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Producing An Independent Film From The Grassroots Up

Lesson 10 of 18

How to Approach Film Budgeting


Producing An Independent Film From The Grassroots Up

Lesson 10 of 18

How to Approach Film Budgeting


Lesson Info

How to Approach Film Budgeting

You know I always start with budgeting with what's absolutely necessary recently we did a a promo for a promo video for this event that's tied to a documentary that we're making sort of hard to explain but basically you know it was going to be like a two minute video but we got sort of hired slash at the same time it was sort of a development exercise for us to do it and you know, we we just pieced together what was absolutely necessary wasn't going to be if we knew that we were going to get that much money for it so um you know, I will show you the budget for that um in just a second what's absolutely necessary what you need and sometimes that means not paying people actually before I get into the budget I was just talking to lunch about certain project in which you know, the difference between the project happening and not happening could be starting without money so you know if if a director is serious about a project that money hasn't come in for whatever reason it could mean just ...

starting without even having well it always helps to have a budget but without having a you know any funds in the door because if you certain things if you have equipment oftentimes filmmaker's film oftentimes filmmakers get into situations where they have the equipment and they have the thing that they want to film so if you don't have funds, don't hesitate to just start it start filming because that could be the difference between your movie actually happening and not happening so this is the budget is going to talk about so the documentary that we're making it's about color guard which is sort of ah it's hard to explain but it's like that's why it's hard to raise money for it? It's about raising it's about thes kind of troops of people who work usually with marching bands during the fall but in winter have their own sort of routines and that they create with, you know, twirling flags and sabres andi it's all very elaborately choreographed and everything in the film that we're making is about that world but first we needed to promote this need to make a video to promote an event where all that will happen um so what's most essential here I knew when I made this budget that thirteen hundred was guaranteed to me so uh I know no first I made the budget and to account for sort of everything then I I found out that we were going to get a third what we asked for, so I asked for fifty four hundred basically and they gave me thirteen hundred so are fourteen hundred dish so this didn't happen because it wasn't essential um he was going to come into new orleans anyway, so that was roughly on him, he was moving to new orleans, fortunately so that that was a trip that was going to happen anyway. And so we, you know, it would be nice to have come compensated for him compensated him for that, but because he was moving anyway, it didn't get done space rental, school location and greens, beans, green screens face we didn't end up meeting or because we didn't have money for it, and also because we really didn't need it. We ended up not using a green screen space and the school location again, it was just sort of like friends of friends, of friends a same look, we are looking for high school kids to be in this promo we're making, and we want a high school classroom to set it in. Can we just do that? It's an exciting opportunity? Are you excited about that? Like we are and they were so we did it, and it didn't cost anything, um, food for casting crew, I would love to say that way we're able to do that, too, but we weren't but that's fine, because the shoot itself was only a few hours, so it wasn't like an all day intense, like fiction films shoot where you do want to really make sure you're taking care of people, um we used my own uh we used my own car and it wasn't a lot of travel, so there was a lot of gas burn, so where do we put the money? Um the director's unfortunately didn't really get any compensation for what they were doing once once we knew that we were getting a third of that, I put all of it into the rental of gear, which you actually don't see on this because we needed gear and I knew that we didn't have it we needed a c three hundred and we needed a couple we don't even have love love level ears, so, um we needed to get that and so that all it all ended up, I got a discount rate because I had worked with the guy before in new orleans it's ended up costing about oh, I'd say two hundred bucks or something and then I put every other we needed to accomplish this on a timeline um and needed a very particular kind of editor, very smart editor and somebody who knew how to go for this particular aesthetic we're going for. The idea of the promo video is that it was a high school news cast, so we're supposed to look sort of for lack of better words yankee, you know, like, you know, sometimes you see those high school newscasts and they're very sort of like they're almost like a public access quality where the graphics don't quite line up and the visual isn't too great and everything but that's that's the aesthetic we're going for, and I knew that my editor would would know exactly how to do that. So that's, why I wanted to put all the money and the directors were ok with that they love, they love him. They've worked with him before and so that's where we put all the money. So I said to myself, yes, it be nice. Yes, that'd be nice, but I can accomplish that anyway with no cost, this didn't really play factor. The most important thing is getting the aesthetic of it right? Or they're not going to use this promo video. So that's, why all the money essentially went to the editor and the gear that I didn't have, um, that's just a on an illustrated example of why you put it where it's absolutely necessary now in creating a feature budget, though, um, there's a bunch of different things to consider, you know, are you using a payroll company? Because if so, then the math looks completely do actually, as far as how they're handling taxes, they're taking