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Pro Video Tips is designed for busy videographers like you. This series brings you a new tip every week, on everything from controlling reflections to hiding mics. Host Anthony Q. Artis covers shooting techniques for particular video challenges like portraits, tools to help you control light and judge exposure, and advice for the traveling videographer, such as putting together a great lens kit or packing a truck. Come back every Tuesday for a new round of tips.
- When it comes right down to it, budgeting is an exercise in guesswork. But there's a big difference between blind guessing, as in the lottery and educated guessing, as in the stock market. Nobody knows what lottery ball will pop up but with stocks, you can see certain things coming if you know what to look for. It's the same with indie film making. So here are some things to look out for when trying to balance your film budget. Number one, excluding or discounting items you hope to secure. Your roommate's boyfriend is a camera operator for a production house and while you're out for drinks one day, he says he can get you a free Arri Alexa for a weekend but a week before production he has no idea what you're talking about and says he can't do it.
The principal of an elementary school said you can shoot there for free but the day before the shoot, the school board president calls you demanding $500 a day for a location fee. These are what I like call phantom freebies and they can easily send your production into a panic tail-spin. My point here is unless you are extremely positive that this is a sure thing, done deal, rock solid agreement, you should leave that item in your budget at full price. Also, whenever possible, try to get things on paper or save a trail of email conversations so there's no confusion about what you're getting and when you're getting it and how much it will cost you.
The closer you get to your production without these great deals and favors fully secured, the harder it's going to be to change course and get another camera or school or whatever it was you planned on getting for free or at a discount. Don't let your budget be let astray by the siren called a "free" or "cheap" unless you're confident. Once it's secure then you can move that money elsewhere in your budget. And the second common budgeting mistake I want to talk about is not including enough contingency money.
Your contingency money is your what if money, it's your all-purpose slush fund for unexpected things that happen during production or items that run over their estimated budget. And unexpected things will always happen in film-making and it's a pretty sure bet that at least one category of your budget will run over. I can't over-emphasize how important it is to keep some contingency money in the budget on standby. Don't make the amateur mistake of eliminating your contingency as a line item in your budget to balance the final budget.
If you're truly desperate and the numbers still don't add up, you can cut that 15% figure down to as little as 10%, but anything less than that is opening the door to hasty compromises and a potential production shutdown. The number three common budgeting mistake that I see is not creating alternate budgets. Films rarely have just one budget. There's the 35mm film budget, the shooting on-location in Paris and London budget, the DSLR camera budget, the budget with name actors, the budget with unknown actors, etcetera.
Each of these budgets represent an alternate production scenario based on unfolding events and access to money and resources. Once you write out your initial budget, you should then save alternate versions with different sets of line items based on all of the most likely scenarios. The only thing these budgets need to have in common is the grand total. Making alternate budgets also further forces you to consider the true production value of each resource. They're also invaluable to your decision making if you do suddenly have to change your production plan midstream.
So put it on paper and think about how else you might spend your money. And the fourth and final budget mistake that I see get people into trouble is overlooking a hundred little things. Remember, the budgeting process is essentially brainstorming every cost you're going to incur to make your shoot happen. And every cost includes all those little things that so many new film-makers often overlook, I'm talking things such as the cost of taxes, permits, cab fare, photo copies, cell phone charges, insurance, overtime meals, and on and on.
All these little seemingly innocent things can add up quickly and eat away at your precious 15% contingency if they're not in the original budget. You can find numerous examples of documentary and other film budgets online on film-making sites like itvs.org, Women Make Media, wmm.com or documentary.org and sundance.org, just to name a few. Just because it seems insignificant or you don't write it down, doesn't mean that you don't have to pay for it. Estimate what it will cost and put it in there.
So in conclusion, I just want to say let's be real, it's show business. There's always going to be a certain amount of exaggeration, wishful thinking and maybe even a little bit of willful self-delusion when it comes to getting our projects off the ground and keeping momentum. That's all fine and dandy, you can tell other people whatever you want, but if we want our projects to actually succeed through the long haul, we have to be 100% candid and honest with ourselves in assessing and managing our resources and budget. Of course, there will still be some budgeting mistakes and miscalculations along the way but it's my wish that you will at least now be able to recognize and avoid the most common budgeting mistakes as you finally realize your vision on screen.
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