Tuesday, January 26, 2010

How to get it done (Part 1)

Making a film is like building a house.

And it's not often you hear of someone running out to the lumber yard, buying a bunch of wood and then taking it all to an empty lot and haphazardly nailing it all together in the shape of a house.

And yet, a pretty fair approximation of this method is employed on a regular basis by filmmakers.

I've seen this happen numerous times and I've heard of it happening numerous times. Filmmakers, especially those with the "artiste" sensibilities like to believe they have something particularly unique in the way of cinema to offer the world and they often like to think they have a unique way to present it.

Of course, this approach only becomes a "danger" when investors enable it or when the filmmaker has access to funds with which to use (or should I say - waste).

Yes, it may very well be a labor of love for most if not all Indie filmmakers working in low budget ranges, but I'd recommend treating the endeavor of making a film on a budget of $1,000., $10,000., or $100,000., like a business operation. 

As a production coordinator, I spent many years helping to produce local, regional, and national television commercials and even a few films with million dollar budgets. What I became used to was accounting for time and accounting for money. As a filmmaker, the added element of creativity comes into play since YOU are not only responsible for content (story) but also executing the film's production.

The Steps You Take:


The first and most nebulous part of the process is creating or obtaining a script. This isn't necessarily something you can pin down and make fit into a set window of time. If you're writing the screenplay, you have to do what you have to do to make it as great a script as possible which could mean taking any number of steps and any number of months and years. Or...

Find a script written by a writer, which similarly may take a while and may not be as straightforward as it sounds. More often than not, especially with first time filmmakers, they slug it out trying to write a script and more often than not that script has "fail" written all over it. Sad but true.

If you aren't a writer, don't attempt to write a script. Period. Go-find-one.


With your sparkling super-awesome brand new screenplay in hand and your groundbreaking epic vision for the film, The Budget will become your bible for the film's production just as the script itself is the bible for story.

What goes hand in hand with budgeting is scheduling, which is generally the domain of a 1st AD who will create script breakdowns and a shooting script that a line producer will use in determining costs.

Budgeting is best left to professionals, (much the same as just about everything else in filmmaking), and I mean this. An experienced line producer will be able to interpret the shooting script, script breakdowns, and schedule so as to create a realistic budget and can save massive amounts of time and money down the road by establishing costs for every aspect of film production and possibly beyond.

I've seen filmmakers look at suggested costs (that made sense from a professional's standpoint), poo poo them because they looked too high, and then proceed to go out and spend 200-300% more than the initial provided numbers. 

Don't do that!

With a finished budget in hand, shooting script, and breakdowns, you are then ready to strike out and raise money (or prepare to go into debt).


This can take any number of years depending on how much you want to raise and how ass-backwards you want to proceed...

The most common mistake I see made by first time or noob filmmakers is attempting to ensure production value by asking for an unrealistic sum. Some hold to the idea that you should always ask for a higher amount because you'll probably get less anyway which will then be enough.

Maybe - maybe not.

To a large extent, your production budget will determine the structure of your production entity, whether it be an LLC, or merely an individual spending moneys collected from family and/or friends and/or your own money. By law, you need to have some form of corporate structure instituted in order to seek investors which in itself is an expense as are the services of an attorney.

When you've never made a film before or are unproven as a filmmaker, you need to (in my opinion) be modest in your approach. Once you have a success behind you, then you can proceed differently. But it's rare - very rare, that an unproven filmmaker doesn't end up financing their own first film because they cannot find investors.

Some noob filmmakers like to fantasize they can attract A-list talent which will then open the doors for financing, which will never happen unless they have ins with 1) A-list talent and/or, 2) have a screenplay that is a bona fide hot property (won competitions, fellowships, written by established screenwriter, based on topical hot subject matter, etc.)

If you have certain crucial elements that will make your film marketable (script and/or talent), then you can and should approach either film investors which means you will most likely have a line producer appointed to oversee your project so you can't go nuts and blow the investors money, or "unsophisticated" investors who would be non-film savvy folks like dentists, family/friends, or just regular people with disposable income.

Either way, prepare to spend your own money and if you're very smart about it, you will hopefully end up with a calling card film that will open doors in the future.

©2010 Chris Santucci

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