HOT TIP: “HOLLYWOOD LIES” (THE LOW-BUDGET $1 MILLION FEATURE FILM)
by Dov S-S Simens on December 15, 2018
INDEPENDENT (LOW-BUDGET) FILM MAKING: The Budget, Script, Shoot, Crew & 1 Hot Tip
(1) BUDGET: $200,000-$300,000 or $300,000-$500,000
(“For $200,000-300,000 you can produce a $1,000,000 movie and sign with only 1 guild.”)
Want to make a “Million Dollar Feature”?
However (Shh! Secret coming), you do not need $1,000,000 to make a “Million Dollar Feature”… all you need is $200,000-$300,000 (Shh! See Hot Tip Below).
Now, permit me to outline what $200,000-300,000 can accomplish…
You can execute a (A) 4-week Pre-Production to scout, cast, rehearse, crew and design properly, with a (B) 3-week (18-day shoot) Production, with (C) a 10-week Post-Production period that has a (C-1) 5-week Picture Edit, a (C-2) 2-week Sound Edit, a (C-3) 3-day ADR session, a (C-4) a 3-day Foley session, with (C-5) a 1-week Mix and M&E to ensure a (C-6) color-corrected print or DCP from your lab with an original (C-7) music score.
Now, with an extra $200,000, assuming you have $400-500K, just imagine what you could produce which, during marketing period (See Hot Tip Below), when asked “What’s the budget?”, you would likely say… “$1-2 Million” or even “just-under $2-3 Million“.
And if you had another $100k and $500,000-$700,000 cash which, once again, when asked “What’s the budget?” (See Hot Tip Below), you will say “just-under $3-5 Million”.
Again… (See Hot Tip Below).
(2) SCRIPT: 90-100 pages (3-4 locations)
(“Script is no longer a 1-location stage play. It is more a “Sex, Lies, Videotape” movie with 4-5 locations, within a 4 block radius, with easy parking for cast & crew)
The No-Budget ($10K-$20K) and Micro-Budget ($50K-$100K) scripts (85-90 pages) are self-written (Final Draft 11.0 or Celtx) with a story, like Hitchcock’s “ROPE”, happening during 90-minutes of real-time.
- With $10-100K you are a Hyphen (Writer-Producer or Writer-Director) and writing the script.
- With $200-300K you can afford to hire someone (aka: Writer-For-Hire) to write the script.
The Low-Budget screenplay, assuming you have $200-300K, and making an alleged $1M feature film, allows you to allocate $10K-$25K to hire a writer for a Treatment ($1-2K/week for 8-10 weeks) and a Beat Sheet (40-50 scenes), with 2 Drafts (90-100 pages), that has a story with structure (aka: Beginning, Middle, End) that takes place, not in real-time, but over an extended period with great dialogue, 3 sub-plots, and a crisis with a fulfilling resolution.
Plus, within the script, you can afford 4-5 locations (the Cemetery, the Bar, the Police Station, his House, her Apartment and…) all 4-5 blocks of each other, with 6-8 actors, to include 1 semi-name ($10-25K for 1 Day) to play role #4, and 10-12 pages EXT-NIGHT location (likely the Cemetary) scheduled for the last days of the shoot.
- This is no longer a No-B or Micro-B script.
- This is an Independent Low-B script.
Another option, since you can budget $25,000, is to purchase/option ($25,000 purchase price with a $5,000 non-refundable option) the exclusive rights to a locally produced stage play, that you have seen and love (you must love it… not just like it… you must love it), with 3-4 actors, great dialogue and character interaction that can be shot in 2-weeks at one-location.
(3) SHOOT: 3-Weeks (18 Days)
With $200-$300K cash you can afford professional crew, two 4K cameras and equipment, catered food and practical locations rented over the scheduled 3-week shoot.
Further, if desired, you can sign with an Above-The-Line guild, the Screen Actors Guild… http://www.SagAFTRA.org/ultra-low-budget-agreement
(“3-Week Shoots have only 20 minutes to set up, block, light, rehearse and execute a shot.”)
This agreement (aka: *contract) states for 90-Minute Narratives (Hollywood-talk for a Movie), with budgets under $250,000, you can hire SAG Actors for as little as $100/day.
FOOTNOTE: * Please-Please-Please read the Ultra-Low-Budget Contract carefully and understand debts, financial obligations, deferrals and deferments before you quickly think the agreement has you only obligated to the $100/day.
- 3-week shoot has 18-Shooting Days.
- 18-Shooting Days, 90-page script is a Schedule of 5 Pages/Day.
- 5 Pages/day, 10 Hours Shooting is 1 Page in-the-can every two hours
- 1 Page, with 6 setups, every two hours is 20 minutes/setup
To Direct and get coverage and allow actors a 2nd take, to enhance their performance, with a schedule of 5-6 pages/day, you must schedule 1 Page in-the-can every 2 hours.