it out of everyone's paycheck, are you covering health care? Are their fringe benefits? Are you paying people in a day rate a week rate like how is that all what is that a look um on feature films like fiction feature films I've been a part of I haven't been the one budget in ah those films so I have my mormon experience in sort of like a grassroots he kind of piecing together ah budget for a almost no budget documentary like the kinds that dylan turner work on um so let's walk through one of those I'll show you what it looks like so I think this is like not don't take these figures to be uh yeah I just hate that excel spreadsheets sort of give me nightmares um but don't take these figures to mean anything but like take instead the line items you know this is actually a finishing budget as opposed to a complete budget this doesn't include everything that that you would need to complete a film from start to finish or documentary which this is um this and because I was trying to normally a rule to follow is that this above the line unit directors and producers should not really amount to more than twenty percent of your total budget this is a violation of that completely because they hadn't been paid anything and we were still trying to finish the film so half the budget is going to them um uh this doesn't represent what anybody was these these numbers don't represent what ended up happening at all it was sort of a budget that I made a year ago um so for a very specific purpose but I think it's indicative of how you could structure things director director producers ah in these situations where you're trying to like make it you know you're trying to make things happen for the film you get you can get into a situation if where you're so desperate to like you don't want to ask you get this thing in your head that says don't ask for too much money in the first line item that sometimes producers cut is their own line item don't do that and I there is like one campaign that I think we should be on it's like producers are valuable development deserves funding so don't sell yourself short literally like value yourself and what you're bringing to the film and don't apologize for that if people are like, well you're paying yourself with this budget if you're going to a grant teen organization they should know that this is valuable um so post production travel I knew that probably we're gonna have to go back to where we had shot the film for one to one or two places office space I really wanted to be able to pay for where my editor was going to be editing post production assistant is the best money I ever spent on this project I did end up paying a post production assistant? Not not at that rate, which is too bad, but but that made me just a better producer because I knew that if one person was handling a lot of the nitty gritty day to day logistics, I would be better at doing all the other things I needed to do for the film. That's very valuable money. Well spent. Translation. I knew that the half of the film was in spanish, so I knew that we were going to have to. You have to pay for that. Um, it, uh, you know, you do go through a couple it's. Funny when you make a movie and this sort of in another language, you go through a couple passes like one is the I did the first initial round of translation where I was going through all the footage and trying to write down basically what was going on. And then the editor starts to use the those things, and then you want to get a polish on it to make sure that everybody is saying exactly what you think they're saying. Then I went back again and just made sure that it's inked up properly and that we had the language exactly correct, but, um sounded and sound mix is crucial. This is for a film that my sister went to see the film three months ago here in san francisco we were here for a lab with it on dh she saw it and I don't think it really connected to her and the next time that she saw it was its sundance a few weeks ago a week or two ago and the only thing that had really changed was the sound mix and maybe one or two scenes and she loved it and that just shows you that like the sound mix can make all the difference in the world it's really especially in stuff like comedy or horror it's like the difference between a movie actually working for an audience and not sometimes it makes me nervous to even show audiences um or or people ah film that hasn't been sound mixed because I just there's such a barrier you don't realize that when you're just a filmgoer but there's such a barrier between your connection to the movie and and you're connecting to the movie based on sound way more than you would expect if something seen it feels like off about that you just shut off as an audience member you stop taking in information you think that you we're taking in and it's just ah so that's that this is all to say that I think it's sound mix is expensive but also very crucial um music again, music rights and licenses. Fortunately, this ended up only being one song that we had to go through, and it only cost five thousand dollars. But, you know, imagine if we had been doing chopping tulis, there are about ten songs in there. I'd say five thousand dollars like an average, you know, price for music rights. Um, composition fair use lawyer in documentary this is money very well spent, um, there's a guy that I work with, who is awesome expert in fair use stuff, but that's just useful in general if you if you're playing music in a movie and you're not sure whether or not it's legal for you to use it like that, not in fiction feature films, because every choice intentional in a feature film, but let's say I filmed a scene and there's like a katy perry song plane while I'm filming it, and then I cut away but keep that song as if it wasn't cut ice technically automatic technically just made it not very because I'm using it as an editing element, but it's all up for debate and so, you know, it depends, you know, assess the needs of your project with chopper tulis we never would have been able to do it without a fair use lawyer fair use they can also tell you if your title report like our film is called western westerns a very popular name for a lot of things he was able to assess our title search and report