March 2008

11 March 2008

Budgets & Strategy: Part II

So the pitfalls of pre-production all come down to planning.  It's not enough just to "know" what you need.  You need to write it down, figure out how you are going to acquire it, and have an alternate plan in place incase it's not going to work out.  

There is plenty of production software out there.  I've discovered one called Celtx, which is perfect because not only is it FREE (and just because something is free doesn't mean it has value), it is actually really good.  I like to think of Celtx as scriptwriting software on steroids.  Without going too much into the features (you can go to their site to do that yourself),  it is able to categorize items and give detailed information on props, actors, characters, sets, vehicles, livestock, etc.  It also allows you to create backgrounds for your characters, and lets you define why your scenes are important.  

The key feature of this is you can use it on the internet, and create a group that can access all the files off of the Celtx servers.  You can make it public or private.  This is essential to keep everyone in the loop.  

If you're more web-savvy, you may consider setting up a forum can only be accessed with a password.  Aaron Martin did this with Archangel Alpha, and it grew quite a bit with everyone pitching in ideas and posting their progress.  We would post links of relevant information or similar works.  He would also make the script updates available to everyone and I would post pictures of concept art as I was able to do them.  We would post our concerns or bring up potential problems as pre-production went on and Aaron would address or solve them.

One thing I've learned from a video game development project I helped out on back in 2003 was the scheduled calendar and milestones.  The group director will set up what they want to accomplish and by what date.  This is a milestone.  They would assign the best talent to accomplish the milestone, and it became very apparent who the responsibility went to.  Granted, filmmaking is a little bit more organic, but the idea of having things in place by a certain time can really help you out.  See what people can bring to the table for  you.  They might offer alternatives to something you can't quite acquire that's in your script.

How I do this is after I have a finished script, I go through and break it down.  I see what's most doable first, and set up my shooting schedule around what I can get together the easiest.  I than set up milestones in order to get set up for those days.  If a milestone can't be reached before the shoot date, I need an alternate shoot on that day and arrange for it.  Worst case scenario, I'll plan on what cut-aways can be shot with available actors- or if the location becomes unavailable (for whatever reason) have a back up plan to shoot another scene- and give some slack for rehearsal time.

Budgets & Strategy: Part I

You know, as I've been paper producing my next project, I've came to a few conclusions that I have found that I need to work on myself, and it's the same problem other filmmakers have:


Of course, you need to budget your money so you know how much you can spend on a set, or that costume with the rhinestone and lights, or if it's going to be sandwiches or pizza for the crew.  That goes without saying.  You'd be surprised how many filmmakers usually skirt around all of this.  Charm only goes so far.  This also goes for available resources- what you can already bring to the film in terms of equipment: lights, camera, greenscreen, yada yada yada.  The favors of others bringing in their gear and what you'll have to barter with.

However, I've also realized what the biggest resource of all:  People's time.  A donation of a person's time is often more valuable than any monitory income you can bring into your film by any investor.  They are sacrificing their time to be there at your call, they'll happily work for you provided they can get something in return: experience, networking, or as my friend Mark Throckmorton mentioned, "even food".  Often times though, taking a person's time can really cut into their living expenses, and whether or not they believe in a project, sometimes, just like when a person's bills overwhelm their income, they have to declare bankruptcy on their available time just to get things back in order.

Again, most will happily work for you, PROVIDED they get something just as valuable in return- and often they have to determine what that value is:  financial compensation, a finished project for their reel or portfolio or resume, experience and knowledge so they can tackle their own future projects, or simply notoriety.  

I guess my point is, yes, there is the love of doing it.  Many will sacrifice quite a bit, but they often will get something in return.  However, once you've wasted someone's time, you've essentially stolen from them.    

So, the next time you put a post out, consider what you're really giving a person when you ask them to volunteer their time or work on deferment:  experience for those who have none, knowledge for those who seek it.  Don't be stingy with either one of these, they are giving you their most valuable commodity, make sure you are just as generous in return.  If not time, offer your ideas, know-how, or networking opportunities.  

Once you know what you can offer, make sure you have figured out your strategy before you make your movies- because no plan will simply waste time and your most valuable resource. You're knowledge/contacts/ideas are also a commodity.  Don't waste your commodities by wasting their time.  It goes both ways.  Conversely, if you use their time but are stingy with your resources/knowledge/contacts than you are stealing from them.  It really is a give-and-take balancing act to be fair to both yourself and to the person you're working with.

Of course, the strategy is simply this:  Budget time as if it were money.  The old adage "time is money" is absolutely true.  Budgeting time is as simple as having a schedule to reach milestones in your pre-production.  Again, people want to work for you, but they need a direction to go in.  Once you've set them in a direction, let them finish the task/milestone before you pull them off to do something else.  PLAN, don't REACT.  Reacting economically requires a Plan B.  Reacting without a Plan B is running around in circles, and is a waste of everyone's time.  

Rushing and "figuring it out along the way" is a fool's errand.  And it makes it look like you don't know what the hell you're doing.  And one by one, crew drops off.

I admit it.  It has happened to me.  My excuse is a lack of experience in both knowing how to produce and who I was dealing with.  And really, I've learned from it.  Was it a waste?  I don't believe it was, because everyone involved got to work on a large set, got to network and make friends, and there's some pretty cool footage that netted new projects for some of those involved.  I lost time, but I gained experience.  If I did it again, THEN it would be a waste.