Film Unions – Finding Financing or Finding Work

FINDING FILM FINANCING, OR EVEN JUST FINDING WORK

In my last article, “Finding Film Financing – Can it be Taught?” I listed several blocks of knowledge which could be taught. Having a workable understanding of such things as Union/Guild Agreements, Film Payroll, Bank Loans, Tax Credits, Production Cost Controls, etc., and how they weave together, will project you as a competent professional.

KNOWING FILM UNION AGREEMENTS ELEVATES YOUR STATUS

Does that mean that a financier will invest in your film project if you know your way around film Guild and Union Agreements (SAG, DGA, IATSE, etc)? Not necessarily. But it does mean that an experienced financier will have more confidence in your decision-making, and will have more confidence in referring you, listening to other strategies more suitable to their portfolio, etc. It definitely gives you an elevated status which the film community will pick up on. That financier might just say, “I’m looking for a young executive like you…” and start negotiating a contract to keep you on full-time.

WORD OF MOUTH IS EVERYTHING IN THE FILM COMMUNITY

The film and television production community prides itself as being much different from the rest of the business world. Word of mouth is everything. Impress one studio executive, or an experienced bond company representative, or a state tax administrator, etc. and believe me you have just made an “in” with their contacts as well. There are so many “wannabe’s” and only a few who will actually go the extra mile to learn the financial building blocks of the business of producing film and television content. Show them you’re in that small group who understand Guild and Union Agreements and their confidence in you rises sharply.

FILM PAYROLL RULES ARE LOCATED WITHIN EVERY “AGREEMENT”

The film unions and guilds have made “Agreements” with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, generally known as the AMPTP. The “Agreements” state the rules of the contract between the Guild or Union and the Producer, including all payroll rules.

Each Guild/Union has broken down their rules for calculating payroll into the following 4 categories:

  1. The “Basic Day” and Overtime Rules
  2. The penalties associated with “Rest Violations” (also called “Turnaround”, or “Forced Calls”).
  3. The penalties associated with violating Meal Periods (called “Meal Penalties”).
  4. The various circumstances associated with Travel – whether to a “Distant Location” (i.e. staying in a hotel), or traveling outside of a defined “Studio Zone”.

Once you know where these points are in each of the agreements your task becomes one of familiarization and practice.

THE NECESSARY TRAINING AND PRACTICE

I’ve found that a full weekend practicing the feature film payroll rules, followed up by on-line links to all the materials, is plenty for your average person to learn how to manage and to calculate the union/guild payrolls to “gross” (i.e. to the gross amount of pay due before union and government benefits/deductions). I also supply timecard templates (yes, with the formulas) which are “helpers”. Once you have a working understanding of the various Agreements you can fluidly optimize your management of any union/guild within your production.

For more information see http://www.talkfilm.biz

Cheers / John

 

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MovieScope – Directing The Money

Directing the Money

Production accountant John Gaskin relates the skills and experience required to manage the business and creative aspects of film production.


There is skill, creativity and good old blood ‘n’ guts involved with directing the money in film production, with reputations at stake and careers on the line for more than just the  producers and directors. Even in

Devil

"Devil"

this turbulent financial climate, we still hear of budgets raging wildly out of control. Ever been curious as to how that could happen, or how to prevent it? Who’s watching the shop? Well, (gulp)… I am. The production accountant/auditor.Money is a hot topic anywhere, but especially so when addressing a creative and business collaboration.

Accounting bores the creatives, and their financial blind spots annoy the business executives. So, how do we get the two sides of the trench  cooperating?

There are a few tried-and-true accounting techniques which compare the actual shooting process with the schedule and film budget. This entails a rapid-fire cataloging of the costs, which include labour, expenses and overheads committed and paid. Then there are detailed procedures of categorizing actual costs by labour/equipment/overheads and measuring them, line-by-line, with the approved budget. All of us film production accountants know these daily and weekly techniques and we dutifully ply our trade to inform our  producers and financiers of what’s happening. Nobody shout Eureka. Chaos still occurs.

Let’s examine two factors senior to the details: Headology and Directing the Money.

