BUDGETING: THE INDEPENDENT METHOD
by Dov S-S Simens on January 25, 2015
Budgeting the correct way. There is obviously only one method to use for budgeting once you have your screenplay and are preparing a budget for your script to be made into a feature film “the right way”.
“The right way”, “Can you prepare a budget for me… the right way”, “I want to do it right”, “What is it going to cost to make this movie”… These are the most common statements I heard 30 years ago when I was hustling gigs as a Production Manager, Assistant Director or, hopefully, a Line Producer from first-time Producers or Directors…even Screenwriters.
“The right way”!
“The right way”?
I know how to do a budget. I worked for Roger Corman (King of the Bs), a producer/distributor who has made almost 700 feature films that have all allegedly made profits. I know what things cost.
- Renting Cameras.
- Hiring Crew.
- Renting Locations.
- Building Sets.
- Securing Film Permits.
- Paying for Insurance.
- Casting Actors.
- Renting a Grip Truck.
- Paying a Gaffer.
- Feeding a Crew.
- Buying Props & Wardrobe.
Forms, contracts, agreements, deals… I did it, I did it, I did it…
I wrote the checks. I made the deals and not by theory but by actually doing. I asked for “rates”, I haggled, I negotiated, I never paid retail, I begged, I made the deals.
I would listen to a vendor, an equipment supplier, an actor, a crew person tell me what they charged; then I would say “Cash?”
I truly know what things cost when making a low-budget or independent feature film and I discovered that budgeting the “right way” is really, in reality, the “wrong way”. Now allow me present the proper approach to budgeting.
Back-to-basics: There are two ways of doing a budget. The first is the “right way” and the second is the “wrong way”. What I discovered from the school of hard knocks is the “right way” doesn’t work.
Permit me to explain. The “right way” is you go to the Writers Store website and buy a movie-budget software (Movie Magic, Guerilla, Easy or ShowBiz) or even try a freeware (celtx).
Load it onto your computer then fill in every line item “The Right Way”. Doing this the “right way”, and filling-in every single line item as if it is an “absolute must”, which it probably is if making your movie the “right way” and you will inherently come up with a budget that is between $2 Million to $200 Million.
You print it out, all 40-70 pages, with a proper Title Page and Top Sheet and you now have almost 130-200 pages (your script at 90-120 and the budget at 40-60) of typing. Combine this with some actor head-shots and agreements, some CV resumes of key crew personnel, a couple of storyboard panels, a poster, a festival plan and a business plan and you have one-hell of a package….which is totally useless!
Who the heck is going to give you, a first-timer, $2-$200 Million? Who? Come on, answer. Get real. Who?
Answer: No one.
So the “right way”, which can be called the “Studio Method”, the method taught at those $200,000 4-year film schools, USC or NYU, gets you stuck in a deadend and nowhere.
Now, let’s prepare a budget the “wrong way”, which can be called the “Independent Method”, is the method that will actually work for you, the first-timer, for your first feature film.
This is the method used by Roger Corman when he hires someone, a Line Producer or Co-Producer, to make a movie. He simply says, “You’ll get $150,000. Can you make it for that?” Your answer better be instantly, no hesitating allowed, “Absolutely, Mr Corman”
So what is the “wrong way” to prepare a budget?
The “wrong way” is first pick a number, a dollar amount, in the above example from Mr Corman the number was $150,000. Ergo, you know your budget instantly. Now lets figure out how to allocate that money over cast, crew, equipment, locations, food, etc to get this movie made… “the best way possible” but made.
Simple. Just pick a number, a dollar amount that you truly believe you have access too independently, but not by deal making, but by your savings account, or what a group of friends & relatives might give you, or what a crowd fund group might offer with proper donations.
So the “wrong way”, or the “Independent Method”, of prepping a budget is to actually pick the DOLLAR AMOUNT first. Then back into it.
Thus, if you want to Budget with a method that Guarantees you will make the movie you first pick the dollar amount that you will have access to…and that’s the budget.
I know it’s the “wrong way” but it works… Guaranteed!