pre-pro New Financing Plan for Short Film

onebaldman

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I'm working on a script for a phycological drama short film. I've got the script almost complete, so I've been breaking it down to the basics and TRYING to do some math. (never been my strong suit).

I found an article somewhere talking about using a tiered system for paying cast/crew. That seemed interesting to me, because it would help me learn about hierarchy and price negotiations (which I desperately need)

So, here is what I came up with.

For a 10-15 minute short film planned for working 8 hours a day.

--------------------------------------------------------------

Tier 1 = $250 per day (Director/Producer/DP/Sound/Set-Art Director/Lead Actors)

Tier 2 = $100 per day (Supporting Actors/Grip/AC/AD/etc.)

Tier 3 = $50 per day (Extras/PA's)


On a 7 day shoot, it totals to a budget of $20k when including rental/food/marketing/props/sets.

On a 3 day shoot, its around $10,450.

-------------------------------------------------------------

My last two shorts, I payed around $8-10k, but it was going more toward the film rather than the cast/crew. This time, I really want to make sure everyone gets something... And then I can take the jobs that aren't filled for free.

Is this a good budgeting schematic? What do you think I should list under what Tier? Should I try to aim for a different pricing range?

Anything you all can tell me will help those folks who work on this film starting next year. I want to do the right thing as best I can, with the limited finances I have at my disposal.
 

sfoster

Staff Member
Moderator
You list director producer dp, do you not personally fill any of those three yourself?

I think your budgeting scheme is very generous. Over here Actors will drive 4 hours for gas money to be in something bc the opportunities are limited.

And that’s totally understandable In their part. Not only do I work for free, I work 40x longer and harder than they do. I spent like 300-400 hours alone editing and nobody paid me for that ya know? im supposed to work for free and pay them at the same time?? Truly laughable to me at this point in my life.

keep in mind these people “working for you“ are only there bc it’s something they enjoy, they don’t actually give a shit about you or your project.
they're there because its fun for them.

I talked to one of my last actress told her about how I haven’t been working and almost killed myself when I got evicted last year and didn’t have anywhere to live. Literal Dues ex machina twist is the only reason I’m still here. Her response to me not having income and getting evicted from my home? her response was to send me a link asking to give her money.

people. Do. Not.give. A. Shit.
They don’t consider you their friend And paying them won’t make them like you.
and they will be in your movie even if you dont pay them that much. so i question really what is the point of throwing your money that way??

If they want to be in my movie great but me personally right now... I still have so much to learn.

I've never nailed a perfect film as a writer and director. I’d rather take a worse actress for free. No one is watching this shit anyways, its not gonna win an oscar but the worse actress will appreciate landing a role for real. Might actually mean something to her. And if my writing/directing/editing isn't at 100% do i really need the acting at 100%? its disproportional and its a crutch.

you certainly have to spend money for production designers, etc all the stuff that isn't fun.

sorry for the rant :)

I think they will all be very happy with this payment scheme. And I think it will satisfy your sense of generosity. And might help act attract better tier 1 talent. 20k is getting close to what some people make a feature length film for. you can actually sell those.
 
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I think your instinct to tier is correct, but I think you may want one more tier between 1 and 2. Generally there are keys (key grip, gaffer) and then there are the people that work for them (grips, electricians). I'm not sure how large a crew your are contemplating, but taking camera crew as an example I can envision a DP, 1AC, 2AC/data. So you want to be able to accommodate keys, 1sts and 2nds in your first three tiers and then PAs/Extras at $50 if that's the rate you want to pay.

I'm not sure where sfoster is located, but it appears you are in the US. If you are using SAG actors, the minimum you can pay is $125 per day. If you sign under the short project agreement, you can defer up to 100% of that day rate. If you hire even one SAG actor, you need to seriously consider becoming a SAG signatory (it takes someone to handle all the paperwork, but keeps you and your production on the up and up).

And that’s totally understandable In their part. Not only do I work for free, I work 40x longer and harder than they do. I spent like 300-400 hours alone editing and nobody paid me for that ya know? im supposed to work for free and pay them at the same time?? Truly laughable to me at this point in my life.

keep in mind these people “working for you“ are only there bc it’s something they enjoy, they don’t actually give a shit about you or your project.
they're there because its fun for them.