Headology is a term that was created by one of Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld characters, Granny Weatherwax. For the uninitiated, headology is basically using words and thoughts to get people to do what you want, without any spells or potions. In our case, I’m using the term to represent the ways and means used to generate the creative spirit and collaboration that is right for a film project. In filmmaking, those who know headology recognize the value of directing the money, and do it intuitively.

For those of you who have experienced one or more facets of successful filmmaking, you will always see at least one individual who is a master of headology. My best examples of its application are the two features that I did with director Ron Howard; they were hands down two of the most enjoyable productions I’ve worked on, and it was indisputably because of Ron’s skills in getting cast and crew to do what was necessary.

Directing the Money:

In filmmaking, nothing happens without a corresponding effect on the film budget. Here is an interesting maxim: without knowing what is right or needed, and just following a set of rules to direct the money, headology inadvertently falls into place. As a corollary,  anybody who knows headology is aware that, to some degree, performance is measured by your skill in directing the money.

My best example of successful directing of money is Disney; their longtime VP of finance has been doing so with an iron fist for over three decades. I cringed and debated under those rules, but ultimately bought into them, as their worth became very apparent with use over five or six feature film productions.

In my experience on 45 film and television projects spread over 25 years and 5 countries, I can say that the times I was in trouble with unapproved cost overruns were when the top end (defined as one or more studio executives, financier, producer or director) were without skill in headology nor directing the money, period.

I won’t be so superior as to instruct you on the nuances of headology, however, I can say with confidence that a study of the way Ron Howard runs his set, and how he has a strong interest in the budget, will carry you a long way down that path. I have observed several successful headology actions which I can share with you; how you bring those into your arsenal is something for you to ponder.

I previously said that by following the techniques of directing the money, headology would inadvertently fall into place. Now I’m entering a field that I’m qualified to  expound on, but, as promised, I won’t get into the details of hot costs, day costs, worked hours and pay hours, etc. Just ask the film accountant for the cost of an average day of shooting and for the labour cost of each consecutive hour of overtime. With a little practice you can use those two factors alone to direct a large part of the money.

Assuming that you are, or have ambitions to be, a director, producer, line producer, film production accountant or unit production manager, here are the characteristics and attitudes that I have observed of those who repeatedly avoid financial pitfalls during the production of a feature film:

Headology

1: If the decision that you’re about to make doesn’t feel right, it isn’t. Don’t try to convince yourself.

2: Demand that department heads take responsibility for their departmental budgets. Making decisions for them is counter-productive.

3: Always acknowledge a person’s existence. It creates positive energy.

4: Defuse messed-up situations by stating the truth exactly, then get on with it.

5: Respect the financiers who have placed their trust in you.

Directing the Money

1: Know the terms within sections, categories and line items of your budget, e.g., below the line, camera department, camera rentals respectively.

2: Clearly state your right to apply the savings you create through efficiencies against those costs not budgeted, e.g. work the crew fewer hours than budgeted, then use the savings for a crane shot that was not budgeted.

3: Insist on being informed of the number of worked hours in the budget and keep score, e.g., the number of worked hours budgeted for the grips and electrics.

4: Insist on having access to the film accountant. A director may want to have a producer accompanying him/her.

5: Ask the film accountant for a printout of the day cost, i.e., cost of an average day of production. Review it and clear any terms and rates with him/her.

6: Habitually direct your creative concepts towards a parallel concept of directing the money available per the approved budget.

7: Ask for a copy of the film production’s weekly cost report. This is the report sent to all the financiers, studio execs, bonding company, etc. Read any narrative on the covering memo to prepare for any potential explanations demanded of you in your capacity.

jg

John Gaskin

John Gaskin has worked as a production accountant on over 40 projects, including Devil ( top). He is a film production auditor of 25 years experience, and is the instructor of film workshops and live online training webinars. John is also author of Walk the Talk, a book used by non-accountants to understand how to ‘direct the money’ in film production.

To learn more, visit John’s website at www.talkfilm.biz or email him at

johngaskin@talkfilm.biz

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#3 of 7 – Translating Film Scripts Into ‘Money Talk’

Most directors, executive producers and crew have elected to stay away from budgets and costs. The heavy grinding SHOULD be left to accountants — BUT, the control still needs to rest with the Director, Producers, Production Managers and Department Heads.

