Today I want to show you how we spent the $25K we were able to raise for Wild Boys.
Before we get started, I need to give a big, massive, huge caveat:
On most feature films, labor, aka paying people for their work, amounts to at least 70% of the budget. With only $25K we were never going to be able to offer our cast and crew fair wages. Almost everyone worked for free, with the production covering their direct expenses.
We could not have made Wild Boys without the help and generosity of our cast and crew.
With that out of the way, let’s jump into the first part of spending.
Starting with not spending at all.
Use what you can get
“Use what you have” is cliche advice for budding filmmakers. I like to expand it and say “Use what you can get.”
We knew we were going to shoot Wild Boys in Springville, California. It had access to all the locations we wanted, and my partner in crime, Vincent Catalina, grew up there.
While writing the script I would constantly ask Vincent: “Do you think we can get X?” or “Do you think someone would let us use their Y?”
As a result, all our locations were free. Restaurant owners let us film before they opened, a rancher let us access the river on his property and friends and family lent us their cabins so we had a place to stay.
Lack of funds forces you to be creative and find solutions that don’t involve throwing money at a problem.
You: What does all this money stuff have to do with directing?
Understanding where to use your limited resources is a crucial skill for directors. If you can solve problems without money, you can spend on the things that really make a difference.
In the end it helps you tell your story in the way you’d imagined.
On Wild Boys we ended up getting locations, lodging and most of our dinners donated from people in the community.
We approached the production process as a Summer Camp experience. We created a fun production environment, fed our cast and crew well, and allowed people to help in a way that was meaningful to them.
Everyone loves a deal
Defaulting to free is the number one tool I recommend for low budget filmmakers.
But some expenses are unavoidable.
Here’s a quick look at the cover sheet of our production budget for Wild Boys.
By far the largest line item is the camera department.
We knew we had to rent all our camera gear.
So we went deal hunting.
We were able to rent an Arri Alexa Mini from an owner/operator who wasn’t using his camera, and gave us a great deal.
We got a set of cinema lenses that were sitting in the vault of a rental house at a great discount.
You get the idea.
We had to stretch every dollar.
This is how we got high budget gear for a fraction of the cost.
The same is true for our Production design, costume design and make-up departments.
Our crew did an amazing job using low cost items, thrift store finds and simple tricks to make their meager budgets go a long way.
As directors we need to help our teammates play at their highest level.
We knew we weren’t able to afford the fanciest costumes, or the most epic production designs.
By being selective, and focusing on what would help our story the most, we pulled off some crucial storytelling in these departments.
Managing our expectations, and working within our limitations is a strength when we embrace it.
Keep ‘em happy
You should always treat your cast and crew well.
This is doubly true when you’re not paying them.
You’ll see “Set Operations” is our second highest line item.
That translates to food and drinks.
To create our Summer camp vibe, we were adamant that we needed to feed our team well.
As Heads of Vibes, it’s our responsibility to create an awesome working environment.
When you’re in a forest, far from home, without cell service or internet, a good meal can make all the difference.
I believe in treating your cast and crew like family, and I guess food is my love language.
It might have been 20% of our budget, but it was worth 10 times what we spent.
Find the thing where you can go above and beyond for your cast and crew, and be mindful of the vibes you’re sending and allowing on your productions.
Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.
- Mike Tyson
We had two pick-up days scheduled for Wild Boys.
Days where we would shoot any bits and pieces that were missing from the main shoot.
Drone shots were #1 on our list.
Halfway through day 1, on the top of the mountain, hours from civilization:
The sound of drone propeller meeting tree branch breaks the peace.
No f*ing way.
We find our rented drone beaten up and broken at the bottom of a tree.
This bird ain’t gonna fly again for some time.
We’d rented the drone in LA.
3+ hours away.
It was a Saturday.
There was no way we’d be able to get another rental in time to make use of the day.
But we had a backup.
No matter how carefully we plan, estimate and budget, the reality of film production is this:
At the bottom of our budget you’ll see a little thing called “Contingency.”
This was our safety net.
Ideally you want this to be at least 10% of your budget.
We were living on the edge, as you can tell.
But having that buffer in the budget is the best sleeping aid a filmmaker can get.
Knowing that you’re prepared when something unexpected comes up, and that you’ll be able to handle it is a huge weight off your shoulders.
We were able to race off the mountain, rush to the nearest Best Buy and buy a drone because we’d saved some money for a rainy day.
We got back up the mountain just in time to catch the sunset, and were able to make up for lost time on the next day.
Making the most out of a tiny budget is essential when directing your no/micro/low-budget film.
In summary, today we discussed:
- Getting what you can for free
- Always look for a deal or an unexpected way to get big value for your money
- Take care of your people
- Always have a backup plan