When you’re making a quality film, cutting corners by cutting costs is never a good idea. We’ve all seen what happens when you don’t invest in high-quality production (the CGI in The Mummy Returns, anyone?).
Unfortunately, no matter how well you plan ahead and budget for your production, unexpected costs do tend to pop up. You can’t prepare for everything, and some hidden costs are often easy to forget about until you’re faced with the bill.
While the average budget of an indie film is just under $2 million, it’s important to recognize forgotten and unexpected costs, and how they can impact what you spend to get your movie off the ground.
With that, let’s cover some of those unexpected costs, so you can be as prepared as possible — a little extra padding in your production budget will help ensure you won’t be overwhelmed.
Transportation is actually a bigger component of movie-making than most first-time directors and producers realize. Getting yourself to-and-from the set each day is one thing, but if you’re shooting in multiple locations, you have to consider how you’re going to get your crew and equipment there each day.
You might have to rent special vehicles to carry equipment, including large trucks or machinery. On top of that, consider how your actors will be getting to set.
It’s no secret that gas prices aren’t exactly low across the country. Including transportation costs, including truck rentals and fuel into your budget, can make a big difference when you’re at the gas pump. You can save a little on gas here and there by:
- Using apps that tell you where the lowest prices are
- Using fuel-efficient cars and trucks
- Optimizing driving
- Combining multiple errands in one trip
With gas prices so high, these small tips can end up making a big difference in how much you and your crew end up spending on fuel. You might not be able to escape renting vehicles and equipment for different locations, but you can make the most of the fuel efficiency for each one.
Fixing Things in Post
If you’ve been in the industry longer than five minutes, you’ve undoubtedly heard someone say “we’ll fix it in post.” Maybe you’ve even said it yourself a time or two.
Unfortunately, that’s not a budget-friendly phrase.
You might have a very clear vision for your film that you think requires a lot of post-production work. Even if that’s true, it’s not something you should rely on when you’re trying to stay under budget.
Even the best post-production work can’t fix sloppy directing, shots, casting, or special effects. If you have to put in hours (or days) of extra work after everything has been shot, it’s going to cause the cost of production to skyrocket. You might end up spending more money on post-production costs than you did actually shooting the film.
While it might take longer to get the right shot and setup, it’s usually more cost-effective. Most directors use 7-9% of their film budget for post-production. Don’t let that shoot up to a number you can’t afford because you were trying to cut corners while shooting. Take the time to get the shot again, have the actor repeat their lines, or travel to that extra location. When you compare the costs, you might be shocked to see how much a little extra work during shooting can save you by the end of the film.
There might be some things you have to focus on in post, like certain special effects or CGI. Your goal should be to make those things look as realistic as possible. Again, we’ve all seen movies where the CGI budget was too low, and no matter how great the rest of the film was, that’s all viewers tend to focus on. Don’t let that be your “claim to fame.” Put your post-production budget into quality effects, rather than having to use it to cover up mistakes that were made while shooting. Now is the time to be a perfectionist. Your budget will thank you.
There are so many “little” things to think about when you’re shooting a film, and they’re usually the things that get forgotten about until the last minute. Some might not be such a big deal, but they can end up adding a lot of cost to your production after you’ve already put together your budget. That includes things like:
- Music for the film
- Hiring a casting director
- Shooting at multiple locations
Want to cut some of these costs without sacrificing the quality of your film? Planning ahead as much as possible is your best strategy. Not only will it give you a strong ballpark budget, but it will help you to see where you can cut back and simplify things. You’ll be able to finalize your shot list, scout locations, and give your actors time to rehearse (so you won’t have to capture as many takes!). The saying “time is money” is very relevant in the film industry, and a solid strategy before you start shooting can save you a lot of both.
If you’re worried that you might be forgetting something, one worthwhile investment is to work with a financial manager at the start of your film-making process. A financial manager can help you to put together a feasible budget. They’ll also keep track of data and spending throughout the film, so they can keep you in the know about where you might be “wasting” money, and how much you have left. Yes, it costs money to work with someone like this, but it’s a small price to pay when it comes to the financial health of your film.
Whether you’re a first-time director with a low budget or you’ve been making films for years, no one is immune to unexpected costs. No matter what you’re planning to spend, you can make a great movie without having to worry about going over your budget. By understanding how to handle hidden costs and cutting back on over-spending as much as possible, you’ll be able to realize your vision within the fiscal constraints you set for yourself during pre-production.