Time & Cost for Projects
Support and distribution which is the big biggie for, well all of us. It is definitely one of those, this is the dry harsh reality of trying to get films made. And it is challenging, never to make light of it. It takes a lot of work. And I think quite often when people realize the percentage of your time rising money versus actually making films, it's very skewed. (Julie chuckles) Unfortunately. So, what I would like to do is we'll start with the time and cost for projects. Time and cost for projects cause this really is, you know this is where you have to make your dream match your reality. And so a big part of this is figuring out what scale film are we talking about. So this class is about making short documentaries so, that is our goal but I know everybody somewhere that little voice in the back of your head has the vision of the opus, right? So you're thinking about, what is it going to take to do this? So you've got to figure out how many days do you plan to shoot. And how many d...
ays will it take to edit the material. And then on top of it what's it gonna take to just get ready to shoot. And then on the back end what's it going to take you to place this in a outlet and do all of that other work that nobody typically pays you for. So what I'd like to do is I'd like to actually go through some line items in a budget and so I tend to think of budgets in two terms and I encourage everybody to do this. That you draw up a champagne budget and a beer budget. (audience member laughs) And so it's really important that you think about if everybody gets paid a market value for their services. And I really think about how much time this is gonna take and how many people might be involved and what skills I have and what I have to hire out and all of that. You come up with your champagne budget. And it's always a good reality check to do that on a client project you hope to get what you have line itemed. When you're writing grant proposals you submit a champagne budget. And a grant officer wants to see that you understand the cost of creating films and if you don't it makes you look amateurish. But then there's the reality of your personal projects which you are gonna make come hell or high water on a beer budget. So you're gonna look at the reality of how much time you put in pro-bono or the fact that you don't actually have a director, producer, shooter, editor and marketer, it's all you. (chuckles) So you're gonna have that kinda come to Jesus experience with your budgets. Where you say, okay this is where my hope, dream and big picture of what this film should cost looks like this and this is what I'm gonna be able to do it for. So, and only you know what kind of budget you have. I mean, quite often, it's funny cause I know that budgets are hard numbers. Anybody who does any book keeping or accounting knows that there are right and wrong answers on a spreadsheet. But in the world of filmmaking it's a bit of voodoo. Because you know that it cost this much money but in reality you were able to also squeeze out all kinds of things that are not showing up on paper anywhere. So when somebody says to me, "What did that film cost?" It's almost a, it depends on who's asking the question what my answer will be. Because, what did it cost? Well it's that in real market terms? You know, market values or is that what did I actually was I able to do. You know, what was I able to foot the bill for or... So in terms of the line items in a budget, your producing staff, these are, everything you could and should include on a larger scale film. And everybody should be getting paid adequately. Typically your Executive Producer is more of your person who's bringing money in, who's making the business contacts and whatnot. So, you know, in our universe often the Executive Producer is not somebody who's ever crafting the film. Depends, like in this we don't have a Producer line item in this. Instead we put like a Production Coordinator on my team quite often the Executive Producer is also the Producer is also the Field Producer. So this is not like every single thing you'll be looking through but if you break it down because you would like to be able to raise enough money to make a living at this. Ostensibly you would have each of these different roles being filled. I'm sorry we left Producer off, there should have been a Producer line as well. Interns, as Ed said, we always pay our interns even if all you can do is travel stipend they should be honored with some compensation and I don't think anybody should ever lose money in turning on a project. The only interns we ever have who don't get paid are High School students because they really have no skills to bring typically and they're there really just sponge up what's going on in the office. In your production expenses, obviously you want to make sure that you considered the cost of storage drives and cards. We do back up all of our projects in perpetuity. We don't ditch projects because there is a good chance that five years and 10 years from now something that you shot could have some value to you. And storage drives are pretty cheap now so it's just worth backing it all up. It's also a service I'm able to offer to my clients because, and this has happened repeatedly. I build into a budget hard drives for them so they can have their raw media, which they technically own. And without fail they come back to me every year saying "Could you please send some XYZ footage that you shot last year to so and so?" And I say "Well you have it you know?" "Oh, well we don't know where it is" or "We don't know how to access it" or "We can't open it" or whatever it is, so it is something that is a service on my end. I always make sure to bill extra for hard drives and I store all that raw media for my clients as well as for myself.
Let me just interject here that, this is a budget that would be for, you know, more of a client work like NGO foundations. Not necessarily, high paying clients but where it's more of a professional budget. Cause when you're working for, the editorial world they won't cover a lot of this stuff. So, that's where you're fudging numbers. Kinda what Julie is saying is, make the big, the pie in the sky budget. Well not really, it's the budget we should get. Right? If we were living in a equitable environment here and then scale it down to the reality of whoever your client is. Or if you're doing a Kickstarter or, you know some sort of a crowdfunding campaign you maybe use this as your mark and whatever that final number is then at least you have a ball park of what it would cost for you to get paid to do what you do, for you to cover your cost and expenses and for you to pay anyone who helps you.
All right, and then just, one other thing is that, in many grants, well I don't know if it's so much in the film work but where there is, the grant will be X amount of money and so it's not pie in the sky. I know there's different kinds of grants but just be aware that certain grant opportunities it might be, you know they're gonna get you, you know the MacArthur Foundation has 50,000 dollars and it's like, that's it but, they don't often, they don't include a line item for a fee. Like a shooting fee or a production fee that they'll cover expenses but somehow not cover the equivalent of salary if you'd like. Even though we're working in a freelance basis. So this is where you also have to, you know fudge the numbers or take that into account because I don't know about you but it's hard to work for free. (Julie chuckles) You can do it for a few days, for a week or two but you can't do that perpetuity, so...
Right. And with clients I do try to feel out what they're expecting to spend so I might go in thinking that this three minute video should cost 20,000 dollars to make. And in reality they're thinking 5,000 dollars. And that is based on experience that I've had. Where people come to me, they say "Oh I love those videos you've been doing for this client, that client, we'd like that for ourselves". And I do wanna get a handle immediately before I take the time to draw up a budget and a pitch proposal. I wanna get a sense from them, how much they're expecting to spend, how much they actually have. Because then we know if we're anywhere in the zone. The cost of doing videos, a lot of my clients will be six videos cause they're all of the grantees in this cycle, or all of the award winners. So then I'm able to do a little bit of economy of scale on that because we're producing them at the same time. I don't need a Producer line item for each one of them, you know I can do it, an overarching administrative team and then it's a question of breaking down then the shoot days and the edit days per video. So, you definitely wanna go and then ask that question of "Well, can you give me some idea of the budget you've got?" I hate when people come to us and they're just like "Why don't you just submit a proposal?" and I know you run that risk of, like we tend to be in the middle zone. We're not the top dollar people and we're definitely not the bottom dollar people. We're somewhere in the middle but if I submit a proposal for 20, and there's some guy who just came out of college and he's saying he can do the same exact thing for 7, then it, you know, either you don't even get the call back sometimes or, it's part of when you talk to a potential client to be able to say I'm not the lowest budget person out there, so if you're looking for budget you can find them. But I will come to you with a certain amount of expertise. You will be guaranteed that by the time I submit a rough cut to you. It's pretty close to done. You're not gonna look at what I submit to you and you're not gonna scratch your head going "Oh my god, were we sitting in the same room having the same conversation?" So you have to also impress upon them that they're getting what they're paying for if they're buying your experience as well. And also, what's your bottom line. What's it worth to you to do this? If it's 5,000 dollars and it's gonna require to do it properly four shoot days and two weeks of editing or something. What's it worth to you to do it? Maybe it's worth it because it's a portfolio piece or maybe it's like, I can't afford to do that and I don't wanna support that kind of economy.
It's a tricky one. Cause it's a way to maybe get your foot in the door or as Julie said to create a portfolio piece. But then we contribute to undercutting everyone else.
But, it's a tough one. We take that, we can't afford to do things for 5,000 dollars.
Unless it's something that is just aligned with a mission about an issue in which case then we'll consider it. But then that's not about making a living.
Which we can't do all the time, so...
So this is even like if you're putting together a budget. I just had to put a budget together for a feature film that, we assume it'll be at least an hour long maybe feature length. Technically a feature is like 90 minutes as opposed to, I've seen feature listed at 70 minutes, 90 minutes but more than an hour. So I put together a budget that would be like, yeah we're all gonna need enough shoot days, you know you're guessing cause you don't know exactly how many shoot days in a year you're gonna need. So there's some guesswork involved but you try to be logical about it. And so I put together a budget that it probably blew the socks off of whoever asked me for it. It was a 300,000 dollar budget. But I thought, well let's start there.
Champagne, right? And if we raise half of that. We can make a lot happen with half of that. And then everybody is pretty stoked because, God we, look at what we accomplished for half of what it should have cost. So, I'd rather at least see, it's partly a reality check of how sustainable it is for you to do this. That said, as we've said. We've invested in our own work. We have lost money on stuff. Not lost but invested, because it is investment. But if you need to get this film done then somewhere along the line it is paying in other ways.
I'll flip ahead to the next screen.
These items are all self-explanatory. And I believe Ron Haviv has done a Creative Live class that goes into the nitty gritty of budgeting. So I'd suggest you look at that.
Yes, excellent class.
