By Ben Lyons
How do I determine a budget for my independent film?
Independent films can cost one dollar to fifty million dollars. The reason why it’s an independent film is because that’s where the money is coming from. But Is it coming from somebody who is guaranteeing distribution? Or is it coming from somebody who is hoping to sell the film for a small profit and go out to distribute or have somebody else distribute it? So independent film finances are all just defined from where the money comes from.
How do I finance my independent film?
Money and finance can come from all over the globe for independent films. There are financing companies overseas that put money into independent films, there can be money from the films makers themselves as is often times the case, there could be money from people’s Aunts, their parents, some guy you went to High School with. Wherever you can get money from for your independent film, you get it. Spike Lee was shooting Malcolm X for a studio and they wanted to pull the plug on the movie, they said he had gone over budget and he was too late, so here you see the studio was influencing the vision of the filmmaker. So he called his famous friends, he called Oprah Winfrey, he called Magic Johnson and Michael Jordon and said that we need to make this movie, to make it right and to make it the way I want to make it, so they all put up their own money. Indeed Michael Jordon is a silent producer on Malcolm X and not a lot of people know that. Spike Lee, because he comes from the world of independent film making, he was a NYU student, he was resourceful in that respect and he knew how to just get the independent film done and to navigate through the studio system. Therefore he was able to say I’m not going to let you ruin my vision, I’m going to go out there and make the movie. So money can really come from anywhere, as long as the cheques clear, that’s all you need as an independent film maker.
How do I use the budget for my independent film?
With the budget for your independent film, every dollar has to be spent wisely. Sometimes it’s important to go out there and spend a lot of money on getting a big star to be in your independent film because that gives you a better chance of getting your film seen and getting attention and news and stuff about your independent film. But at the end of the day you’ve got to pay for the technical stuff as well , the filming and the lighting. You also want to have a good director of photography so that the independent film looks nice, and can actually be seen, in focus and colourful and all those things. So you really have to spend your money wisely and not waste anything when making your independent film. There’s no reason why there needs to be crab omelettes on the set of your independent film as that costs money. So spend your money wisely and if you are going to go big on an actor or a big name director, then you’ve got to take that as a cost of wanting to make your independent film and getting it seen.
What are examples of budgeting for pre-production?
Pre-production is when you sort of organise your troops for battle, if you will. You are planning out where you’re going to shoot, you’re getting your calendar together, you’re storyboarding the film so you know what each shot is going to look like, or what you want it to look like. You kind of identify your trouble points and say we’re going to have four days, we’re going to have to be shooting on the beach and we’re trying to make a movie that’s set in the summer but we’re shooting it in February, this could be tough, how do we do that? So you’re trying to analyze problems before they come up, because inevitably on any independent film of any size, things are going to come up that you didn’t expect or didn’t plan for. So pre-production is when you are casting the independent film, is when you are getting different actors to sign up and to commit to being in the independent film. It’s when you are working on your production schedule, you’re planning out your locations, securing your locations, and basically just organizing everybody to go out and make the independent film.
What are examples of budgeting for production?
Production is where you’re getting the value for your money when making an independent film. This is when you’re paying your actors, you’re paying your crew, you’re paying for locations, you’re paying for insurance. You are basically paying for everything during production, but you are not spending everything as you’ve got to save some stuff for post-production because you have to go out and edit the movie. But production is where you’re getting your value and your money and that’s where it needs to be spent. And every dollar on an independent film should go into the making of the movie, so if a director wants a car service to take him from the hotel to the set every day it should not happen on an independent film. Maybe they have to jump on the subway like everybody else, because you’re trying to save money. And those little things count on an independent film as they add up. So money-wise and financing, production is where you’re getting the best bang for your buck.
What are examples of budgeting for post-production?
With Post-production when you are making your independent film, you’ve got to have some money saved up because that’s when you’re doing your editing and colour correcting. You are also helping out the sound if there’s any sound issues, you can bring the actors back into the studio to do some voice-over work and you can cut it together. Indeed it’s called ADR when people come in and they do voice work and match it over the actual footage they shot. So basically any time you’re doing post-production for your independent film, you’re really making the movie, defining it’s voice and defining what the film is.
What would a general breakdown of a budget look like?
A general breakdown of a budget of an independent films depends, as every budget is different and everybody puts money into different things. Some independent films spend all their money on getting big-name actors and go cheap on the production, while other independent films will make sure that the film looks nice and has great locations, but will use some sort of unknown actors so they can save money there. Every budget is different on every independent film. People put in their fees before the making of the movie as a producer might want to say “if I produce this movie I want to take fifty grand off the top to know that I at least got paid”, while others will say “I want the money to go towards the making of the movie and I’ll just be promised money on the back-end”. So everybody has a different budget and breakdown for their independent film.