journey of self-discovery and inner growth.

Until this point, Simone had been somewhat reserved, on the path towards an engagement. The nightclub scene threw her into a position where the unpredictable could occur, providing a fascinating contrast. It was here that Simone fully embraced the experience of the layover, high on ecstasy, dancing, and music. She took in the exhilarating atmosphere of the club, meeting the motorcyclist, gaining insights into Juliette’s marriage, and losing her group. The nightclub scene is a significant catalyst in the narrative, sparking changes that shape the remainder of the film.

Dive into the captivating behind-the-scenes story of how we shot a vibrant and pivotal nightclub scene for ‘Layover’ on a shoestring budget. Learn how creative problem-solving, resourcefulness, and a focus on the characters’ emotions turned constraints into artistic triumphs in independent filmmaking. The magic of cinema truly lies in the unexpected places.

Shooting on a Budget: Challenging But Possible

That said, as much as I wanted to include the club, operating on a limited budget posed challenges for the production, especially when it came to choosing locations. Renting a club for the shoot was prohibitively expensive, but I believed that the key to no-budget filmmaking was making use of resources at hand. I had a friend who was a photographer and I often saw him on Instagram in clubs taking photos with his camera. When I wrote the script, I thought that maybe, at worst, we could use part of the budget to buy a table and bottle service from a club, go in with my cast and crew and the Canon 5D and basically steal the shot. I also considered the approach Darren Aronofsky took in Black Swan: finding a garage-like space, covering the walls in black plastic bags and putting in a bunch of lights to simulate a club. The flexibility of these options meant that I felt we could pull it off somehow and so we didn’t have to alter the script to accommodate the budget.

My producer, Vertel Scott, explored more traditional ways of securing a club for shooting, thanks to his connections with several club owners. We pitched our project as minimally disruptive: we would come in with a small team and our Canon 5D camera while they were open, shoot for a couple of hours, not bother any of their customers, not bring in a bunch of equipment or lights, and then leave. We scouted a few clubs, testing the lighting and crowds, to ensure our plan was feasible. The club owner eventually agreed to let us shoot for free, given we didn’t impact the club’s operations. This scenario turned what could have been an expensive sequence into one of the cheapest of the film.

Capturing the Club Scene: An Exercise in Variety and Emotion

I knew going in that other than the entering of the club and a specific narrative beat, the rest of the scene was just going to be a montage. So it was really about getting as much coverage and variety of coverage as possible. It needed to have energy to it and feel a little chaotic. I wanted a sense of “what the hell did I just watch?” Not confusion but an energy that hit you. And all of that is grounded in Simone’s experience. It’s all her POV. It was about creating a feeling and an emotion.

When we first got to the club it was early and no one was there. We had another scene to shoot later and a running clock on our time at the club, so we couldn’t just stand around. I decided to shoot the moment later in the scene when Simone sees Juliette kissing a stranger. Now, I just said that no one was at the club yet. All I had were the nine people on the cast and crew.

So, here’s what we did: We posted up in the lobby area, which was lit red and had an interesting background. I set Bella (Juliette) and her male friend in position and I then lined up the cast and crew, even Nathalie (Simone), two by two, backs to each other. I told them to each take half a step forward. I had our DP stand on the stairs next to us with the panel light and flash and sweep it across the action. I went to the long end of the lens (100mm) framed my shot and then told everyone to start dancing and called action. (See diagram below)

I wish I had a behind-the-scenes picture of it, as I’m sure it looked super weird and goofy but because of the long lens, the image turned out how it looks in the film, shadows moving in and out of frame and it feels like we’re in a packed club. I did the same when I turned around on Nathalie. In fact, the person to the left of Nathalie in her shot is the guy Bella is kissing in hers.

Other than that specific scene everything else was just grabbing whatever I could. We shot on both the 5D mk II and the 7D. We used the 7D to shoot 60i for slow motion footage. Both cameras were probably at 6400 ISO and on a 1.4 or 1.8 aperture (whatever lens we had).

One of the main things was lighting. I noticed the club had these sweeping pink and blue lights. So I positioned Nathalie and Karl where the light was passing, told them to dance and then just rolled. A lot of the raw footage was too dark but I was waiting for that light to pass over them, knowing it would really cut down in the edit. Since I didn’t have control over the light, I just had to make use of what was provided, even if that meant shooting a lot of footage I couldn’t use.