More line items. Things that often you don't ask for when you're putting your budget together cause you're not associating it with this film. But your basic office costs. It used to be that we all billed for production suite because you had to actually go rent an edit booth somewhere, an edit station. We don't need to do that now. But if you think about your overhead of maintaining your computer equipment and upgrading things all the time. Nobody is gonna pay for that. And if you're gonna try to survive making films, nobody is gonna pay for your operating costs. So you gotta build that in in ways that's in language that people will pay for or will accept. So nobody is gonna buy you a camera but they'll rent your camera gear for the shoot days. So you have to be proactive that way so that you're recognizing these costs that might not, you know seem appropriate as you're putting a budget together. Like why would I rent my gear? I own my gear. But you do need to build that in cause you're gonna need to upgrade that camera in a year or something and nobody is gonna buy it for you. As I mentioned before in terms of with the post-production. Post-production is the biggest time suck and money suck, quite frankly, of your budget. If you're hiring editors. People who have experience editing are gonna want between 2,000 to 25,000 bucks a week. So you've got to be smart about what that costs if you cannot do it yourself and you're gonna need to outsource some of it. Now again, that's you champagne budget cause you got the editor you wanted to work with as opposed to, "Oh I know this young person who's trying to get a break", or "I'm gonna do it myself". That's where only you know what's really in your hand, right? In your poker hand. Lots of things people just don't think about, the transcription costs, that kind of, you know there are all these little details that add up--
And translation, if it's a foreign language--
Translation is a big one. Translation can be expensive.
And there's services that you can use, you know we'll, for translation we'll use, there's certain services or like New York, Seattle has a very multicultural community or wherever you may be. You know, that you can maybe tap in to, university students can be a way as well, wherever you are in the world, can be a way to find someone who might need a little extra money and hopefully their skills are good enough that they can translate for you. The transcription and the translation services they range, they're from, you know, moderately priced to very expensive.
Right, well and at this point we use Upwork a lot. I don't know if you all have used that but Upwork is great because you can post to Upwork and translation used to cost more than it does now because there's so many people who are in this freelance, you know the gig economy who speak various languages and they can work from home. So it's gotten a lot more affordable so we often post on Upwork for all kinds of things. Translation, all of our transcription at this point is done through Upwork and it's remarkably inexpensive compared to what it used to cost. And it's a great testament to all those folks who are living in places where there isn't so much work and the cost of living is lower and they're fast. It's great work to do from home. So we have a few gals that we like to go, we kinda try to book them in advance because they're so fast and so good. And...
You know I don't wanna go backwards but, (both chuckle) just to step back from this idea of budgeting, you know there's a certain nuts and bolts, nitty gritty aspect to it but, it's also a way, it's part of your dreaming. You know where you say okay, I have this idea, I have this subject. How many days do I need to spend with them? Or many days do I need travel? How many trips will I take? You know, these sorts of things. So it's not just about the money it will cost. It's also about forming your sort of game plan for coverage, all right?
Yeah, and that's incredibly helpful because--
That's exciting too if you're really into what you're doing it's like wherever, boy I'm gonna go and spend a week with this person then go another week here and, and then it's also mapping out your life. Right? Because the one thing about this kind of work is, it's not a nine to five job. It's not a Monday through Friday job. So, it overtakes your life. And your schedule is beholden to the schedule of your subject. Or the theme or issues you're dealing with, so...
So I think with budgeting, it's like everybody dreads making a budget right? I know I'm not alone. We all dread it. We put it off, it's like the last thing you want to do. It is second only to writing a proposal.
Speaking of which.
Speaking, well, (Ed chuckles) Budgeting, it is fantastic in the sense that what it does is it takes you from that vague concept to press tax.
And suddenly it makes it seem doable.
Making it real.
So of all the different pieces that we have mentioned here. Are there any that you kinda consider critical or that you look first to try and outsource it. Is it color correction? Is it sound mix? Is it somewhere else that you would apply your initial dollars to?
So I always look at a budget as what are the hard costs out? So music licensing, hard cost, travel, hard cost. You know there are a number of things here, if you're gonna put a website together, you know the web hosting or web design. Things that you just don't do, can't do or they're just, you know, any travel related expense. So, those are ones that I might, back to this kinda champagne versus beer. That's the same in either category. So I look at that and it gives me a sense of like, I know this is money out. Because my own time and my, you know hopefully you're collaborating and it might be someone who also is invested and it isn't getting paid what the market might bear. Just so you can make sure you get this film done. So I would look at the hard costs, at like, I know I need this much money. So if this is something you're self-financing, can you afford that? Or do you need to tailor that as well? Do you need to find a friend who is a composer? Or do you need to not take three trips? Do you need to do a local story? Right? So look at the hard cost and decide, "Okay, that's cool I can handle that piece of it". If you do not edit at all and have to hire an editor you wanna make sure you, these are hard costs. So, if there are things here that would be, those are the ones that I would say those are the absolute you gotta face those head on.