I take exception to these sentiments in general, but will acknowledge it somewhat depends on the kind of cast and crew you intend to hire.

First, you will always work harder and put more time into a project than the people that work on it. It's YOUR project. YOUR baby. Ultimately, if the film gets any kind of notice, you will be the one that derives the benefits. It may help a grip to have a recognized project on his/her resume, but really it's you, the DP and some actors that get a benefit out of working for free. No one else does. As much as I enjoy the set, I don't consider 14-hour days of stress and lugging stuff around exactly "fun".

If your crew is just a bunch of film loving people, then sfoster's observations may be correct, but if you are paying to hire professionals (low-level professionals even), they should absolutely give a sh*t about the work they are doing and you should pay them what you can to get their expertise to help you make your film. Who knows what's in a person's heart, maybe people won't care about your project, but they should care about the quality of the work they are doing on your project. In the best scenario, you are hiring qualified filmmakers that are accepting low pay because they do believe in your project and they've worked on enough projects to know sh*t from shinola.

I've seen a number of threads here and elsewhere lamenting how many films are made each year and how hard it is to get noticed. I don't know your goals, but I encourage you to make the best film you possibly can. That will mean spending time finding the best cast and crew you can. Being able to pay them something will go a long way to make that happen.
 
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sfoster

Staff Member
Moderator
First, you will always work harder and put more time into a project than the people that work on it. It's YOUR project. YOUR baby. Ultimately, if the film gets any kind of notice, you will be the one that derives the benefits. It may help a grip to have a recognized project on his/her resume, but really it's you, the DP and some actors that get a benefit out of working for free. No one else does. As much as I enjoy the set, I don't consider 14-hour days of stress and lugging stuff around exactly "fun".

If your crew is just a bunch of film loving people, then sfoster's observations may be correct, but if you are paying to hire professionals (low-level professionals even), they should absolutely give a sh*t about the work they are doing and you should pay them what you can to get their expertise to help you make your film. Who knows what's in a person's heart, maybe people won't care about your project, but they should care about the quality of the work they are doing on your project. In the best scenario, you are hiring qualified filmmakers that are accepting low pay because they do believe in your project and they've worked on enough projects to know sh*t from shinola.

I've seen a number of threads here and elsewhere lamenting how many films are made each year and how hard it is to get noticed. I don't know your goals, but I encourage you to make the best film you possibly can. That will mean spending time finding the best cast and crew you can. Being able to pay them something will go a long way to make that happen.

Well if you want to work with professionals then you should expect to pay them.
but the question is do you really need to work with professionals? keep in mind this is an indie board after all...

most of us here are not professionals.

first off I've never worked with a grip in my life.
And I've never even done an 8 hour shoot much less a 14 hour one!!!!! its not fun for people.

I intentionally keep my shoots fun and collaborative.
What is really fantasy about your post IMO is the "if the film gets any kind of notice, you will be one that derives the benefits"

The film is not going to get any kind of notice. lol.
Lets be realistic here - What do you think will happen? you're going to make a short film and then become the next tarantino ?

A dudes gonna walk up to you off the street and say I saw your youtube video! heres 10 million dollars
If you think a short film is gonna get notice and change your life, well then i have a business opportunity i'd like to talk to you about.

there is a great bridge in nigeria for sale.

Nope. It's not happening. plant your feet back on the ground. Its just a short film.
the adult world is all about the bottom line and the bottom line is nobody pays to watch short films.

Here is whats gonna happen

You're gonna make a short film, you will hopefully have fun being on set, you'll like the end product more than anyone else does.
A few people will watch it and you'll grow from the experience.

Ultimately what you get out of it is the experience of being on set and working on something that you have creative input into.
If you provide creative collaboration with everyone else... they have room to grow and enjoy it in the same way.

If you expect anything more then a fun time and a learning experience you are being unrealistic about what a short film will accomplish...
The only exception i can possibly think of is if you have a full feature length script and you are making a short specifically as proof of concept for investors.
 
