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Truthful Budget? Ethical budget, when doing zero/low budget films?


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#1 Henri Savolainen

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Posted 15 December 2008 - 05:30 PM

Just wondering, because I have budget dilemma, how do YOU define zero budget?
Is the actual amount of money used zero dollars? Didn't you eat? Or did everybody just pay for their own food? Or is zero budget just a euphemism for that you paid for yourself for everything? Did you pay for any equipment? If not, shouldn't you put the value of those equipment as the producers side of financing, and do a budget from there?

The reason I'm asking, is that I've recently got a short film ready, and the budget could be Zero - 5k - 24k or 75k budget, depending on the point of view.

Let me explain, first, of all, 95% of ALL the actual money used was my own money. My own money which I worked for. The sum is roughly 4500 to 5000 euros. Now, of course as an ambitious film maker, I gathered my contacts and got stuff for free, or with a big discount.

Zero - I don't count poop, just put as a zero budget cos' I paid it for myself
5000 - this is the actual amount of money involved
24000 - money + equipment, edit, material, food etc. got for free, sponsored or discount
75000 - all the above + salaries (estimated)

Now the "big" reason for me asking this is:

Which should I use?
- Is it good to let everyone think that the budget is nothing, could this give a wrong impression?
- Was the actual budget for "El Mariachi" 7000 dollars in the books, or was it just the amount of money used? I bet RR got some free stuff from somewhere...
- The 24k would give a realistic image of the productions real production cost in money, this is atleast what it would have cost, e.g. if all equipment was rented, no sponsored beer or food etc.
- Same as above, but with the salaries of the crew / cast

Is there a difference when festivals ask in the submission form for the budget? Does anyone care? Does a decent budget give a feeling of a well thought production?
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#2 John Sprung

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Posted 15 December 2008 - 05:45 PM

The best thing to say about how much your budget was is nothing. Tell them that your investors want to keep the numbers confidential. On features, you especially don't want distributors knowing how much you need to break even. That tells them how far they can push.




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#3 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 15 December 2008 - 06:30 PM

I agree with John on a number of things there.
Technically, your "in kind" would be added to your budget, be that salaries or equipment, at least that's how I've seen budget's done. After all, 75K would be the amount of money spent on the film were it not for your "free" things, and if you agreed to differed payment to your crew/actors, well then that money should be factored into how much "money," or better put "time," went into the production.
Sufficient to say, it is also important to keep your actual budget as hush hush as possible.
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#4 Ira Ratner

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Posted 15 December 2008 - 06:41 PM

I'm chiming in as a total ignoramous not knowing the real business, but for future prospects/projects, shouldn't you want them to know what you were able to accomplish with so many dollars, whether you actually spent those dollars or or not?
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#5 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 15 December 2008 - 06:48 PM

Yes and no. If tey know you can do great work for $1500, well then you probably won't see $2000 anytime soon....
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#6 Tyler Leisher

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Posted 16 December 2008 - 08:51 PM

But lieing to your investors? I mean, I can understand to some extent but is that common practice? I've always been told that lieing to your investors is a very bad idea, just to be honest.

Of course, when it comes to a distributor, they can go jump off a cliff when it comes to how much money your film was made for.. but they dont need to know.

An investor might need to know how much of a budget he's putting up, etc.

Plus, in your investment memorandum and business plan, wouldn't you have to say "I'm selling 20 units at $20,000 each," so they could probably come to the conclusion that your budget is $400,000.
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#7 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 16 December 2008 - 08:55 PM

To investors you legally have to disclose the budget IIRC, but only to people who actually have invested funds in the film. Anyone else does not need to be privy to that information.
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#8 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 17 December 2008 - 09:08 AM

On a short I'd use the actual spend when quoting the budget. It basically how much you made the film for and that's what people are interested in. Crews often work on shorts as freebies, so there's little to be gained by creating a fantasy fully funded budget other for your own amusement.

If you're paying people, they are in the budget. The free stuff you put in the "thanks to" credits in the film - shorts have loads of those, but they're not included in the budget.

There's not such thing as a zero budget film, that's just a term bantered around to say you didn't have much money.

If some one is investing in your film you'll have to make out a budget. If people are getting deferred payments (in reality working for nothing although supposedly getting a percentage of the net profits) you'll have to put it in your funding plan for any investors.

Edited by Brian Drysdale, 17 December 2008 - 09:09 AM.

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#9 Steve McBride

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Posted 17 December 2008 - 08:27 PM

The first version of El Mariachi was done for $7k, but he literally did everything. Then once he finished the first version he went to distributors who then gave him more money to go back and touch it up and make it better.

I consider zero budget to be literally spending nothing on a project. You have everyone bring their own gear knowing that they aren't going to be paid for this project and they are fine with that. Maybe the only thing that you pay for is a sheet pizza, some soda and a couple bags of chips to spread around while everyone is taking a break.
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#10 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 18 December 2008 - 10:21 AM

I consider zero budget to be literally spending nothing on a project. You have everyone bring their own gear knowing that they aren't going to be paid for this project and they are fine with that. Maybe the only thing that you pay for is a sheet pizza, some soda and a couple bags of chips to spread around while everyone is taking a break.


Catering is still a budget item, although I suppose with tapeless workflows mean you no longer have to buy the video tape.

The one thing to learn is that a film crew, just like an army marches on its stomach.
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#11 James Chen

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Posted 27 December 2008 - 06:42 PM

While Rodriguez really only did spend $7k, this is a breakdown of his budget for El Mariachi:

- Video: FREE (Arriflex 16mm, 12-120mm lens and a 5.7mm lens he borrowed from this friend Keith)
- Audio: FREE (he used his own tape recorder and recorder all sound wild)
- Film Stock: $2.4k (25 rolls of 400 foot films, he realized he could've gotten a discounted price)
- Film Development: $1.3k (Allied Film Labs)
- Film Transfer to Video: $2.8k
- Lights: $100 - (two Acme lights and 7 3200K 250-watt flood bulbs)
- Light Meter: FREE (his own beaten up sekonic)
- Cast/Crew: FREE (doesn't seem like he paid for food)
- Location: FREE (he negotiated and had to cast members of the town to be in the film)
- Props: FREE (guns from the city, bath-tub donated from city, $12 for a pulley, squib's made from condoms, etc.)
- Music: FREE (guitar from member of the town, score from friend at film school)
- Editing: FREE (editing trailer at home with two VCR's, 3/4" master at local cable station, late at night. Took about 2 months to edit and sync dialogue)

In the book, he really only considers the cost of film and its transfer as part of the budget ($6.5k).

Rodriguez's initial plan with El Mariachi was to sell it to the Spanish straight to video market for $10k. He was offered $30k at one point. But by a partial stroke of luck, the El Mariachi preview also caught the eye of a Hollywood agent at ICM.
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#12 Simon Wyss

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Posted 28 December 2008 - 05:48 AM

Hi, James

Do you personnally know Mr. Rodriguez ? How come you to have such detailed information ?
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