and say there's no copyright claim that can be made here that's very valuable because if you want to work with a distributor they want to hear that they're not going to get sued um so various lawyers are very valuable for a lot of different reasons but uh post lab this is where we get into really kind of nerd stuff that I don't I'm not even really completely sure I understand but you know when you're in post you want to be working with if you can you want to be working with a colorist somebody who knows howto color correct your film and then usually they would take it to somebody else to sort of process and finish the film but the way that we work this guy goes above and beyond and he's sort of all does it in house he works with the guy who puts the titles on it they converted to its most high rez form um and then you've got to convert it to what we call deliverables these air things that a distributor could ask for or I consider you know like what a festival lasts for is also undeliverable you know I was sundance will only play you know in hd cam or ah um or dcp so as part of the finishing process, I need to make sure that this quick time movie that we made gets processed into a d c p which is the most you know, the most optimal way that you can show a film these days um but I also want tohave blue rays and dvds at my disposal in case I'm at the festival on people want toe mr film, but I'm like, wanted maybe distributed oh cool here's a blue eh and that's important and if you do sell it to certain or sell it or give it to certain distribution partners, they're gonna want all of this stuff you know that that's part of a package that you send to them and you say ok, here's the film here's the dialogue list that says every single moment at which somebody says a word and at what time code here's the copyright report saying we're completely cool and hear the music licenses they're going all this stuff we're gonna want to hd cams we're gonna want to d c p s and you with your post production assistant or postproduction supervisor are responsible for getting that to them and that's the phase we're in right now with this film you know is basically says it's like, ok, so I don't have releases for everyone in my film but only the's minor people don't have releases and here's, you know, they basically assess your risk factor for getting sued, and then they offer insurance. Um, that's pretty standard for this kind of budget of film, um, of documentary legal services, this is that proposed nothing. I just needed a line item that said legal services accounting, I figured again, like, I'm going to be taxed on this film, I don't know how much, but let's just put a buffer in their same thing with banking. Shipping is really like, I'm in a phase right now with this film where shipping his half, we have half of what we spend our money on. Um, but that was just a very, very nice round number. And then publicity's, this is for when you were about to launch the film. If you're goingto work with the traditional pr company, they cost money, they also will want youto well, they won't want that. You will probably want to maybe make postcards that you then go to the festival with that, say, all the screening times of the of the film, maybe you need to make a poster. Um, posters air actually like you need an image, but you don't need a physical poster these days that much anymore, um if you're gonna put your movie into a theater like the distributor will want that, but, you know, I just spent money on a poster for western when we took it to sundance and it's like, where does that end up? It ends up it's on some random like wall in park city for a few days and then it's done, you know, it's like did was that really worth tell me that I spent on it. What you need is an image that you can share on the internet that people are going to be excited about, um, premiere, we're talking about this a little bit, but sundance and or wherever you go to premier your film it not all of them are able to provide for you to get there and certainly not able for you to provide to provide for you, teo, deal with lodging. So a premiere in and of itself, if it's important to your film is going to cost money. Um, so that is sort of just walking through a basic basic budget. Yeah, um, in your there's, no production insurance, so I was curious you have, you know, insurance, but that's right for after the factory? Yeah, because this is not a feature film on this is finishing budget we didn't have production insurance when we actually shot the documentary we only got it after the fact, but yeah, I mean, when you're shooting a feature film, but in a feature film that solution for even for the documentary, did you have any type of personal insurance or two protected like your equipment personnel and locations? Absolutely not way did have money. Yeah, um, yeah, which is tricky because we were, you know, while we were literally in the wild west, I mean, we were like, in a border town that was, like, way had no idea what, whether it was dangerous or not dangerous, you know, like, what we were doing, so it would've been nice to have that, yeah, um when you do have production in certain, sometimes you can fold it into a production companies already existing insurance and be part of their, you know, covered by that umbrella, that was not the case with this one, but it has been on other films and, um, so just a prompt people back home, you know, what? Do you not know how to budget for that? You would like to know how to budget for I mean, this is on ly somewhat helpful, right? Because I'm just sort of talking to through different items to keep in mind, but if there's one thing that you're thinking, I don't know howto how much that costs or I don't even know how to begin to think about it let me know I'm not the expert of this stuff either, but I can try and, uh walking through it and then guys here if you have something that you've always wondered about you we do have a lot of question me first off I know that some people who are watching at home or having a little bit of trouble seeing exactly what's going right sure sure is this something that people can find other examples of that or is this something that maybe you would even provide to people yeah follow along sure, I mean I