Crafting the Mood: Intrigue and Fervor

When it came to editing, the goal was to create a mood of sexual intrigue amidst ecstasy-fueled fervor. Our editor, Will Torbett, did an excellent job on his first pass, using footage from a scout shot to create an atmosphere filled with scope and energy. The fast, chaotic edits eventually gave way to slower, more reflective moments, keeping the viewer on their toes.

Will Torbett (Editor): “We have two key story beats: protagonist (Nathalie) meets suitor (Karl) while her friend (Bella) absconds with a lover of her own. Each is conveyed (as with the rest of the film) via Simone’s point of view. Thus, her scenes with Karl are immediate, close-up, and more than a little hazy. Karl’s appearances here are in brief slo-mo shots, leaving a powerful, lingering impression but one fleeting enough that his reappearance in the next scene is jarring. Simone’s discovery of Danielle’s infidelity is quick but sobering; they appear mixed in the crowd as a pure POV shot, and our reverse reaction shot is equally brief before Simone darts off in aggravation.”

So, in short, the mood ebbs and flows as the ecstasy wears off (though we’re drastically abbreviating its usual schedule). Quick, chaotic edits give way to woozy slo-mo, broken by frenzied confusion, sobering indignation, and finally the stone-cold awakening in the parking lot.

Other than some minor tweaks, the edit on this scene is basically his first pass. He found all of this club footage that Vertel had shot one night during a scout, to show us what the club would look like with a lot of people. I hadn’t even considered that footage, but Will made fantastic use of it to help create atmosphere and give the scene some scope and energy.

The film itself was edited to the raw audio track captured by the cameras during shooting. And I really liked it. Because the mic on the 5D isn’t very good, the sound was really distorted and grungy, peaking and blown out. And I loved it because it felt so raw and real. It wasn’t this perfectly sounding club song. I knew we couldn’t get clearance to the songs in that recording, so my original plan was to approach a DJ to create a mix for the scene and use source music. During spotting I mentioned this to Bill Brown, our composer, who offered to give it a go and create a completely original track.

Bill: “It worked out really well because we were able to actually tweak the club music to picture and hit cuts and take it all to the next level in the mix using separated elements of the music in 5.1.

“When I saw and heard the final dub in the theater I literally laughed out loud I was so blown away by the final result. It’s really amazing the way the images and music came together — especially hearing it with a great sound system. The other thing I have to mention about Joshua is how he has such a firm grasp on balancing score to picture. He lets the score take the lead in so many spots in the film and it’s magical. This was one of those areas where it just immerses the audience in the scene and really makes us feel like we’re right there in the club.

“But it’s also an emotional thing. Joshua gets inside the characters’ heads and experiences by bringing the music to the forefront in those moments. I think the audience connects more with the characters because of his choices both when we’re working on the score together and in his final mix. And it’s a lot of fun to watch when it’s completed.”

To sum up, shooting the club scene for ‘Layover’ was an exciting challenge that required a lot of creative problem-solving. We had to work within strict constraints due to budget restrictions and the inherent difficulties of filming in such a live environment. However, it was these very challenges that compelled us to come up with innovative solutions that ultimately brought a rich, authentic feel to the scene. The ecstasy of the club, the interplay of light and sound, and the raw emotions of our characters were all captured on a shoestring budget, showcasing that sometimes limitations can fuel the most profound creativity. We hope that our experience and the strategies we employed can inspire and inform other filmmakers navigating the thrilling world of independent cinema.

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Joshua Caldwell is a director, writer, producer, and MTV Movie Award Winner. His debut feature film LAYOVER was made for $6000 and had its World Premiere to sold out crowds at the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival where it was nominated for the prestigious FIPRESCI New American Cinema Award. He wrote and directed INFAMOUS, starring Bella Thorne which was the #1 New Movie in America the week of its debut. Indiewire called the film “nihilistic and uncomfortably believable” with “an appropriately nutso performance from Bella Thorne.” Screenrant wrote “A thrilling crime drama and compelling character study” while Variety called it “perversely fascinating” and “infused with kinetic verve.” His latest film MENDING THE LINE, stars Brian Cox, Sinqua Walls, Perry Mattfeld and Wes Studi. The story of a marine injured in Afghanistan who meets a Vietnam Vet who teaches him how to fly fish as a way of dealing with his trauma, the film was released in theaters in June 2023 and is 79% FRESH on

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Joshua Caldwell

Director, Producer, Writer, MENDING THE LINE, INFAMOUS, NEGATIVE, LAYOVER. MTV Movie Award Winner. Reel: