I’ve been talking to a lot of film students and film school graduates about their projects, and there are several themes that seem to run through all our conversations. The one I’m thinking of right now, is budgets.
I would imagine that there are three budgets when it comes to making any film; first you have the ‘how much I have to spend’ budget. Then the ‘how much can I make it for’ budget, and finally, the most ignored of the three, the ‘how much would it really have cost to make’ budget.
For example, let’s say you pull together £2000 to make a short. Okay, that’s ‘how much you have to spend’. You then talk to your friend who owns a camera, talk to some local rental houses and beg them to cut you a deal, and finally, go to some website and get a bunch of crew to work for food. That’s the ‘how much I can make it for’ budget.
The budget I’m most concerned with, is the last one, the ‘how much it would really have cost’ budget. I think that everyone who makes a low/no/micro – budget film should at the end, sit down and cost out how much it REALLY would have cost to make. How much would that camera REALLY have cost to rent for those shooting days? How much DOES a gaffer charge for the days/hours worked? How much does that much lighting gear ACTUALLY cost?
I don’t think that these filmmakers come out of the project having a clear real idea of how much it actually costs to make the film they’ve made. So if/when they enter the real world, they think they can make a commercial or the like for the same costs as they did their project.
They are then hired by producers and immediately start making unreasonable requests, and have unreasonable expectations.
My advice to any film student is to not be afraid to contact your local union to get rates; find out how much it would’ve really cost to have a gaffer, spark and grip to work on your film. How much does it really take to work the hours you’re asking these folks to work? How much is overtime? How much does a meal penalty cost? What is a meal penalty? Ask the rental house to give you the actual cost of their gear. Talk to a proper caterer and get prices for half-way decent food for your crew. etc. etc.
Then sit down, and add it all up. It will open your eyes to how much it really takes to make a feature, music video, or a short film. When you get the chance to do a ‘real’ project, your awareness of the actual outlay will impress those who’ve hired you.
(It’s funny. While editing this blogpost, I realized the overuse of the word ‘cost’. I tried to find satisfactory synonyms. You know what? That’s part of the problem. Trying to ignore ‘cost’. That’s the right word. So I’ll leave it.)