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Don't forget post - CGI, editor, color correction and - most especially from my POV - the audio post team. The audio post process could be a one-man-band like myself, to a full on SSE/SD (Supervising Sound Editor/Sound Designer) whose team is an ADR mixer, a DX (dialog) editor, Foley mixer/recorder, Foley artist(s), sound FX team (field recordists, editors), music supervisor, music editor and rerecording mixer(s).

Then, of course, there is your marketing.
 
I'm working on a script for a phycological drama short film. I've got the script almost complete, so I've been breaking it down to the basics and TRYING to do some math. (never been my strong suit).

I found an article somewhere talking about using a tiered system for paying cast/crew. That seemed interesting to me, because it would help me learn about hierarchy and price negotiations (which I desperately need)

So, here is what I came up with.

For a 10-15 minute short film planned for working 8 hours a day.

--------------------------------------------------------------

Tier 1 = $250 per day (Director/Producer/DP/Sound/Set-Art Director/Lead Actors)

Tier 2 = $100 per day (Supporting Actors/Grip/AC/AD/etc.)

Tier 3 = $50 per day (Extras/PA's)


On a 7 day shoot, it totals to a budget of $20k when including rental/food/marketing/props/sets.

On a 3 day shoot, its around $10,450.

-------------------------------------------------------------

My last two shorts, I payed around $8-10k, but it was going more toward the film rather than the cast/crew. This time, I really want to make sure everyone gets something... And then I can take the jobs that aren't filled for free.

Is this a good budgeting schematic? What do you think I should list under what Tier? Should I try to aim for a different pricing range?

Anything you all can tell me will help those folks who work on this film starting next year. I want to do the right thing as best I can, with the limited finances I have at my disposal.
For me that's a hell of a lot of money for a short - particularly as your investors wouldn't see a penny back in all probability. You say you want everyone to get something, but investors would end up losing it all. Unless the money is all yours and you've enough not to care about losing it.

To be honest for $20K you could make a feature (or two). Sure many wouldn't get paid, but set it up as a co-operative with points for all, and you could even make a profit (depending on the quality and genre). And a feature has commercial value. You make a short and then what? You do the festival circuit then drop it for free on YouTube. But a feature, is a different beast. Get it released on DVD/Blu-ray - it's something that has potential and can open up many new opportunities. For many it's a dream come true, a once in a lifetime opportunity. I know many actors, directors and crew who would rather work on a feature for very little or nothing (if the quality is very, very good) simply as a professional showcase. Professionals also aren't desperate for money, and can take time off if they see an opportunity.

And paying a director that much! I know lots who'd kill to work for free on the right project. Better to spend your money on what's going to be on-screen, plus catering. Always keep a crew well fed. Some people you always pay for - incl. makeup, sound...

Plus keep your crew small. Not sure how complicated the shoot would be but do you really need an AD? Do you need PAs? When everyone can chip in. Do you need a Producer? Find people who are happy to multitask. DPs usually want to CC, and some even to edit, but you get the idea. You sound like you'd be the producer on this one, so that's someone who doesn't need paying (lol). Or just find people who are so excited about the project that they see it as a way of showcasing things they currently have no way of showcasing. Because outside of money, that "something" you want to give everyone is the time to shine.

Am I talking BS? Nope. I've done this a few times, and this leads to friends, crew gaining new careers in editing and cinematography, where previously they'd been working in motion graphics or post production. They're now happier and making more money. And looking forward to another crazy project of mine. And also, like sfoster mentioned, your shoots should be FUN. Make them fun, and people will work very, very hard for you. So pick the director well. It does work. Low budget films haven't the 'luxury' of a temperamental director.

Of course, these are also people I work with on commercial ventures - sometimes I'm the production company, sometimes they are - so we trust and have great respect for each other. So maybe that's a difference. But I've also brought in many new people to my "passion" projects. And later hired them on commercial gigs. Having quality work to show people (your company reel etc) does help attract talent - shows them they're not dealing with the Three Stooges, and that it will be a quality project.