think it's simple you khun google a simple documentary budget and and find something like that or I'm happy to share yeah, that would be great if we had that from you to share. I just want to get a couple of quick clarification there on that we had esther post this question, but what software were you using to do that? Because esther says they use a series of xl docks but they also have a showbiz budgeting account they only use it a handful of times. Any advice there? Yes, most people will not use excel if they know what they're doing using self no, I mean excels a fine program and everything and you can create formulas that make it easy but I that's e ideally you're using there's there's a program called budgeting movie magic budgeting, scheduling etcetera um and that's not how I made that one I made an excel spreadsheet so I just I put in each building block myself and then I pdf that and that's what we were looking at so catch it thanks but a line producer I mean like that's their that's their bread and butter is using something like budgeting. Okay, um so there's that saying when making a film never work with animals children or boat yeah, we used all the because they're such nightmares could you speak tio especially on beast since you had all three? What kind of expenses come up? I can't speak to it too much except that I will say that we were working I mean, we had two guys uh, who were sort of in charge of that of all of that? Well, not kids I guess that was sort of my my province but taking care of boats and animals and what they did was just sources locally, you know, they just were on craigslist. They were talking to people in both shops that you know, it was like again a grassroots operation where you were literally just going into these bait tackle shops there, talking to people at gas stations and just saying like, we're making this crazy movie um and I think that like they were given a certain budget amount and new to just try and stay under that but it's like when you're working at that level it's not like anybody around both both parties involved had sort of no idea what was standard but like I think that the community could tell from our operation that it wasn't a big fancy one either and so they knew that they it wasn't going to be like some cash cow or anything it just sort of like look, I know this is crazy but we need to use your boat for like five hours on sunday um you know, we're just making this in them you know? We're making this here in this community and we don't have too much if you don't just don't be afraid of no that's the problem you know, like you say what it is you're doing you say how much you can afford it if they say no there's going to be more boats around in the gulf of mexico you know, I mean you can find somebody that wants to get involved but specific numbers I can't tell you me necessarily numbers because I know that would be I mean, who knows if you even remember if you would remember those numbers but just like things like, you know, with kids like off the top of my head I know you probably need like a tutor yeah, right, right, yeah, stuff like that way added that that was the thing that I took on for beasts, for sure, because we had to research what the like the labor laws were in louisiana, when, when she could and couldn't work, how often she was going to be needing a tutor. It was three hours any day that she was skipping school. Um and, you know, but it couldn't be more than total of, like, say, twelve hours on set or something like that there's turnaround times that you have to respect, you should respect turnaround times anyway for everybody, every member of the crew, but especially with the six year old girl there's certain standards that they, you know, impose and also sag has their own their own limitations to you didn't have any problems with sag on that movie that we did, it wasn't a sad production. I don't know how we could have done what we did it when it comes to crew on budget and as a producer, when can you tell your potential crew how much you're going to pay them? Or should you ask them how much they would want to be paid for the production, and I would not ask them how much they were, um I'd say you have an initial conversation where you sort of introduced the project to them and what the vibe is of the project scale et cetera et cetera talk about why you're excited about it and you know why could be potentially exciting for them and then if they say like if they opt in so to speak and they say, well, yeah cool I'm interested to learn more than I think in the second conversation you you tell them you know it's their choice whether or not you know they want to do it um I'll get one more budget question that we had six people vote on and in the chat rooms so people want to know they want your opinions about no budget films say for instance, ten thousand dollars or less what are the sacrifices that you make it that level? Do you have certain things that you look at when you're trying to trim budget that you could sacrifice? Yeah, well in that kind of budget level, directors and producers are definitely certainly not producers and probably not directors are getting paid anything it's going to be more like the promo video budget that I just showed in which it's about just what you what you absolutely need to pay for or the thing just doesn't happen I needed gear I didn't have a camera and it wasn't gonna happen unless I paid for a camera so that's, where I would put that everything else like food and, like housing it's just not gonna happen. I mean, you just gotta make do with what you what you can afford yourself. I mean, this is why this is why privileges like a huge part of this kind of realm of filmmaking, because it's, not that you don't make money doing certainly not making a movie like that, you know, unless unless it's like blair witch project and then it makes it a jillion dollars where? Yeah, but ah, but no, I mean, unfortunately, you cut like compensation for sure, for everybody and, uh, you just budget for what's, absolutely necessary. Okay, good, thanks. Like, if you have a camera, you shouldn't pay for a camera. It would be nice to think that you could be. You could rent out the camera to yourself, but if you have it, don't don't budget for

