Budgets & Strategy: Part I

11 March 2008

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:

Budgets.

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.   


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