You sit down with your script, and after an all night coffee fueled session with your producer/director, you come up with a $15 million budget to make your movie. A month later, when you've raised $15,000 on Kickstarter you decide, what the heck, you'll just make your film for that amount. Red flag! Warning! In a guest post on indie producer Ted Hope's blog Hope For Film, Colin Brown goes through the biggest five mistakes filmmakers make when budgeting their films, and how to avoid them in order to inspire confidence in investors, and make the best film you can.
Granting agencies won't even look at a film with a budget under $100k; conversely, studio execs wouldn't trust more than few million to a new director. How do you make sure the budget you come up with will be right for your film? Colin Brown, the editorial director of Slated, helps break it down for us.
The first thing that Brown encourages filmmakers to do is practice realism over optimism:
In the real world of actual investment, of course, potential financiers soon lose patience with producers who don’t have a clear picture of how much they will need, and where that money is going.
In coming up with a realistic assessment of your budget, make sure those costs are justified by both how much money you can raise and make back. And when you talk about those commercial prospects, be realistic. As Brown points out, investors are more likely to trust you and work with your budget if you don't bluff about your potential profitability.
Budget equally for each essential element
How do you decide what needs to stay and what needs to go? As Brown points out, if you are paying big money for an actor, you shouldn't list the car explosion in the opening scene as something you'll be doing on your computer yourself. A balanced budget is found when packaging is proportionate:
In the end, budgeting remains a bespoke sizing exercise that starts with identifying the cornerstone elements of your screenplay and then building a made-to-measure budget around those essential items. You work out what makes a particular project exciting and back into the budget from there using all the data points you can muster concerning prevailing market conditions and available incentives.
Don't con your team
All too often, when we are trying to whittle down our budget, we decide that not paying people is ok. Sure, hire all the intern/PAs you like, but when it comes to your main people, don't fool them into thinking they will be getting paid if they will not be. As Brown puts it, we should be investing in the independent:
In their zeal to make films for that “price,” film financiers are not above leading producers on until they cannot possibly afford to say no to a budget that requires those producers to make substantial deferrals of fees and overhead. Shortchanging producers this way not only jeopardizes their livelihoods, it also pushes films into production way too soon in an effort to make collect what fees are on the table.
Remember, you're not just trying to make one film, but a lifelong career out of independent film for you and the rest of your team. Brown's guest post is chock-full of examples and links to useful sites to implement these ideas into your next budget session. Be sure to check out the full article here to read all five of Brown's tips.
What do you think about coming up with a proper budget? If you have experiences that have worked (or haven't) please share in the comments below.