As a filmmaker, get a degree of familiarity with the money flow, especially with the budget creation and the weekly ‘Report Card’ – the Cost Report.  Find a comfort level where you can, AT THE VERY LEAST, KNOW WHAT TO ASK.  Know how to formulate the questions—you’ll impress the money belts off  the Studio Executives.

Picture the following scenario—you are a Line Producer and your Director wants to do a crane shot that entails several movements best handled with a ‘Techno Crane”.  It will also involve 100 background extras (the first 50 need to be SAG Union extras).

Studio Executive:  “That’ll cost $200,000 and I don’t see how that will pay back at the box office.  It cost even more than that on my last show, and THAT was in Denver just last February … yaddy, yaddy, yah.”

(Remember, the Studio Executive is going to estimate high).

You, the Line Producer (or the Director could do this himself), rather than feeling out of your element, say, “According to my charts a top of the line ‘Techno Crane’ can be rented for $8,000 for a week (if you aren’t already familiar with basic costs of Techno Cranes, etc. Figure 17.2, Table 1 of my book presents some general costs that can be used as ‘round numbers’ to help formulate this kind of answer).  We can shoot out the extras over two days—according to my charts that’s about $14,000 a day for the SAG extras and $7,000 a day for the non-union extras (see Figure 17.2, Table 2 of my book). According to my math, that’s ($8,000 + 14,000×2 + $7,000×2) =  $50,000.”

Then, after taking a breath, you also say, “Because we’re in the Studio I know that we can get our shots with 10 Hour shoot days all of this week.  As you know, wrapping the crew 2 hours early saves $10,000 a day (See Figure 15.3 – I’ve made a chart to broadly indicate the cost of crew labor for the last two hours of overtime on small/ medium/ big budget shoots to give the reader a general familiarity with the costs of overtime).  There’s the $50,000 we need. And anybody who would shoot in Denver in February must be……”.

Directors, Line Producers, Department Heads, etc. deserve all the help they can get. Some of these people, through the school-of-hard-knocks, have developed a ‘knack’ for conceptually streaming their creative ideas through a ‘what’s the cost?’ process. But that process is all too often tainted with blame on ‘the blue suits’ and ‘the money guys’ and ‘all they’re interested in is the money’, etc. It’s also often based on misinformation, biased toward a predetermined decision. Take my word for it; unless you can be familiar enough with the language of money in film production, you’re up the proverbial creek.
 

 

Some training and drilling is needed to get to know the tricks of directing and controlling the costs during film production, but not a lot.

There’s a regularly occurring pattern of problems presented by and to the director, producers, production manager, department heads, etc. on down the line. Conflicts that come up are almost always due to poor, or no, translation of a creative need into a cost that is based on accurate projections. Most attempts made by creative people to trade-off expected costs with some kind of savings somewhere else in the budget are clumsily presented and easily shot down by those who know the ‘lingo’ of budgets and costs.

Let’s take up an example:

You’re the Director of an Independent Film Production. You’ve shot the exteriors called for in the script and you’ve seen the dailies; however, you KNOW that there’s a better shot of that exterior in Oklahoma that would give the perfect hook to the opening of your film.

You know that you can convince the producers and the studio of this on a creative plane.  But, you also know that the studio and most producers will shudder at the task of dropping that bombshell on the financiers/Bonding Company that you need to dip into the closely guarded Contingency funds.  (Oh, did I tell you that we’re going to Okl…).

1. How do you pose solutions to those added costs?

2. What’s the right way to approach the game of cost trade-offs?

3. It’s always going to be a challenge to present this kind of choice – but, a very doable challenge if you know how to translate your needs to cost trade-off’s by using my Walk The Talk ideas.
Here’s a variation of three typical kinds of questions for feature film or TV productions.  I’ve shown the way the questions are usually posed, as well as the Walk The Talk way.

