B is for Budgets, Part II: Get More Than What You Paid For
As I read over my last post, I realized I had much more to say about budgets. It’s a huge topic that can have its own twelve or fourteen week series as a stand alone. But these are the cliff notes of the crash course so this will be the last post for our Bs.
The challenge in independent film is not only how to raise the money, but how to ensure that the money you’ve raised covers the work that needs to be done. For better or for worse, using the gift of flexibility you must often take an inflexible budget and move a film through pre-production, production and post-production. Many producers, out of necessity, don’t even worry about marketing and delivery when it comes to their budgets. They are much more concerned with just making it through post. However, it should be noted that you will need money for film festivals if you chose to go that route, a trailer if your editor is not cutting one, promo clips and printed materials, possibly even airfare and screening venue fees. Budgeting for this phase of a film’s life should be given some thought. But let’s get you there first.
Here are a few steps to crafting a budget for your film…
Usually it is the Line Producers job to draft the initial budget that helps producers see their way through the forest. But what if there’s no money in the budget for a line producer and you have to do it yourself? Arm yourself with an experienced 1st AD. Even if you have to spend a little extra on this person, its their job to create the master blueprint for tackling filming. With the right project, you may find a 1st AD who will work through pre-production at no extra charge. This can be critical to your budget.
The 1st AD will prepare a schedule that should be based on a breakdown of your shooting script. So how many cast members, what is their order in terms of speaking lines, how many locations, how many outfit changes. All of this information informs the blueprint that will project how many shooting days are required. Of course, the more shooting days, the more money you spend. The quickest way to lower costs is to slash scenes, merge locations, minimize camera setups, minimize the time required to reset lights.
A webseries example…
Let’s say for example sake, you have a 7 episode webseries. Let’s also say for example sake that each episode is on average 5 pages. That’s 35 pages. Depending on a variety of factors including how much of the script is action versus dialogue, you may wind up shooting roughly 7 pages a day. So that’s 5 shooting days. Here are some line items you can expect to see in a production budget like that one. Your power to negotiate, cajole and entice will make all the difference as to the numbers that in the end are associated with these items. But remember, some items (and I mean no disrespect to anyone) are unavoidable. These include DP, gaffer, camera, sound, etc. For some scripts, it may be production design, for others it may include wardrobe. You know what you cannot live without based on the particulars of your endeavor.
A low budget feature film example budget…
Let’s jump to the other side of the spectrum and say for example sake, however that you are producing a feature. A low budget feature film, and you have roughly $5M to play with. $5M still falls well within the low budget film definition used by the DGA and other unions. Once you get over a certain budget threshold, you have no choice but to go union. Now you will need a Line Producer and she or he will help you put together a budget that will have roughly the following categories and line items…
Be flexible and creative when you are building your blueprint. Think through the line items in your budget carefully regardless of whether you have $10K or $5M. Make each dollar count. Arm yourself with a great 1stAD AND if you can afford one a great Line Producer.
With the right zigs and zags, you will always walk away with more than you paid for.
So you want to be a producer. I understand why. It’s a wonderful job. Some of my best moments in life, greatest accomplishments, longest friendships were forged while working as a producer. I never went to film school. Everything I learned, I learned in development, pre-production, production and post of actual projects for whom investors had invested their hard earned money, artists coalesced around, and audiences experienced in some form or fashion. It’s been a rollercoaster of a ride SO FAR, and baby I ain’t done. But I’ll share with you some of what I’ve learned along the way.
These are my ABCs of Producing.
The Black TV & Film Collective a 501c3 organization that operates as a NYC film collective. In our work, we support all artists of color including but not limited to black filmmakers. We are a collaborative platform that represents diversity in film and supports inclusion in Hollywood and TV. Our professional network of New York City filmmakers gives knowledge to those who want to learn how to produce film, how to make a web series, how to budget film projects and more. We host NYC film workshops that welcome a variety of experience levels from first time filmmakers who are either students in film school or to notables within the television and film industry. See how you can make a difference in the world of cinema by becoming a member of our NYC film collective.
Huriyyah Muhammad is the Founder of the Black TV & Film Collective and Managing Partner of Infinite Wings Media. As an independent feature film producer, she has led the production of multiple independent feature films from development to market, and most recently completed filming projects in Nairobi, Kenya and Madhya Pradesh, India. Her documentary,Bulbul: Song of the Nightingale is currently in post-production, while Soko Sonko, Swahili for Market King, continues to win awards. She has over 20 producing credits, and will make her narrative directorial debut this winter with the supernatural suspense Keloid.
Huriyyah is an avid writer, director and producer who is passionate about creating long-lasting opportunities for people of color within the film, TV and digital media industries. She holds an MBA from the NYU Stern School of Business and a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Computer Science from Spelman College.