Written by Lee Schneider, founder of DocuCinema.
If you’re making a film you want the biggest budget possible. (“I can’t live without at least one crane shot. I get depressed otherwise. Now get me a latte, tall, with crispy foam.”)
So one morning you wake up, make your own damn latte and start plugging in numbers into a spreadsheet (or an abacus if you’re low budget) and you end up with a budget for a $15 million indie movie. Then you realize you don’t know enough rich dentists to finance that, so you cut the budget so a rich used-car salesman might be able to finance it. Then you realize that the car industry has tanked and your lean budget isn’t roadworthy. Your suspicions are proven right when you pitch the five mil picture to some used-car salesmen and they start asking you for money. The meeting is getting embarrassing, so you excuse yourself and go cut your budget again.
This time maybe you get the film in at $1.2 million. The latte line item has been slashed, along with the fake blood and alas, there are no cranes. You take this budget to a potential investor and make your presentation.
He says, “If I invest in your film, how will I get back my money?”
Since you don’t know the answer, you go with distraction. “Hey, isn’t that pigeon over there wearing a superman outfit?” You’re desperate to buy time, so you say, “You’ll get your money back in six months!” That sounds good. But it wouldn’t be true. “What I meant to say is you’ll get your money back in three months!” That sounds even better and of course it’s a bigger lie.
Then you come up with the perfect thing to say: “Keep your money in your pocket because the film market has tanked and I have no idea how I’ll pay your money back.”
Your potential investor starts looking a little crabby. You say, “We’ll borrow the money from a bank, if we could find a bank that would loan us money. Maybe if we sever a limb and hand it to the bank officer on a bed of lettuce and promise indentured service. I will also throw in one of my children as collateral.”
The meeting is getting awkward. The investor corrects you. “Banks are not taking children as collateral anymore. New regulations.”
Will banks take pets as collateral? Yes, but only if they were once owned by celebrities.
You can’t go there. Then you realize something. You have a responsibility to make a film that fits the market. This concept was addressed in an All Cities networking meeting I attended and it came up again this morning at a meeting with a smart producer’s rep.
The imparted wisdom is this: Look at the market. Study the films that are like yours. Find out how they were budgeted and how much money they took in. (IMDb and Box Office Mojo work well for this and you can also check out PBS’s Current.org Pipeline listing.) You can see what your film might actually make. You can decide if you’re willing to make it on a budget that could actually return investors’ money. Huh. I believe the term for that is honesty.
Here are some of the films I’m looking at in my own research.
(500) Days of Summer. Domestic Gross: $32,391,374
What the #$*! Do We (K)now!? Domestic Gross: $10,941,801
Run Lola Run. Domestic Gross: $7,267,585