Example of Walk The Talk On Reshoots

Usual Way:

As the Director you sincerely express your view that the Oklahoma shot would be a perfect opening for the movie. What kind of response do you think you’ll get? Here’s the most likely, from my experience:

Producer/Bonding Company Rep – This will put us over-budget by $130,000. I’ll talk to the… ‘whoever’ – (it’s a stall for sure).

Walk The Talk Way

Alternative: Director/Line Producer – The cost of shooting 1 day of exteriors will not require a full crew in Oklahoma. I’ve called the Film Commission there (see my web site for internet links to all Film Commissions and major Unions) and they have assured me that there are plenty of local crew available to work at a very decent rate.  I estimate it should cost about 1/2 of your estimate, say about $75,000 (see Figure 17.2, Table 3 in my book) to give us a bit more than we absolutely need.  I can get that back over the next 5 days here in New York. You see, I’ve rehearsed the next five days with my very experienced cast and there’s no way that we can’t complete the scenes scheduled in 10 hours a day instead of the budgeted 13 hours a day.  And, as you all know, that last 2 hours in New York costs about  $10,000 a day (see Figure 15.1 in my book).

Alternative: Bonding Company – Oh. Have the accountant make a schedule of the costs and we can check them. (That’s a Financier’s last stand – it’s up to the accountant to verify your estimates.)

A budget is simply an amount of money needed, or made available, for the purpose of producing a film/TV show/documentary/commercial/etc.

In the last article we covered the four major categories of any budget.  Review the categories and get a ‘feel’ for the types of account descriptions that are listed.  Don’t spend too much time on it right now; we’ll be spending more time on it later.

The full process of budgets and costs travels the following simple course of events:

1.Budget Preparation During Pre-Production

2.Final Approved Budget (Just Before the Shoot)

3.The ‘Cost Report’ Process Starts (The Cost Report compares the projected known costs with the budgeted costs on a line-by-line basis). Note that the Weekly Cost Report has the same structure universally, so if you are familiar with one cost report, you’ve be familiar with all Cost Reports everywhere. It is regarded by all film productions, in every country, as a report card of how well you’re doing with the investor’s money. DON’T UNDERESTIMATE HOW IMPORTANT THIS DOCUMENT IS TO YOUR CAREER! We’ll be looking at Cost Reports, and how to present them to your best advantage, in the last 2 articles of this series.

Here’s some general information on budgeting and how it relates to ‘Translating Creative Ideas Into Money’. This final section of the article segues into the next couple of articles, where we’ll be looking at some details to increase your familiarity with budgets.

The budget is intended to be a direct reflection of the final shooting schedule. Every time the script says something simple like “Joe looked at the clock” or as complex as “Dawn in the Desert” all of the associated costs for that activity should be detailed in the budget.

Furthermore, every aspect of the script that has been detailed by the First Assistant Director through the various reports that assist in organizing the shoot should be detailed in the budget. When the Final Approved Budget is signed off by us all (the Director, Producers, Financiers/Studio Executives, Production Manager and the Accountant) we are attesting that the budget, the shooting schedule and the script are all dynamically linked.

So, you need to contribute to the “Final Approved Budget” in any way that you have the authority to do so.  As a Director, feel free to insist on ample budgeted working hours for the crew as well as for the more obvious elements of cast, stunts, special effects, camera cranes, etc.

If you are a Line Producer, Production Manager, Department Head (or even a crew member keen to get an upgrade) you should be familiar with the format of a budget page, like a Departmental Budget. We’ll be going through all of those details in the next two articles. (See Chapter 17 of my book for an example of a Budget of a ‘Small Unit’ to shoot a “New York Alley Scene”).

The usual production ‘breakdown’ reports, like the Shooting Schedule, Day-Out-Of-Days, etc. are usually well known and very familiar to Directors, Producers, Production Managers and Department Heads; however, translating the associated costs into a budget requires such detailed monotony that it quite often overwhelms (or, under-whelms, if you like) the creative minded people.  However, you can quite quickly get familiar with the language of Budgets and Cost Reports if you can find a good book.

Well, I have a good book, that’s easy to read, that lays it out for you. As of July 27/08 both the University of Southern California Masters of Fine Arts (Peter Stark Program) and the University of Tampa Film Program have ordered my book, “Walk The Talk” as required reading for their students.

