It was legendary UPM Tom Kane that said “The goal of making a film budget is not to save money. It is to spend it onto the screen”. I want to take it a step further and substitute the word spend with invest.
Think about film budgeting like a portfolio. Each department needs to give a return on investment. They all have to add massive value to your film. If I had to break it down to my priorities, it would be Development, Creative, Equipment, Post Production and Marketing/Promotion.
Development: is the foundation of every production. It includes the screenplay, pitch deck, mood reel, storyboards, business plan, look book, proof of concept video, legal and film budget. These materials give a clear vision of what you want to accomplish for your film. Not only creatively but also your business goals. Investing early on reduces your chances for miscommunication, confusion and lack of leadership. Don’t see it as a fee that is taking away from the budget but as a major asset that’s going to pay for itself in the long run.
Creative: Your creative team consist of your director, cast, screenwriter, producers and DP. Experience matters when making a film. Experience does not guarantee success but it reduces the risk. It shows that the team has gone through the trails and errors of production. They know the pitfalls, the budget parasites and the step by step strategy to finish a film. A notable cast brings recognition and more importantly a preexisting audience of devoted fans. We do want to leave the door open for first timers but you have to balance it out with creatives that have a track record.
Equipment: You need the right tools to make your vision come to life. Not all cameras are made for the daily grind of filmmaking. I’ve always seen sound as the invisible art and it cannot be overlooked. I rather have my DP have 3 prime lens for the whole film than inferior sound equipment. Production also needs a solid G&E truck. The DP needs lighting to mold a shot. What I do when working on a smaller budget is that I make package deals with crew members who own their own equipment. That’s the only way you are going to be able to afford it. Let’s your budget determine you negotiation strategy.
Post Production: In post-production you fine tuning your vision. By the time you reach this stage you are on a shoe string budget. Any lack of preparation is going to be highlighted in post. It’s a daunting task so don’t under budget post. The last thing you want to do is go back to your investor with you tail between your legs. A professional sound mix adds layers to your film that your audience is already accustomed to. It makes their inner engagement enter a 3D layer of audio bliss. This is also a perfect time to give snippets of your film.
Marketing & Promotion: You need to plant the seed of your film way before it gets release. Production is responsible for cultivating an audience and get them emotionally engage in your film. Budget for social media marketing, audience outreach, promotions and film festivals. In the age of social media it is imperative to have a plan that is going to disrupt the daily distractions that people have.
Your daily question should be, how do I get a 10x return on each department? How can each one pay for itself? How do I get exposure for my film? Think like an investor.