Class Description

Producing an independent film takes an enormous commitment of time, money, and energy – but there are steps you can follow to make the whole undertaking more productive and less overwhelming. Producing An Independent Film From The Grassroots, Up is your guide to reducing friction during every stage of independent feature film production.

In this class, Michael Gottwald, a producer on the OSCAR®-nominated, Beasts of the Southern Wild, will detail the process his team used to bring this sleeper hit to life. By exploring the independent film production process through the lens of Beasts of the Southern Wild you’ll learn how to generate your own independent film success. 

Michael will teach you how to:

  • Find optimal material to produce
  • Engage private and social fundraising resources
  • Craft a production plan suited to your existing resources
  • Distribute and market a finished film

Whether or not you have industry connections, or live in traditional “media centers” (such as New York or Los Angeles), you can still give life to a project that will impact the film industry and artform. You don’t have to blindly navigate the rocky terrain of grassroots film production alone. Michael will offer the insights you need to tackle common challenges during every stage of the producing process.

Producing An Independent Film From The Grassroots, Up will show you how to create films that, if positioned properly, rise above the current indie film marketplace "noise."


a Creativelive Student

A top-notch presentation on indie film making. I learned a lot from this course which I hope to soon put into practice as I'm about to embark on my first indie film - as a screen writer for the first time out, but eventually I hope to write, direct, and produce my own film. Very easy to follow the presentations in this course, and the handouts I received when I purchased the course are quite useful.


Such a great course! Being an indie "Grassroots" filmmaker in the middle of three projects, I found what Michael shared to be very valuable. The way that he described the different aspects of producing and illustrated with examples was very clear and fresh. The course really opens you up to examine your own processes, what works / what doesn't and stirs up some new ideas on how to move forward. Thanks CreativeLive team for making the class happen!


This is a tremendous introduction to grassroots filmmaking. Michael takes you step by step through the various elements of film production and offers those so inclined a cursory understanding of what is required. Because filmmaking is a creative pursuit, the direction the individual filmmaker takes from there is entirely up to each. I would highly recommend this course to any one starting out in filmmaking. Well worth the cost. David W. King, Michigan Movie Magazine