They’re available in my book – see my web site here “Walk The Talk”. All of them are simple but effective.

-John Gaskin

#2 of 7: Film Production and ‘Directing the Money’

The topic of money in general is a little scary to most of us. When you approach the topic of money in film production – steel your nerve! There are reputations at stake and careers on the line.

The purpose of this article is to demonstrate that ‘Directing’ Money in the film production business (or any business, for that matter) is fundamental to your career – especially if you want to rise on the food chain of film production. If you’re already a Film Director, you know all about the flow of spirit, vision and creative collaboration that it takes to make a film. If that momentum is stopped in some manner, the whole project is clouded with doubt and apprehension. Film crew of all stripes can smell that arrested movement almost immediately – sometimes even before the Director and Producers.

Beneath the noble flows of creative spirit and collaboration runs the green flow of money. NOTHING happens without a corresponding effect on that money flow. Begin to think like a film director, but in the area of money flows. (It’s really just a minor skill, like playing bridge.) Would a good director worry about the small stuff? (Okay, maybe, but let’s hope not.) Then don’t put your attention on every penny – think in concepts of $1,000 at a time.

Keep those creative juices flowing; however, like it or not, your performance is measured to some degree by how well you can ‘Direct the Money’ – in whatever level of production you choose, but especially if you’re an aspiring, or working, Film Director. How well you can do that is how well you control your career in film.

Anything that’s bought (I mean ANYTHING) is tracked and compared to the budget. Every conceivable type of film equipment, prop-holding rooms, toilet paper, you name it, is compared to the ‘approved budget’. But, you’re not going to get fired because you wasted toilet paper. On the other hand, if you ‘Direct the Money’ (and know it when you’re doing it) by borrowing the Construction Department’s forklift for a couple of hours, instead of renting your another one, you’re ‘Directing the Money’. Now you just need to learn how to parley that into a truce with the Studio Exec, Producer, Production Manager, etc. by talking competently in terms of budgets and costs.

It’s time to introduce some details. Let’s take a look at what, exactly, is a priority in order for you to be seen as a competent ‘money talk’ person in film production (say a Producer, UPM or Department Head).

The very first task is to be able to make comments intelligently about the budget. Read the shooting schedule (and other script breakdowns) from a viewpoint of money. Ask the accountant what is the average cost of shooting per day and multiply by the number of shooting days. Become familiar with the terms of the budget and learn how to comment about the most important elements (read as, know what categories of costs could benefit you, or hurt you, the most). Become familiar with the ‘look’ and presentation of a budget, so that you’re not mistaking a subtotal line for an expense (actually, I’ve seen that happen too often to laugh). You’ll get some hands-on practice in the next 6 articles.

Before going any further, let’s look at the 4 basic sections of a budget. (As I said in my article ‘Making It in Film Production’ I’ve written these articles for the complete novice, so please be patient if you’ve already been exposed to the fundamentals here).

If you can’t read the picture below, click here: Page 37 of “Walk The Talk” for a clearer PDF illustration.
Budget Topsheet
The Four Major Sections of Any Film Budget are:
1.Above-the-Line: This section includes all costs associated with the Writer, Director, Producers, Cast and Stunts. The costs of the writer, director, producer and stars is driven by the market place, Major Studios or financiers, so I won’t spend much time on them. However, you will need to have a good understanding of the costs associated with the daily/weekly cast and stunts. (Note: In the very early days of film budgeting there was actually a heavy line drawn here – thus the term ‘Above’ and ‘Below’ the line.)

2.Shooting Period: This is the most important section for anyone looking to produce films. As you would have guessed from the title, it includes all production costs of the actual time of shooting the film, including a bit of ‘wrap’ time (say a week or two) after the shooting is completed. It includes all of those costs that you would intuitively think of

– like the labor costs of all crew, camera-grip-electric equipment rentals, as well as, all construction-wardrobe- transportation costs, etc. When I first started in the business everyone called this section ‘Below-the-Line’, and I still hear it occasionally. The official definition currently in use for ‘Below-the-Line’ is the sum of the Shooting Period and the Post-Production Costs (see point #3 below).