So like shoot days, how many days a week of editing. And then, if there's travel, those costs. I would say those are the hard costs.
Yeah, yeah. So yeah, you need to know, yeah, you can't get around that. So color correction, maybe you can wing it and do some color correction and, you know watch an online class and get it to look good. You can also, like we're shooting in a raw profile maybe you don't do that. Maybe you shoot in a, you know, like an EOS setting on your, if you're working with Canon camera.
But, like a nice color profile.
Yeah, something that doesn't require color correction. But, so there are things you can absolutely, and maybe you don't have an Associate Producer, it's all you. You know it's all you. So there's certain things that yeah, you're gonna thin those out without losing quality. Maybe you have more stress on you but you don't lose quality. And then, if you don't have enough money then you gotta bring your expectations back. Okay, this film is gonna be local. And the more you shoot the more editing time it takes. So, maybe you limit your shooting.
Do you ever change your budget based on which grant you're applying for? So if the grant is for 7,000 dollars or there's a grant for 50,000, would you kinda alter that? And maybe how would you do that?
Always writing budgets to fit, you know, fit the, you know, what's on offer. And some grants will ask you, grants are very specific and if you don't read them closely then, you know, be careful because you might apply for something and it's so obvious to the granting agency that, you were not aware that this was finishing funds only. Or this was pre-production only. Or that they wanna see what portion of your project will this cover. That's often, like you're building a budget that has a column of the total and then you're showing them that you will be covering just the editing expenses. So, yes, modify budgets all the time. And this is why having the beer budget is so important because you'll write it to your hard cost. I know it's just me. I'm making this film and the grant is for 7,000 dollars. I know that I can do it by myself and that would be fine because that's enough money for me. You know, it's way more than I would have without it and I'm gonna make this thing anyway. So then yeah, you just tailor it to that. And, whatever you do. Whatever it takes to get down to that. You trim your rates down. You eliminate a bunch of line items. You tell them that you've already got this, that and the other donated. Or you're gonna' use your edit suite and your equipment and all that it's in kind, you know. The important thing with writing a grant is to show that you know what you're talking about in terms of what goes into making it, you know the film. What it cost to do and that you've taken all of that, you know into consideration. What people don't wanna do and why it's hard to raise grant money for films is they can be expensive to produce and often not get made. Cause people enter with the best of intentions, specially documentaries, they get unwieldy, they're hard to finish, they take five years. All kinds of things happen. And so the grantor has put all this money and they don't see the result. So you wanna make sure that you impress whoever you're asking money for that you've taken this all into consideration. You're not naive. You know it costs more than 7,000 dollars to make it. But, you've got this other support, to make that happen.
Since you're on the topic of grants, several people, Denise and another had asked about, where do you search for said grants? Whether it's based on a particular issue, or where do you start?
So the Foundation Center is one of the best resources out there. You can now, it's all online. It used to be, you had to go to the Foundation Center libraries. Which they had one in New York, one in LA.
It was San Francisco.
Or one in San Francisco. Now it's all online and it's worth subscribing to even if you just subscribe for a few months while you're doing your research. There are a lot of grants out there worth applying to. The other thing is, you wanna look what's in your own community. Because there are a lot of community foundations. And they will be the most interested in investing in community initiatives. So if you're trying to break into this world right now and you're looking for local stories, look for local funding. Then, as I said before, issue based. So what you wanna do is also be web surfing and looking at who are the foundations in healthcare, who are the foundations in your topic of choice. Whatever that may be. The other thing is looking at other films and look to the credits in the films and see who funded them. That often will lead to a handful of places that you should be going. I would also suggest looking at some of the websites that are, like the International Documentary Association has good resources on their website. POV has good resources. I would also look at, like the Foundation Center puts out a newsletter which is the Philanthropy News Digest, PND. And it comes into your inbox daily and it'll tell you what grant, you know, both RFP's, you know request for proposals as well as grants are coming out in the non-profit world. And what I find too, is once I start researching every time I find one thing interesting suddenly it breeds five others. It is like that. It is a kind of chain reaction because now you're moving into the zone of this issue and you're gonna find that there are five foundations you never knew about.
And then there are, I mean you can also just simply do, you know into your search, you know into Google, grants for films. I mean, something as simple as that and you'll at least get also the main kinda film centric grants. You know, Sundance, and so forth and so on. So there are these, you know, multi-tiered approach to looking at what grants are out there.