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99 9. Budgeting for Survival and Profit “OK,” I CAN HEAR YOU SAYING. “Budgeting for profit I can understand . But for survival? What on earth does he mean?” The answer is simple. Make some serious mistakes on a few budgets, and not only will your dreams of wine, romance, and a holiday in Acapulco vanish but you’ll also finish up in the street, watching the bailiffs haul away all the expensive equipment you bought just four months ago. Budgets are a two-edged weapon. Handle them well, and they’ll protect you in most situations. Ignore them, or treat them casually, and they can turn round and deal you a body blow. Alright, let me discuss this more gently. In order to get ahead, to make a profit as an independent filmmaker, you’ve got to learn all the ins and outs of budgets. At a university or film school or while working for someone else, you haven’t had to think about money in any serious way. Money has been that vague element you didn’t have to worry about. But now your life is moving on. You are going to make films whose expenses can range from $30,000 to $300,000 or more. If your proposal gets accepted , you are going to enter into a contract and sign your life away under a formal legal agreement. That means you are going to undertake heavy responsibilities and have to budget your film very carefully. If you don’t budget carefully, not only will you not be able to make a decent film and be unable to complete it but you may also be left with very extensive debts. So learning how to draw up a full and careful budget, guarding against all contingencies, is one of the most necessary skills you have to acquire to get ahead. In reality, you will have thought about the production budget, at least in a general way, from your first moments in considering the film. But 100 / Budgeting for Survival and Profit now is the moment of truth. My own procedure is as follows. After doing the proposal and before sending it out, I sketch out a rough outline budget, trying to cover all contingencies and get a general sense of the cost of the film. This will all change as I develop the script, but it’s useful as a starting point. It gives me a basic idea of the rough needs of the budget, and I am much less likely to make mistakes as I negotiate terms with the sponsor. The Budget In budgeting, we often face a number of conundrums. How do you do a budget when you haven’t done the main research or prepared an outline script? Do you budget according to script, or do you script according to budget? For example, in a film I’m doing at the moment, a docudrama, I know there is no way I can raise above a certain amount and, therefore, have had to omit certain scenes from the script. Do you budget according to what you know the sponsor can afford, or do you budget in the hope you can raise the funds from different sources and, therefore, don’t limit the script? There is no absolute answer to these questions, as the conditions under which you make each film will be different. Only one thing is vital: your budget must be as complete and as accurate as possible. If you make a mistake in your budgeting and commit yourself to make a film for what turns out to be an unrealistic sum, you are likely to finish up bankrupt or at least in a very sorry financial situation . A friend of mine, a great filmmaker but no financial wizard, committed himself and his company to do a film for CBS on the mayors of New York. They gave him a budget of $100,000 and told him that was the limit. The film cost him $130,000. You can draw your own conclusions. My answer to these problems is to put into the budget every single item I think I’ll need and then a few more; I always overbudget rather than underbudget, though not all filmmakers agree with this attitude. I believe in being safe rather than sorry. You may lose a few films if you are bidding in a competitive situation, but it’s worth it in the end. A decent budget will save you...


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