3.Post Production: This section of the budget includes all costs associated with the time period AFTER the shooting is complete – costs like editing, sound mixing, music, visual effects, etc. I won’t be spending any time on post-production costs. It’s in the interests of the Studio and Financiers to create the best ‘look’ they can. There are experts in this area who stay current with the technology. The only control you can hope for is a tight coordination among the Director, Editors, Post-Production Supervisor and Financiers to arrive at some real plan for ‘post’.

4.Other: Finally, the last section includes costs like insurance, on-set publicity costs, legal expenses, etc. The financiers have certain requirements for these areas and usually have a pretty good idea what they’ll cost before approving the financing. So, in the interests of self-preservation, always defer any discussion of ‘Other’ costs to the Studio, Bonding Company or Financiers.

Occasionally, an ‘Overhead’ account is added after Contingency – but it’s almost never used. Again, they are what they are, once the financing is in place and the Bonding Company agrees to bond the show. (Note that if there’s a bank involved, there will always be a Bonding Company).

The four different sections illustrated above is a typical Budget Summary sheet. These four sections are universally referred to; so don’t be afraid to use the terms. Additionally, if your show is an independent production, there will be three more lines at the bottom (always presented in bold) – they are Financing Charges, Bond Fee and Contingency after the budget is approved (often referred to as the ‘Locked Budget) all costs incurred are compared to the approved budget.

At this point you need to switch gears from budgeting to the process of reporting the costs as they compare to the budget. There is an internationally agreed upon format for this purpose, called the Weekly Cost Report. It’s the ‘Report Card’ of how the show is going.

This Weekly Cost Report process is where the fun begins and you’ll need to be familiar with the many in’s and out’s of cost reporting. How the costs are gathered together is a technicality belonging in the realm of accounting – what you need to know is the importance of the Weekly Cost Report, and how to ‘Direct the Money’ by knowing how to acceptably manipulate the reporting process to show an honest, but credible presentation of the production costs. It is THE key report card presented to those with the money behind the film production. It’s presented to the Financiers/ Studio Execs/ Bonding Company every week, on every financed film production on planet earth, period.

Presentation of this cost report can make or break your credibility. AND, to my knowledge, there’s nowhere else you can learn these tricks of the trade – except for an off-hand statement here and there in the larger film schools. See my next articles for more about this report.

I want to remind you that in the 20 years that I’ve worked in film production, I have NEVER shown a crew member a Final Budget or a Weekly Cost Report. They are considered sacrosanct by Studio Executives, Financiers and Bonding Companies everywhere.

Well, get a good book, that’s easy to read, that lays it out for you. Recently both the University of Southern California Masters of Fine Arts (Peter Stark Program) and the University of Tampa Film Program have ordered my book, “Walk The Talk” as required reading for their students.

They’re available in my book – see my web site here “Walk The Talk”. All of them are simple but effective.

Cheers,

Visit my web site at www.talkfilm.biz.

John Gaskin’s Profile: http://www.linkedin.com/in/johngaskin

Email: johngaskin@talkfilm.biz

Notice to Directors – Tag, You’re It

The topic of directing in general is a little scary to most of us. There are reputations at stake and careers on the line. The flow of spirit, vision and creative collaboration that it takes to make a film can be intimidating. If  your momentum is stopped in some manner, the whole project becomes clouded with doubt and apprehension. Film crew of all stripes can smell that arrested movement almost immediately – sometimes even before the Director and Producers.

The purpose of this article is to give the director another philosophical viewpoint  to help stabilize his/her ability to create. It may even sound at direct odds to what you would normally think. Here it is:

Collaborate with the Producers By ‘Directing’ the Money

Beneath the noble flows of creative spirit and collaboration runs the green flow of money. NOTHING happens without a corresponding effect on that money flow. Begin to think like a film director, but in the area of money flows. (It’s really just a minor skill, like playing bridge.) Would a good director worry about the small stuff? (Okay, maybe, but let’s hope not.) Then don’t put your attention on every penny – think in concepts of $1,000 at a time.

