Thanks to enhancements in production technology, you no longer need a gazillion dollars to make a feature. But you will need to learn how to replace money with ginormous creatively. Once your screenplay is complete, the next step in the filmmaking process is your initial breakdown and schedule.
Breaking down the script means you go through your screenplay, number each scene and highlight each element, including locations, characters, props, make up, wardrobe, picture vehicles and special FX…
All of these things cost money. And once the script is locked, any modification you make to the story or schedule, no matter how minor or major, will subsequently impact the budget.
My producer friend Forrest Murray always says the script, schedule and budget are the same document. You’ll need all three to make a movie… But in the process, if you change one document, you’re actually changing all three.
Schedule Your Movie
After you highlight each element, you’ll want to figure out when you want to shoot your movie and how long you plan to shoot. You can determine this by choosing how many pages you want to shoot per day. Decide if you want to shoot 5 days on and 2 days off, or 6 days on and 1 day off.
Keep in mind that everything in the script will impact your budget. There is production management software for this. And if you’re still writing your script, Final Draft offers an add-on called Tagger. Tagger allows you to go through the script and pick out elements and highlight them in various colors.
Once all elements are selected, you can eventually import this list into your budget and schedule software program. Eventually, these elements will have a price in your initial budget. What is the price of each element? How much does your movie cost?
Hire a 1st Assistant Director
Many motion picture professionals make a living just breaking down, scheduling and budgeting movies. So it’s a pretty complicated and creative area. As a first time feature filmmaker, it save you many headaches if you partner with an seasoned 1st AD or Line Producer who could guide you through the process.
If this is not possible for you, I suggest reading every article on the subject as well as watching every YouTube video. This will teach you how to think like a cost conscious, responsible producer.
Regardless of your decision to complete your own breakdown or hire someone else for the job, the reason you’ll need an initial schedule is because this will give you a good starting point… You will utilize this information to figure out your budget. You will also be able to figure out if you need to cut an element or two, or not.
Cut Your Budget
Once you have your initial schedule, (and assuming this is your first feature), I suggest you create a budget for your movie in the neighborhood of $250K. Before you go crazy thinking this is a lot of money (or too little money), I want you to know you don’t actually have to spend $250K in hard cash to meet the needs of your budget.
In fact, once you determine you’ll make your movie at $$250K, you are going to spend the next few weeks working backwards to see how much hard cash you can replace with sweat equity, discounts and favors from friends and family. Why $250K? Because if you actually have the elements budgeted, there is a good chance your movie will look better than if you budgeted for less.
The reason for this is mostly psychological. By setting your budget at $250K, you’re going to start out with goal that forces you to get a higher production value than if you simply settled for pocket cash. Later, with the application of tremendous creativity, it will be possible to reduce a $250K budget after discounts, free food, locations and salary adjustments quite significantly.
Do you have friends who own locations you can utilize for free? Do you have access to discounted equipment? Can you finish your movie faster than scheduled? Do you have a friend with an edit suite? Can you shoot some scenes outside during the day to reduce the need for extra lights? Can you find free food for your cast and crew? These are just some of the ways you can reduce that $250K budget.
One of my buddies was able to do this on the cheap. He had a location budgeted for $5K. However, after my buddy spoke with the owner of the location, the fee was reduced to zero. How?
My buddy (a creative producer) agreed to shoot a promo for the owner’s business. Another filmmaker friend got free food for his entire shoot simply by asking. The food supplier was thanked in the credits.
Deals like this happen. But it takes creativity to find opportunity.
Here are some questions to ask:
- How much money do I have?
- How can I reduce expenses?
- Can I get free food?
- Who do I know who has the location I’m looking for?
- How much money will I need?
The other reason you want to keep your first feature budget low is to allow greater opportunity for return. In the event you get a standard distribution deal (which is becoming more and more rare), your movie should look expensive. That may help you negotiate a better deal.
In the event you do not get a standard distribution deal, then you’re not quite as deep in the financial hole as you otherwise would be.
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