Just remember there are many, many highly skilled professionals who want to show what they're capable of doing - editors who want to be DPs, DPs who want to be directors, commercial directors who want to direct features, actors who aren't getting lead roles etc. People who are actively looking for opportunities that will help them move into a new career. I've worked on projects with people like that. Zero budget passion projects. While we were all 'professionals' we also all wanted to show the world we were capable of other things. That's really what I'm proposing. Then all the money can be spent to make the film look simply amazing.
 
Don't forget post - CGI, editor, color correction and - most especially from my POV - the audio post team. The audio post process could be a one-man-band like myself, to a full on SSE/SD (Supervising Sound Editor/Sound Designer) whose team is an ADR mixer, a DX (dialog) editor, Foley mixer/recorder, Foley artist(s), sound FX team (field recordists, editors), music supervisor, music editor and rerecording mixer(s).

Then, of course, there is your marketing.
Yup, don't forget your marketing budget. These days it's possible to find people will multiple skills - a CGI artist who also wants to edit, a DP who insists on doing the CC - as you yourself are, a one-man band.
 
So Blaney raises a good point... do you have relationships with people that have skills to help make your film? You may not have to pay people if they know you or you can offer them something valuable to their careers.

These people you can often entice to work on a project for no money: directors, DPs, editors, music composers, actors. These people you will almost certainly have to pay or you risk low quality outcomes: sound, makeup, audio post. Art department is a place where you can find talented artists looking to make a move into films. Art department folks that have worked on films will want $. I've made films with $1-2M budgets and shorts with a budget of a few hundred dollars. If you don't know people, you will have to pay people or you will certainly not achieve high quality results.

I know very few crew people with a minimum of a few years experience working in their roles that will work for free for any reason other than a relationship with the filmmaker or recognizing the project as something that will further their career goals. If Steven Spielberg wants me to PA on his film, I'll pay him for that privilege. If you want me to produce a short for you, that script better be the best I've seen or you need to pay me something.

So do you have fellow filmmakers around you? What is your goal in making the short (money, calling card)? You probably already have answers, but asking if your pay structure is correct without knowing those has opened this to more of a discussion of do you need to pay people?
 

sfoster

Staff Member
Moderator
He knows he doesn’t have to pay that much.
Very healthy thing for someone to question you and make you think twice before you spend $20,000. Even if that’s not what you asked. Maybe about three years from now when youre making a feature film and wishing you had an extra 5000 that you didn’t spend on a short it’ll seem different
 
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Years ago I started shooting a short (based on a feature script), then after a few days shooting we all realized it was going so well it was better to spend the energy and make a feature instead. It took years, but we did it. For most of us here we'll all be lucky if we make 1 feature film in our lifetime. Maybe 2 if we're really lucky. But in my experience 1 is what most make. So think about that instead of a short. Shorts, no-mater how good, rarely have the same value (economic, bragging rites, career advancement, sexiness, just plain sense of freaking accomplishment etc) as features. And if you can raise $20K, wow! Just make a feature instead. Just saying.
 
There's a lot of good and bad advice in this thread. Take it all into consideration.

I've worked on a few projects with this kind of budget range. My comments almost always move towards, your budget is in no-mans land. Too high for a no-budget but not enough to hire decent professionals (at least in my country).

Two pieces of advice I'll offer.

1). Be careful you don't run afoul of your local/federal labour laws. It's illegal in many jurisdictions to pay a nominal amount that is below the minimum wage.

2). Be careful with some people you may attract with these kinds of payments. Professionals are fine with money, but if you can't afford them, you may find yourself looking at those who are used to doing free work. Some aren't used to getting paid and can act a little unpredictably with a little money on the table. I've seen it too many times where they're happy to work for free, but when they're given an opportunity to get paid at a lower rate, they start demanding top tier professional rates, or even above those rates.
 
There's a lot of good and bad advice in this thread. Take it all into consideration.

I've worked on a few projects with this kind of budget range. My comments almost always move towards, your budget is in no-mans land. Too high for a no-budget but not enough to hire decent professionals (at least in my country).