Keep those creative juices flowing; however, like it or not, your performance is measured to some degree by how well you can ‘Direct the Money’ – in whatever level of production you choose, but especially if you’re an aspiring, or working, Film Director. How well you can do that is how well you control your career in film.

Anything that’s bought (I mean ANYTHING) is tracked and compared to the budget. Every conceivable type of film equipment, prop-holding rooms, toilet paper, you name it, is compared to the ‘approved budget’. But, you’re not going to get fired because you wasted toilet paper. On the other hand, if you ‘Direct the Money’ (and know it when you’re doing it) by borrowing the Construction Department’s forklift for a couple of hours, instead of renting your another one, you’re ‘Directing the Money’. Now you just need to learn how to parley that into a truce with the Studio Exec, Producer, Production Manager, etc. by talking competently in terms of budgets and costs.

The very first task is to be able to make comments intelligently about the budget. Read the shooting schedule (and other script breakdowns) from a viewpoint of money. Ask the accountant what is the average cost of shooting per day and multiply by the number of shooting days. Become familiar with the terms of the budget and learn how to comment about the most important elements (read as, know what categories of costs could benefit you, or hurt you, the most). Become familiar with the ‘look’ and presentation of a budget, so that you’re not mistaking a subtotal line for an expense (actually, I’ve seen that happen too often to laugh).

So, yes collaborate with the Producer, but get in there and change your viewpoint …… Tag, you’re it.

Check out my free articles at http://www.talkfilm.biz/filmarticles.htm for more information on how to Direct the Money.

Visit my web site at www.talkfilm.biz. The articles are available FREE. Or, just buy the book, Walk The Talk for the full information and training on ‘Directing the Money’.

When you read my articles, print them out. Make your own examples. Reread them. Email me if you get stuck. You’ll find that you’ll be way out in front of the pack! For the full information, simply click this link Walk The Talk to buy the book.

Ron Howard – A Director Who Wants to Know

As a Director you want to transfer your vision to the screen.  If you can trade-off one area of costs against another area without getting stuck in the details, you can control the transfer of your vision to the screen.  I guess you could say that you’re “directing” the money.

 

For example, if a Producer says it’s too expensive to have that crane shot during the opening titles, you’ll be able to trade off other costs with authority, getting your crane shot and earning the respect of the financiers at the same time. A few years ago I worked on a film production in New York with Ron Howard as the Director.  He called a meeting with the Accountant (me), the Production Manager and the Executive Producer to ask,

 

“Why is the budget so high?”  If Ron Howard is conscientious about costs, it behooves the rest of us to learn what we can as well.

 

I’m using a true story about Ron Howard because he’s such a well known person – and a true gentleman – but I could have used similar stories about a number of directors.  Since I started with Ron, let’s examine Ron’s view about film production: 

 

Ron Howard is well respected and well known. He has grown up in the film & TV business and it’s immediately evident that he’s been alert the entire time. 

 

He certainly is the only director that I’ve met who took a personal interest in lowering the budget.  He’s a powerful man with the experience and sang-froid to direct the best talents in the world.  Also, he goes against the grain of the usual image of a Hollywood director – he’s a friendly and personable guy.  (When I called him Mr. Howard, he told me to just call him Ron.)  Because of all that I had a tendency to believe that he had all of the answers to everything in the universe of film making – including the various ways to control cost, the in’s and out’s of budgeting, etc.   

 

When Ron called that meeting with the accountant (me), the Production Manager and the Executive Producer  he was simply asking a direct question:

“Why does this film production cost so much more than earlier ones?”

 

and, he wanted as uncomplicated an answer as possible. 

 

And my thought was, “Gee. You already know everything.”

 

Here’s the point –  most director’s and producers have elected to stay away from budgets and costs. The heavy grinding SHOULD be left to accountants — BUT, the control still needs to rest with the Director, Producers and Production Managers.

 

Get a degree of familiarity with the money flow, especially with the budget creation and the weekly ‘Report Card’ – the Cost Report.  Find a comfort level where you can, AT THE VERY LEAST, KNOW WHAT TO ASK.  Know how to formulate the questions—you’ll impress the money belts off  Studio Executives. 

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