As any filmmaker will tell you, the key to a successful production is by not allowing your projects expenditure to go crazy and out of control. Usually the biggest lessons learned come out of pre-production when dealing with the classic independent film budgets. The budget is simply a plan that controls your spending and ensures that the right amount of money is set aside ensuring everything that needs to be paid for, can be paid for.
Independent Film Budgets. Prioritize the priorities.
Very much a producers overall priority, the budget dictates exactly where the cash goes. It is a fine art, when it comes to managing money, as it takes constant self management to keep on top of the spending and make sure that nobody is let down when it comes to paying for services, equipment and locations.
The top priority of any budget controller is firstly knowing that everything itemised on your budget list is the cheapest you can possibly find it. We know of filmmakers who are obsessed with paying their actors – these people are Lift-Off Filmmakers.
Actors for everyone at Lift-Off are the number one priority, and they should be the number one priority for your budget too, no actor, no film. A decent actor being paid is literally worth their weight in gold. At the top of your budget the actors must be there. If you can’t afford to pay your actors, don’t make your film. It’s that simple.
Finding the cash for camera equipment is a very close second. There are thousands of amazing rigs out there, where you can potentially get hire fees at amazing rates you just have to shop around and network. We once shot a music video over four days using a C300, and a full rig – it cost us nothing but a deposit because we had met the hire company at a party a few weeks before. There is always a way to get the perfect shot for bugger all.
An important point is that you should never allow a cinematographer to pressure you into getting one particular camera or another. We see this a lot, the DP applies an experimental idea to a film a filmmaker has taken years to fund and get off the ground. Through a selfish lack of care and understanding the budget is taken up by lenses, and a camera rig way too impressive/expensive for the project and the entire team on the shoot have to settle for meal deal sandwiches and cans of Tesco Cola – on top of this nobody gets paid, the DP takes a wad of cash for the job, and gets to use a snippet of your film onto their new showreel because they are desperate to break into Hollywood. What happens? The actors don’t turn up on time (classic behaviour when not being paid), some of them complain because they are hungry (you haven’t fed them well), everyone starts to get tired, agitated and nobody wants to stay late when the project requires it (not being paid, or fed), the film fails to hit your expectations (pissed off actors and crew make shit films), and the DP never makes it to Hollywood (because he/she ends up with a string of bad yet pretty films in their catalogue).
Trust your instinct and always put talent before technology.