3 tips to keep your independent film under budget
Updated: Apr 23
"Money's only something you need in case you don't die tomorrow." - Carl Fox, Wall Street
In my last blog, the 7 stages of the filmmaking process (1*), I mentioned that finding financing for the project is usually the part where filmmakers struggle the most. If you are a first-time filmmaker and /or producing a truly independent film, chances are the funds will be coming from your friends and family. Do bear in mind that unless they got their money back with some interest, chances are it's a one-time shot. I got my family to fund my first feature film True Love(2*) and I cannot go back to them again. Raising money is the key to any film, regardless of your position, experience, and past credits, even the established filmmakers struggle to get their passion project produced, and there are only a few ways to actually accomplish that. (3*)
Once you have done securing the financing, whether it's $10,000 or $100,000 you have to make sure that you are stretching every dollar. There are too many stories of film production cost going way over budget and they usually do not end well. (4*). For the yet-to-be-established filmmaker, to have his production go over budget would most probably become his Career-Ending-Point(CEP).
Below are 3 tips that may guide you, the film producer, to keep your independent film under budget:
1. A detailed script breakdown
Understand what the story is about and what is required from the script. A script breakdown is a detailed analysis of a script that identifies and categorizes all the elements needed to properly prepare for the production process. This process is done during pre-production, which will give you a preliminary budget and schedule, although you can also do a scaled-down version of the script breakdown during the development phase if you are looking to raise money. After which when you are well into the pre-production phase, assign the first assistant director to create a more comprehensive main script breakdown, which is used to generate the full shooting schedule, shot list, stripboards, and individual scene breakdowns.
2. A reliable production budget
Typical movie budgets consist of thousands of individual line items, and expenses have to be balanced across many different competing priorities. For example, the shooting schedule is tied very closely to the budget. The first assistant director, amongst many other responsibilities, is responsible for ensuring that a film finishes all the assigned shots for the day. However, the director also has to make sure that the shots she is getting are up to her expectations, so she may end up spending more time than allocated on a particular shot. As a film producer, you will need to crack the whip if the directing unit is not making their day, as that will easily eat into the production budget if not paid attention to, resulting in production running out of money to even finish the film. Unfortunately, having the knowledge and foresight of understanding budgeting priorities to plan for every little cost is something that is only gained through years of experience.
3. A solid cast and crew
The most crucial skill that is often overlooked is the ability to hire, not the perfect person for the job but the right person for the job. As a producer, you would be hiring the above-the-line talent, such as the screenwriter, director, and principal cast. You will then work with the director to ensure the actors for the primary roles in the film are a good fit both for the story and also for the set atmosphere. Actors who are notoriously troublesome to work with will affect the morale of the crew (6*). Low team morale makes things go even slower. Film crews have to work quickly and efficiently to stay on budget.
With a solid cast and crew, it is obvious that is during the production phase of the filmmaking process is where you would spend the most money. Not only will a solid lineup of the cast, writers, and directors make the film critically viable, but it will help attach more proven talent and financing to the project.
With the famous phrase by established screenwriter William Goldman, "Nobody knows anything"(8*) playing over and over in your head, all you can do when you have done your part is to allow principal photography to go as smoothly and efficiently as possible.
The Martini is a free screenwriting app that aides filmmakers in the early stage of their development to gather feedback from their team members. Please do subscribe to my newsletter and my social media accounts, Twitter, and Instagram to follow me on my team's journey in the development of our filmmaking tool.