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October 04, 2010
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As the script revisions finish, the business plan and budgeting has begun for the next feature film. Since I was a broker, I have some idea how to write for the people with money. It’s never easy and it’s never fun, but I have a knack for knowing numbers. What’s odd is that most filmmakers are terrible with numbers. I’ve seen people throw out numbers and budgets as if they had a clue where that money goes or what it’s for when they clearly do not. Anyone who randomly says, “I could make 5 feature films for $100,000.00” clearly doesn’t know how to budget a movie.

A lot of people hear about El Mariachi for $7,000 or Clerks for $27,000 (rounded up from the actual $26965.00). Or the generic budgets of $1 Million for an indie film and they just turn into parrots repeating numbers they heard vaguely somewhere or they just pick a budget amount from a random group of numbers without doing any kind of break down.

For people who intend to make a feature film for under $10,000 some harsh realities have to kick in. It’s possible to make “a” movie for that, but its profitability is limited to similarly low amounts. The price you pay is a crew that is all volunteer and mostly inexperienced. There’s nothing wrong with this model and business plan, but it’s not for me and most people are deluding themselves into thinking they have the next indie feature hit film like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY.

The problem is when people have such a low amount of money to play with, like $10K and think that everyone will get paid at least something. This is unrealistic.

Here's a line item on MEALS alone....

$6 per meal x 20 cast/crew x 3 meals a day x 15 DAYS shooting schedule = $5,400

That's a combined cast and crew of 20. Add some extras and your costs start to go up a lot. Add more shooting days, price goes up. This does not include craft services either, as having food and drinks available all day is the least you can do for a free or cheaply paid crew. That $6 per meal includes beverages. Making that stretch and not buying pizza for every single meal is the art of a good caterer and there are some that specialize in film and video shoots.

Let's look at a basement low pay rate for crew. Let's say you are going to have 8 crew people.

$50 a day x 8 crew people x 15 days = $6,000

I don't even want to know how much experience your grip has if they can afford to work for $50 a day. I randomly chose 8 positions, some will cost more and in some cases, you might need more people, or less people at a higher rate. Most professionals start at about $200-$300 a day, and a good D.P. or sound person will be higher, especially if they are bringing their own gear to the production.

Right now, you are already over budget by $1,400 of your $10,000 budget and this is paying peanuts to the crew and nothing to the cast and feeding everyone for meals during the shoot. This amount does not include any money for tape stock, editing, on set special effects, stunts, props, sets, location fees, transportation, hotels, equipment rental, post production, editing, sound, deliverables, E&O insurance, Production insurance, contingency, batteries, walkie talkies, printing of scripts, printing of call sheets, production reports, taxes, and the few hundred other expenses that come with making a movie.

My advice to anyone starting out making movies or moving from short films to a feature film is to get out a calculator and work out some very basic numbers with arithmetic before spouting any potential budget ranges. Everyone wants to focus on the “art” and not worry about the costs. If you want someone’s money, you will start having to worry about the costs, or you will have to get money and hire a PRODUCER to worry about the costs for you. If you only have $10,000 – congratulations Mr. Director, you are also your own Producer.

That leads to another topic for another time….
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