Film Production: Faster Better Cheaper – Pick Any Two
March 30, 2009 Leave a comment
I just Googled “Faster Better Cheaper – Pick Any Two” for film and tv production and was shocked to see that no one’s (apparently) blogged this old adage.
Because old it verily is. About 1970 I saw an interview with Hattie Jacques, a veteran character actor who always played the dowdy Matron, Wife, etc. through the series of “Carry On ___” movies out of the UK. She not only used the phrase, “Faster-Better-Cheaper pick any two”, but she said that it was a mantra that she had been living for many years.
Let’s think about it. It’s a generality, and I think it’s lasted so long because it really makes you ponder. But, like all generalities, not always true.
Let’s look at the easier combinations first:
Faster-Cheaper: Yep. It’s pretty much a no-brainer that faster-cheaper will ultimately lead to NOT “Better”. But there are rare exceptions, like Sydney Lumet and Clint Eastwood. In general, though, faster is usually “Cheaper”, unless wholesale panic ensues from the props, wardrobe, set dressing buyers. If they need to grab the first thing they see because of the lost time, it will cost more and will have a ripple effect on “Cheaper”, upsetting the director, causing the cast to mope because they’re not wearing what was promised, etc. In spite of it all, though, Faster will reduce the labor time and so should bring it in “Cheaper”, but at a sacrifice of “Better”.
Faster-Better pretty much excludes “Cheaper”. A better quality, even if it’s just more rehearsal time, will cost more than otherwise. Better-Faster would mean ensuring you have an experienced Cinematographer, a ‘show runner’ who knows the genre and can coax the best out of the script, etc. These types of heavy hitters are worth it, and will speed up the production. Perfect locations, stylized wardrobe, manufactured props are all “Better” at the sacrifice of “Cheaper”. Keep in mind, though, that “Better” may not mean “Faster”. Most directors want more coverage and love to wait for that perfect shot (dawn-in-the-desert kind of thing) and that is definitely not “Faster”. So, this combination works only with tried and true professionals who have enough time to plan an agreed upon shooting schedule.
Better-Cheaper is the bane of Independent Filmmaking. I have personally heard Production Designers lament, “If only I had more money, it would have looked so much better.” (I giggle in my sleeve when it’s already a $30Mil + production.) Each year, though, there are independent films that just DO IT cheaper and better than anyone else – “Little Miss Sunshine”, “Happy Go Lucky” and “Frozen River” are three such films that come to mind right off the top of my head. But to get back to topic, “Cheaper” is not any right of passage to “Better”, and this is where the adage falls down. There is some truth to the fact that if you ignore “Faster” and take more time to plan and rehearse, as well as to shoot, then you can make it better – but the “Cheaper” factor is only possible if the cast and crew are working for flat fees (i.e. no overtime). You would need to find a production cast and crew that are willing to do that for no extra fee – hmmmmm. Was that a Union Rep who just called?