Two pieces of advice I'll offer.

1). Be careful you don't run afoul of your local/federal labour laws. It's illegal in many jurisdictions to pay a nominal amount that is below the minimum wage.

2). Be careful with some people you may attract with these kinds of payments. Professionals are fine with money, but if you can't afford them, you may find yourself looking at those who are used to doing free work. Some aren't used to getting paid and can act a little unpredictably with a little money on the table. I've seen it too many times where they're happy to work for free, but when they're given an opportunity to get paid at a lower rate, they start demanding top tier professional rates, or even above those rates.
Simply work with colleagues - people you trust.
 
Some aren't used to getting paid and can act a little unpredictably...

Just a cautionary tale that happened to me.

I had put a bid on doing the audio post for a small budget feature, walked through the costs & the process with the potential client and sent them a contract. My contract called for four payments as my work on the project progressed (1/4 up front, 1/4 when the DX edit and Foley was done, 1/4 when the Sound FX was completed and score & source music was dropped in, and the balance plus OOP expenses prior to delivery of the final mix). They would get weekly updates and preliminary stems for approval. About a week later they let me know that they had decided to award the contract to someone else who would do the project for about 10% less. Hey, that's life in the biz.

Five months later I get a frantic phone call from the producers of the project. The person to whom they had given the project had disappeared with all of the money, which they had paid up front in one lump sum.

Just to finish the story, they wanted me to do the entire post for a 110 minute feature in three days. Oh, they could pay me $500, which wasn't even 2% of the initial contract. I informed then that I could have it done in three to four weeks for at least five times the initial contract, and probably a lot more, as I would have to hire other vendors who would charge rush job prices. Well, the explosion on the other end of the phone made Hiroshima look like a firecracker. They would have me blacklisted, etc., etc., etc. coupled with language and threats that would have made a gangbanger flinch. I told them to go for it, since, if they had that kind of influence and connections, they would have known the reputations of their vendors/contractors and wouldn't have tried to pinch pennies the way that they had.

Never heard another word about the project, except that the dude they had ostensibly hired to do the audio post had died of a drug overdose a few months later.
 
Simply work with colleagues - people you trust.

Very good advice. Always my preferred option. Sometimes good people are busy.

The person to whom they had given the project had disappeared with all of the money, which they had paid up front in one lump sum.

The amount of times I've heard this story in editing circles... They cheap out and pick the person based on what money they can afford. Sometimes it's compounded by, "They have my hard drives. How do I get my footage back.". Another is the hosage situation... pay me extra than we agreed upon. I could go on forever with horror stories from the grapevine.
 

mlesemann

Staff Member
Moderator
If you can't get someone you know - you don't have contacts with that specific expertise etc - get recommendations and referrals from people people you know and trust. And then ask for names of people you can call as a reference.

And yes - never ever EVER pay it all in one lump sump. Four payments - as @Alcove Audio describes above - is what I generally do.
And never ever EVER make the last payment until you have the final product.

If that means a "hostage exchange" in public with witnesses because no one trusts anyone by that time (a bad state of affairs for many reasons), then do that.
 

onebaldman

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First off, thank you for the comments everyone!

The pricing of the tiers is based on minimum income (USA) and SAG budgeting. I tried to settle close to that. I went with the prices as listed on other forums/sites to see what other filmmakers would say. It's tough these days, because now even more than before, talent demands to be paid.

I'm not of the caliber filmmaker yet to really justify that amount of cash, but I am reckless enough that I may have went that way without someone telling me otherwise.

My real goal with learning the ropes and making content is to get that experience. I struggle through the production process because I have no business sense. So all of your stories and thoughts really do help to open my eyes.

I will rethink the strategy, maybe cut the prices down in half. I'd like to keep the tier system idea though, I think it would bring peace of mind to other pros who may be on the fence between loving the script and working for low cost.

The $10k and $20k totals are with everything else calculated in. Food, props, rentals, marketing, etc. The tiers then add to that. I've been spending $10k on my projects so far (that also includes purchasing new film gear based on the project needs).

