Monday, April 18, 2011

Beg, Borrow and (don't) Steal

One of the reasons today's post is late is that I went out begging on behalf of my capstone. Me and another guy visited four restaurants, explained who we were and what we're doing, and gave them a letter as proof of our student-hood. Judging by their reactions, two out of those four businesses will probably come through with either direct food donations or gift cards.

Big budget movies boost economies. They come in some city or town (or several) and spend a bunch of money. They hire local labor, they rent rooms in hotels (or whole hotels), they pay a whole lot for a whole lot of catering, etc. etc. etc. Big budget filmmaking is big budget for a reason. The production accountants do their best to keep things thrifty (why pay 200 million when you can pull it off with 150?)

That is NOT the way student filmmaking works. And the best film student will learn this rule the fastest: never spend money on anything you don't have to

In that vein, here are two lists:

Things you should probably spend money on:
  • Actors - Even if it's not much, it's almost impossible to find good talent for free
  • Food - Starving a crew is unforgivable, especially since most all of them are working for free
  • Design - If it can't be begged, borrowed or stolen ...borrowed, it must be bought
  • Festival Submissions - if a film isn't going to get seen by someone, don't bother making it
There will be other expenditures, which is why the next list is more important.

Things you should NOT spend money on:
  • Crew - Film students ought to work with other film students, and none of them ought to get paid.
  • Equipment - Use what your institution has available. Don't spend money on rentals if you can possibly help it. Need a crane for that one shot? No you don't. Not unless you've got an extra few hundred dollars just sitting around.
  • Design - This cannot be overemphasized - the VAST majority of what you'll need on almost any set can be found for free. Someone on your crew has got it, or knows someone who does. The exceptions to this rule are period pieces, which you should probably avoid as a student (ask A. Todd Smith.)
  • Food - You will be amazed at how much food you can get donated. You'll have to spend money, but not nearly as much as you think.
Of course these lists aren't comprehensive. But you get the idea. 

Over the next few posts, I'll talk about specific things we're doing on Weighted to save money, and how those things could potentially inform other projects. 

Meanwhile, is there something you'd like to hear more about, specifically? Do you have other ideas about how student filmmakers can save money? Good news! That's what the comments are for.


  1. I don't know a lot about the art of traditional film making. But this made me laugh anyway.

  2. Agreed. Talent is worth raising money for. (did a small film and the star wa a tony wiiner and regular guest star. He was great and most working actors have long stretches of down time and can be had for scale. Sound is the other place where film makers should never scrimp.


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