THE 3-WEEK FEATURE FILM (Low-Budget Independent Filmmaking)
by Dov S-S Simens on June 17, 2017
INDEPENDENT (LOW-BUDGET) FILMMAKING: The Budget, Script, Shoot, Crew & 1 Hot Tip
(1) BUDGET: $200,000-$300,000 or $300,000-$500,000
(“For $200-300K you produce a quality 3-week shoot, signing with likely 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” for you can do so with only $200,000-$300,000 (Shh! See Hot Tip Below).
Permit me to detail what $200-300K can accomplish…
You can execute (A) a 3-week (18-day shoot) Production, with (B) a 4-week Pre-Production to scout, cast, rehearse, crew and design properly, with (C) a 10-week Post-Production period to include a (C-1) 5-week picture edit, (C-2) 2-week sound edit, (C-3) 3-day ADR session, (C-4) a 3-day Foley session, with (C-5) a 1-week Mix/M&E to ensure a (C-6) color-corrected print or DCP from your lab containing an orginal (C-7) music score.
Now, imagine what you could do (produce) with an extra $200,00 and had $300,000-$500,000 cash which, during marketing, when asked “What’s the budget?”, you would likely say it’s a “$1-2 Million Feature” or even a “Just-Under $2-3 Million Feature”.
And if you had a $500,000-$700,000 cash which, once again, when asked “What’s the budget?”, you would likely call it a “Just-Under $3-5 Million Feature”.
Again (See Hot Tip Below).
(2) SCRIPT: 90-100 pages (3-4 locations)
(“Script is no longer a 1-location stageplay.”)
The No-Budget ($10K-$20K) and Micro-Budget ($50K-$100K) scripts (85-90 pages) are self-written (Final Draft 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.
Further, with $200-300K you can allocate $10K-$25K to hire a writer to get a Treatment ($1-2K/week for 8-10 weeks), 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 resolution.
Plus, within the script, you can afford 3-4 locations (the Cemetary, the Haunted House, the Police Station 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- or Micro-Budget script.
- This is an Independent Low-Budget script.
Another option, since you can budget $25,000 for script procurement, is to purchase ($25,000 purchase price with a $5,000 non-refundable option) a locally produced stageplay, that you have seen and love (you must love it… not just like it a lot… 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 crew, equipment, food and location rentals for 3-weeks.
Further, if desired, you can sign with an Above-The-Line guild, the Screen Actors Guild (http://www.sagaftra.org/ultra-low-budget-agreement), for professional actors.
(“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 (Hollywoodese for a Movie), with budgets of approx $200,000, 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, with a 90-100 page script, has a Shooting Schedule of 5-6 Pages/Day.
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 soundman, with his 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 not theory, are solid and I hope you attend one of my Master Film Classes to launch your career… www.webfilmSchool.com)
In low-budget filmmaking think of food as-food think of food as-fuel…. “You must fuel your crew well.”
Food, or fuel, for your cast and crew, during 3-weeks, entails a (A) Breakfast supplied at $75/day by your Craftservice Person, (B) Lunch at $10/person supplied by either a caterer or a local restaurant who brings it to the set, (C) Snack table at $25/day supplied by the Craftservice Person, and, on the days shooting also EXT-NIGHT you have a second meal (pizza, burgers & fries) supplied again by the Craftservice Person with the assist of two PAs with a SUV or Van.
With $200-$300K, and a 3-week shoot, you can allocate $80-90K for crew salaries.
(“Low-Budget 3-week crews are usually 20-25 individuals.”)
Salaries for 3-weeks 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.
With $80-$90K, for a 3-week shoot, you hire quality-experienced individuals for your key slots of DP, PM, PC, PD, Sound, Gaff & Grip and film school grads for the support slots.
(5) HOT TIP
HOLLYWOOD LIES: 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, over 5 decades, made 700 “Million Dollar Feature Films” (All with the word “Blood”, “Zombie”, “Nightmare”, Fatal”, “Massacre”, etc. somewhere in title) that made profits and when asked “what was the budget” he always responded “A-Mill… (paused and qualified) Just Under-A-Mill.”
1-year and five “Just-Under-a-Mill” features later I realized that as, now Line Producer, I never saw more than $300,000, usually $200,000, in cash spent, for a 3-week shoot (prep & post included), to make what Mr Corman called 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 make sure that you always remember that whatever budget you read or heard about of any film is ALWAYS A LIE.
HOLLYWOOD LIES: They either inflate budget to create a larger perceived value or in the No- or Micro-Budget world they deflate the budget to make the movie appear to be more of a darling.
Always remember “Hollywood Lies” and whatever your budget is “It is no one’s business except your investors, your accountant and the IRS.”
Welcome to Hollywood.
Dov Simens / Dean / Hollywood Film Institute
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