Keeping an eye on your budget – expect the unexpected even when you’re dealing with zero budget film making

You'll probably not need a dentist on set, but still...

I was reading a copy of i today and came across a short piece on “10 Harry Potter Film Facts”, which they’d nabbed from the Hollywood Reporter. One particular fact interested me:

A dentist was on standby for many of the young crowd scenes, replacing teeth which wobbled and fell out in case of continuity issues.

With the kind of budget that the likes of Warner Brothers have thrown at the franchise, keeping a dentist on the books is obviously very doable. Yet when you’re thinking about how the budget for something as big as one of the Harry Potter films is being put together, making sure everyone’s teeth are on set is probably the last thing you would think about.

And if you’re working on a “zero budget” then you definitely don’t want to be thinking about any costs… or do you? Here’s the thing: when you don’t really have any money to throw about the place, you need to think long and hard about how things are going to get done and ensure that things are done right the first time so that you don’t incur costs by having to reshoot or other post production nightmares.

In fact, a lot of this careful planning is about avoiding legal issues, which will cost you later on should they arise.

Tip 1: Get some permission forms typed up, printed and signed by cast, crew and location owners that also includes a financial understanding centred on the fact that it’s a zero budget film and make sure that permission forms for actors under 16 are counter signed by parents or guardians of the individual involved. If you don’t plan to release the film for commercial purposes, then make it explicit that they should expect to never see any money from it, but if there’s a chance of profit then mention that they’ll be shared in on royalties.
Why? To avoid legal wranglings later on.

Colin was supposedly made on £45

Zero budget, however, is a bit of a misnomer. The equipment, props, costumes and transport that you use will have cost someone somewhere down the line. So, whenever you hear claims of zero-budget filmmaking it’s not completely true. Really, it’s more like “almost zero-budget”, like with the £45 film Colin that wowed the industry in 2009 – technically it would have cost more than that due to the equipment used. Even the first shoot for the Victoriana! trailer that Habitual Films undertook recently ended up spending around 80p on the day of the shoot in order to make Arthur look like a reasonably convincing tramp.

Tip 2: Plan reshoot dates and work these into your filming schedule.
Why? It could really put your cast and crew out of pocket if they’re not expecting to have to stand in front of the camera again or if the initial date is no good due to circumstances being less than ideal i.e. bad weather.
Tip 3: Plan to keep your cast and crew fed and watered.
Why? Grumpy cast and crew lead to the need for reshoots.

‘Course, traditionally produced films have marketing budgets figured in and they tend to spend a lot. Paul has talked about marketing before, but do remember that there a great many “free” platforms that you can use in social media in order to get the word out on your film. Just ensure you don’t act like a spambot when you’re on services such as Twitter.

Tip 4: Don’t use copyrighted music in your film, unless you’ve got actual permission to use it.
Why? Legal schizzle.

Remember to stay on the right side of the law.

Tip 5: Inform the police if you plan to use real or replica weapons and ensure that you appoint someone to look after them and that they only have access to them when they’re being filmed.
Why? ‘Cause the police showing up believing that you’re trying to maul people to death truly is a set back to filming. Paul has talked briefly on this before.

Finally: obviously big budget films have budget for insurance and they’ll often have things going on that do require it. Yet, if you’re doing something particularly risky in filming then you should question whether you should be doing it at all, because if you can’t afford the insurance to cover it perhaps you probably shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.

And remember: it’s better to over-estimate budgets than it is to under-estimate them.

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One Comment on “Keeping an eye on your budget – expect the unexpected even when you’re dealing with zero budget film making”

  1. […] Just so you know, I’ve often had to undertake the roles of assistant director and/or producer when working on projects with Paul due to my ability to think ahead. Not that I can think of everything – no one’s that psychic. I was reading a copy of i today and came across a short piece on “10 Harry Potter Film Facts”, which they’d nabbed from the Hollywood Reporter. One particular fact interested me: A dentist was on standby for many of the young crowd scenes, replacing teeth which wobbled and fell out in case of continuity i … Read More […]


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