Directing 1 scene/page every two hours, with 5-6 setups/page/scene, translates to 25-30 setups/day with 20-25 minutes/setup.
Further, directing 1 scene/page every 2 hours, with 5-6 setups (Master Shot, 2 Medium Shots, 2 Closeups, 1 Establishing shot) still needs numerous 3-5 cutaways framed as closeups.
- Lighting, 1 setup every 20-25 minutes, means 10-15 minutes to move and adjust the lights.
- Lighting Director (aka: Gaffer) has barely time to light with a single Key, 2 Backs, and if super fast 2-3 Fill Lights.
Your Cinematographer (aka: Director of Photography) is allocated enough money to rent two 4K camera packages (Reds “Yes”, Alexa “Maybe”), with a package of 4 Prime lenses and 1 10:1 Zoom lens, with a support staff of 2 Camera Operators, a 1st AC, a 2nd AC and a DIT.
- Sync Sound will be excellent, for you can afford a quality sound man, with his/her own equipment and Van, that includes a Boom/Mike Man.
Salaries (See Below)…
Schedule. Actors. Direct. Cameras. Lights. Sound. Crew… After permits, insurance & locations…What’s next?
(Hi, I’m Dov Simens and my grammar and syntax might be poor but my facts, based on experience, are solid and I want you to launch your film career… www.WebFilmSchool.com)
In low-budget film making think of food as-food think of food as-fuel…. “You must fuel your crew well.”
Food for your cast and crew for 3-weeks is (1st) a Breakfast supplied at $75/day by your Craftservice Person, (2nd) a Lunch at $10/person supplied by either a caterer or a local restaurant who brings it to the set, (3rd) a Snack table at $25/day supplied by the Craftservice Person, and, on the days shooting also EXT-NIGHT you have (4th) a second meal (pizza, burgers & fries) supplied again by the Craftservice Person with the assist of two PAs.
With $200-$300K, and a 3-week shoot, you can allocate $80-90K for salaries for a crew of 20-25, which are…
… DP ($10K)… Camera Operator ($5K)… 1st AC ($4K)… DIT ($4K)… PM/LP ($7K)… PC ($5K)… Sound ($5K)… Boom ($2K)… Gaffer ($5K)… Best Boy Electrician ($3K)… Grip ($3.5K)… Best Boy Grip ($3K)… Hair/Makeup ($5K)… Assistant ($2.5k)… Script Supervisor ($4K)… Craftservice ($2.5K)… PA 1-4 ($1K/each)… PD ($7K)… Set Decorator ($4K)… Paint-Carpenter ($3K), etc.
This is $80-$90K, for a 3-week shoot, and you have hired professionals for your key slots of DP, PM, PC, PD, Sound, Gaff & Grip and 2-4 year film school grads for all the supporting slots.
(5) HOT TIP
And now the Hot Tip.
(“Hollywood Lies. The Budget is? Yuk. Yuk. Yuk… The Movie Studios are the only manufacturers, in any industry, who tell the consumer/viewer what it costs to make their products… “The budget is”… You think they tell the truth? …They lie… They love, for marketing purposes, to grossly inflate the reported budget.”)
In the early ’80s, 2-years after arriving in Hollywood, I got my first job as a PA (42 years old and a PA at $125/week) on a Roger Corman (aka: “King of the Bs”) feature.
Mr Corman has made over 700 “Million Dollar Feature Films” (All with the word “Blood”, “Zombie”, “Nightmare”, “Slime, “Fatal”, “Final”, “Massacre”, etc. somewhere in title) that have made profits and when asked “what’s the budget” he’d always responds “A-Mill… Just Under-A-Mill.”
1-year and several “Just-Under-a-Mill” features later, I realized, now a Line Producer, that I never saw more than $300K, sometimes only $200K, for a 3-week shoot (prep & post included), to make what Mr Corman was calling a “Just Under-a-Mill” Feature Film.
“Oh. I got it. Hollywood lies. Million Dollars Features are made for $200,000-$300,000 in cash.”
The Hot Tip is to always remember that whatever budget you read or heard about of any film is… it is ALWAYS A LIE.
HOLLYWOOD LIES: They either inflate the budget to create a larger perceived value or in the No-B or Micro-B world they deflate the budget to make the movie appear to be more of a darling.
Always remember “Hollywood Lies” and whatever your real budget is “Tell no one. For it is no one’s business except your investors, your accountant and the IRS.”
But when marketing, and someone asks “What was your budget”, play the game, and either inflate or deflate the amount… Welcome to Hollywood.
Dov Simens / Dean / Hollywood Film Institute
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