GADZOOK FILMS Producing independent film in Seattle, Los Angeles and beyond.


Myth of the “no-budget” anything

For some filmmakers the perfect budget is $0.00. Many of these filmmakers tend to believe the project itself is the reward and everyone should be happy (even enthusiastic) to work on it for free. When anyone tells you they can make something as complex as a film for nothing you should immediately be wary. Even (especially?) if it's me. Making shows is never free. There's always some cost, hidden or otherwise, that should be accounted for. So just what is a baseline of "no-budget" filmmaking?

Costs come from various sources. I'm not going to give a line-item description of all those costs (that's a whole 'nother blog - do you even know of a good budgeting blog? I don't.) but you still need to know what these line-items are. Without an accurate picture of what goes into making a show (be it a webseries, film or TV project) you can't adequately plan what you need to beg, borrow, or steal. Costs breakdown into a few categories: cast, crew, equipment, food.

When you're planning to shoot with a next-to-nothing budget you need to be more diligent in your pre-production, not less. You've gotta be clear about your vision, what you're trying to accomplish and what your endgame is. Having a clear plan from concept through distribution will help win people to your cause.

The #1 cost associated with filmmaking - and subsequently the one most filmmakers try to avoid - is crew salaries. Obviously, hiring people will send your budget skyward. Bringing on volunteers will reduce the budget considerably but it also, in some cases, makes things infinitely more difficult. Suffice it to say, if you're not paying people to work on your show you'll need to give back to them and be flexible. This goes well beyond simply offering a credit and some cold Nalley's Beef Stew.

The question should never be "Can I get a cast and crew to work for free." It should always be "Do I have to?" Once you commit to not paying anyone you have a lot more hanging on the project than just your reputation. Give them a reason to come work on (and finish!) your project. More on this in a follow-up post.

Moving on... At the very least, assuming the production is an intimate, contemporary, talking-head, one-location snooze-fest, you're still going to shell out money for equipment and food...

Some people try to argue that they'll just buy the equipment outright and resell it when they're finished production thus resulting in a $0 balance for equipment. This reasoning fails to take into account any possible reshoots where the equipment might be needed and the fact that even the cheapest camera, lighting, and sound set-up will cost a couple thousand dollars, and even the best equipment will suffer a depreciation in the marketplace once used. And what if it breaks? You're out the resell value and will have to either buy or rent new equipment. You'll probably have to buy insurance too.

Sure, plenty of indie filmmakers have shot hours of footage on a used DVX100a without a hiccup. Plenty of indie filmmakers have also never made more than one movie because of their cheap-ass ways.

If you've got someone who wants to be a chef and is up for cooking 30-40 meals a night and keeping them warm and ready to go the next day, someone with that kind of kitchen space and basically no other life... great. You can't do it because you're the filmmaker, you've got other things to do and don't even try to kid yourself into thinking making chili every day of the shoot will satisfy your obligation to your cast and crew. You're gonna need to go to Costco and get a shit-ton of crafty, and plan out hot meals for any day you'll be shooting more than 8 hours. You might be able to get a local restaurant to donate meals but you cannot count on this.

There are a bunch of other factors that could cost money. Don't even get me started on post! Oh man, from editing to music to color grading to distribution (yeah, you gotta buy those DVDs you want to send to fans), you either know it yourself or have a friend you can pester for months on end to get it done. Otherwise it's wallet time again! And locations! Geez... if you want to do something even mildly dangerous (say, having a guy chase another guy with a fake gun that doesn't even go off) you'll probably need to buy insurance to secure a location. Unless you shoot in your apartment and how boring is that?

If your goal is to spend as little money as possible your script needs to mirror that. You shouldn't come to the table with the next Avatar unless you're also willing to do most of the work yourself and do it for the years (YEARS!) it will take to finish it. Regardless of your script's scope, you need to budget out all real and potentially real costs before you can move on.


Cross Promotion is Tricky Business

And now for another entry in: who really gives a shit ya dirty so-and-so?! Likely no one, but I thought it warranted discussion. So, here ya go...

Let me say this first; I think the idea of cross promotion is great! There's one big caveat involved and that stems from what, exactly, you're cross promoting.

Some questions jump out at me every time someone asks me to help spread the word about their show or crowdfunding campaign. "Who are you? What are you promoting? Are you just asking me to just shill your project because we're friends or do you think I would actually like it?" And perhaps more importantly, "what does MY audience stand to gain from this?"

See, when your friends are creators in their own right they need that promotional network to trust them. They need to know that when they send their own links out these people will click on them. If you're sending them a lot of bung links to projects and videos that are crap, they'll remember that. It's like crying wolf. They just might stop clicking on anything you send.

You are curating material for them. If you just link whatever any of your friends ask you to repost your other friends will hold that to you. By blindly linking to projects and campaigns that are poorly run, poorly made or poorly thought out it reflects poorly on you.

I'm prepared to sound like a dick (surprise!) by telling you you shouldn't help out your friends when they ask. Some people may see this as something that further divides artists rather than uniting them. We should support each other, not tear each other down! Here's my problem with that attitude - if you support without critique, no one learns anything. If someone has a shitty idea for a project, wouldn't it be better to tell them than to send all our friends there to donate money to it?

I understand that by noting a personal connection some may find that comforting. "Well, if Dom is friends with them, it must be worthwhile!" Let's be honest here, that's not always the case is it? Just because I'm friends with someone doesn't necessarily mean I think their work is the best it could be. In a few cases I know people are capable of better. I'd much rather a friend contact me first and ask my opinion on things before asking me to share the link. They can take or leave my opinion, it's their project, but they shouldn't be surprised if I don't tell my contacts about it.

If we take away the fact that our friends made it would we still be promoting it? Does it meet our own strict criteria? Would you fund it if you didn't know the people behind it? I try not to back crowdfunding campaigns I just don't believe in and I never link to a campaign I haven't already contributed to.

So what's the answer? Cross promote with conviction. If the only reason you have to promote a project is because your friend is involved then commit to that. Own up to it. "You should check out this guy's video because he's awesome." If you think the storyline is worth producing regardless of the person producing it, play up that aspect instead. Perhaps promote aspects that may work for each audience like region (all filmed in a certain location) or genre, or plot, or actor...

Bottom line we are what we link to.