Do indie filmmakers make as well as the big guys?
Most indie film makers have an intimate knowledge of production and distribution costs. This has a huge impact on their choices in budget allocation. Some make their film production costs very high (for instance the amount you have to pay for a sound stage), others are much more transparent and often have limited production costs, while the rest are somewhere in the middle.
I am not saying that the people who make a lot of money aren’t making smart decisions. I am just saying that a lot of indie filmmakers choose their filmmaking costs that way, because they are more comfortable with the amount they are spending.
What are the most important considerations?
I consider the following things when deciding how much to budget:
Will I be able to finance the movie if I am only able to pay for half of what the studio will ask for?
Will there be any risks involved? Can I still make the movie if the studio doesn’t like it?
Will the film get made if we make less money than we thought it would?
How much can a person afford to spend? That is in part the reason so many indie filmmakers start with their money from the first day! I have never spent more than 7-10 percent of my budget on salaries and extras.
Once I have a rough estimate of what the total cost will be, I then consider whether I should include one last thing, which is:
Can we afford to do another version of the film?
In one of my early films I had to make a second film to get it greenlit, and that story was extremely expensive and took an insane amount of time and money. We had to make a second version in order to make it to the movie festival, which took another month and was one of the most costly movies that I’ve ever made. I wanted to do another movie, and the other studio wanted to make the film again for much less. I said, “How about we take a chance and make the film once more, this time for just five bucks and try to see if it works”, and what happens is that a year later I went to the festival and they were still asking me for five bucks, which I did not have the cash for. Another example came during the film festival where I sold my idea for a movie called “Riot” in less than ten minutes for only $250, and that was before I had even seen the script.
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