I need to find a way to reduce my costs, while ensuring I get to work on things that really push myself.

Luckily this next project isn't as difficult as the last, and I get to focus more on perfecting the entire package (lighting/sound/cinematography).

I appreciate you all stepping in and speaking up. This project is a good two years out, so I'm not sweating or anything. Just trying to get my bearings early on.
 
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I'm now assuming this is some sort of passion project. How often do you put a project together?

Just a perspective thing. The more you shoot, the more contacts you'll make. The more involved you get with other peoples passion projects, the more contacts you'll have for your own (no-budget) passion projects.

Shooting once every 2 or 3 years could make a lot of your contacts out of date. I haven't done a passion piece for a couple of years now so I bet I'd struggle to have enough favours out there to pull a decent sized no budget together.

In my area, writers, directors and to a lesser effect, actors seem to struggle to put teams together for no-budget passion pieces. Crew seem to have less issues pulling their projects together without pulling wads of cash out of their pocket or raising funds.
 

onebaldman

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I'm now assuming this is some sort of passion project. How often do you put a project together?

Just a perspective thing. The more you shoot, the more contacts you'll make. The more involved you get with other peoples passion projects, the more contacts you'll have for your own (no-budget) passion projects.

Shooting once every 2 or 3 years could make a lot of your contacts out of date. I haven't done a passion piece for a couple of years now so I bet I'd struggle to have enough favours out there to pull a decent sized no budget together.

In my area, writers, directors and to a lesser effect, actors seem to struggle to put teams together for no-budget passion pieces. Crew seem to have less issues pulling their projects together without pulling wads of cash out of their pocket or raising funds.

Oh, I just got finished with two projects in the last two years. One per year, so not too bad on that front.

I can find people. Everyone that has worked with me so far seems to like my style. I'm just trying to improve production values as I go.

My next project I'm taking my time with, and just attempting to learn more pre-productions skills before hitting the GO button.

The hardest part for me is accumulating funding for projects, so I am looking at the budget early to see what I can learn/change. The last two projects, I was literally throwing money away... But I was able to learn what's valuable and what isn't. I also know that if you don't have a budget in place, a lot of backers or financial angels wont even spend the time to discuss anything.

Thanks again for all your thoughts, I appreciate the feedback and I am re-evaluating the plan as we speak.
 
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Well, I am not sure if my experience (both good and bad) could be useful, but after 2 TV series, a documentary and a feature, which I worked as a producer, I would summarize

1. The general budgeting scheme you mentioned, based on hours/wages is fine (though I didn't see the editing/audio/marketing/grading-color mentioned, but maybe I missed.
2. I didn't see the breakdown of the total budget, but the catering/clothing/props can really become expensive, so just have some reserved money for those occasions when something urgent happens
3. I assume you looked to finding sponsors and free locations/food/clothing in exchange for product placement - can really be budget saving
4. 20k, as mentioned, may be enough for a feature. If you can do feature, do it, because you get more value for your money.
5. Finding cheap crews is fine, but then you REALLY have to do quality control - mostly yourself- major PITA. Cheap crews do cheap work, I learned it hard way (however passionate they may seem).
6. Include a major share of budget for audio and OST, if it is feature. Sometimes cheap but great OST can make a world of difference.
7. Have few teams to submit you their shooting proposals and select the best/most professional one. Do not promise jobs, or contract. Select the best one, not your friends, not your cousins!!
8. Finally, to have a professionally looking product, you will have to have professional crews working on it, even if it is an indie feature. Which leads to the conclusion that you can't really save much on quality after all. But you can have a great story - and the storytelling may become the star of the feature (or not). So, pay utmost attention to the story.
 
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onebaldman

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. All helpful points to consider for sure.

I think with this next film, I may just accept the hit on professional payment/quality and go with a more guerilla/DIY style approach. The story holds up well enough on its own. That's been the sole focus from the start.

I just need to slow down a bit, and really focus on just working within my limitations. It's easy for me to get swept up in attempting the most money/most crew/most production value mentality... But I think I would rather just hone my skills and do the best that I can with the people who have the passion for it.
 
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