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How much should your High Production Value Short film cost?


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#1 Daniel Mooney

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Posted 11 December 2013 - 05:27 PM

It's not a secret, in order to make money, you gotta spend money. Am I right?

For years I have done the copy and credit approach, with lackluster results. People drop out, people shuffle their feet, actresses who agreed to be in your romance film, suddenly tell you they don't do kissing the day of filming because they never bothered to reach the script, I was one of the millions of people, all dry humping Rob Rod's book "Rebel without a Crew" - triumphantly exclaiming they will become the next great "indie" filmmaker with their feature length film and it's budget.....of three thousand dollars. 

And it didn't work. Needless to say, plenty of others continue to knock themselves out at doing that. I, on the other hand, would like to try to a more professional approach. I want to be able to make something to draw interest to myself. 

I've been told to the key is to spend money. To hire real crew, real actors, pay for locations instead of skirting by guerilla style. 

My question is, if someone is doing a High Production Value short film - how much should it be?  I hear anything from 7k to 100k. 

For a hundred 100k, I almost find myself like everyone else, quipping about how much Icould do with that. Granted, even your average crappy Syfy channel orginal film is still being made for at least a million, more if it has a big name in it I suppose. 

Spending 100K on a short seems extreme, especially when you factor in that selling shorts is difficult if not impossible. 

So what's a good number? 10k? 40k or do you really have to shell out 100k to make something that could get people interested in you?

Thanks!

Dan

 


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#2 Richard Boddington

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Posted 11 December 2013 - 05:53 PM

Considering this is money you'll never see again, I would spend as little as possible.  

 

I know some people have spent huge sums of money to make a 40 minute "short film."  This makes zero sense to me, no festival will show a 40 minute short film, and if you're going to shoot 40 mins, you might as well double it and make a low budget feature.  Maybe you could at least sell that?

 

I took the route in 2007 that you are proposing, just make your own damn film.  But I didn't make a short, I made a low budget feature.

 

That lead to a "proper" budgeted movie, and one more after that.

 

In fact, I was interviewed about this topic just a couple of weeks ago.

 

http://www.crafttruc...indie-producer/

 

R,


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#3 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 11 December 2013 - 06:00 PM

This is tricky because we are now in a position where anyone can make something feeble and I think that really high-end looking stuff is actually more necessary than it ever was, at least to look good to other camera crew. I made a series of decisions on this subject a while ago, but I suspect in almost all circumstances force majeure will dictate what you can possibly spend. On that basis it may be more useful to discuss what people and facilities are required to do various things, so you can figure out what you can afford to do for various amounts.

 

 

 

The absolute minimum possible people to do anything of any quality seems to invariably involve a director, 1st AD, DP (who may conceivably direct), focus puller, sound recordist, makeup person, and probably a general helper-out who will probably spend most of his or her time being a sort of gaffer then grab the slate inbetween times. Try to find a makeup person who also does hair. That's an absolute bare, bare minimum to do more or less any vaguely serious single camera work, in my view, and it will not suit if you have any very specific stuff you need doing (a lot of fancy costume, effects makeup, etc). I have worked often without a focus puller and it is a time sink. Work like this and you will work 20% more time than anyone else just loading vehicles. You also risk a lot of continuity and prop-availability screwups, and you need to do an absolutely huge amount of prep, and work with a 1st AD who is willing to shoulder a lot of the additional burden.

 

Very highly desirable after that are a proper gaffer, possibly one of those handy guys who come with a truck full of stuff. One more for the camera department, so you have an AC actually available to ensure everyone knows which setup we're supposed to be on. A grip. Someone to do props and costumes, perhaps. More general helpers, particularly including drivers with trucks.

 

The reason I'm talking about people is that the more people you have, the more transport, accommodation and food you have. Add many more people than we've discussed here and it'll take more than just you and the 1st just to manage them. 

 

That's where the costings start for me, alongside fixed things like locations and costumes, which cost the same regardless of how you shoot them, and equipment, wherein more equipment may demand more people anyway.

 

Hitting the sweet spot for a given production is not straightforward.

 

P


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#4 Daniel Mooney

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Posted 11 December 2013 - 06:02 PM

Well I wanted to make a feature, but alot people have said that making an HPV short is the tried and true method of getting notice. Make something good with HPV and you'll get noticed. Yeah I know, not that easy. But we're you working from the bottom up, it's like what else is there? 

The arguement also is to make the short, have a feature script in hand and use the short to shop around the script to find investors. 

I've worked on ultra low budget films, people trying to make the next greatest whatever, for ten grand. They never seem to go anywhere. Most of the time they don't even seem to get finished. 

So Richard you would be for the "make 100k feature on your own" camp? That was my orginal idea, granted I haven't acquired said 100k and no idea where to get it. 


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#5 joshua gallegos

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Posted 11 December 2013 - 06:19 PM

I think it's ridiculous to spend that kind of money on a short film, I think short films are very distinct from features, because it allows you to experiment more, also short films won't make any kind of money unless it's picked up by Vice or independent film channels. If you look at the career of Lena Dunham you'll see how she started making short films with no money at all, she then made a 40 minute feature entitled 'Creative Non-Fiction' which she premiered at the SXSW film festival and I believe the budget was somewhere between 2k-3k dollars, the movie was shot with a camcorder. After she made that she found someone who produced her feature 'Tiny Furniture' for 50k dollars, the film was successful and recognized by Judd Apatow, who then helped her develop 'Girls'. I guess my point is, that money shouldn't be a factor, it's really hard to do something good with no money at all, that's why so many filmmakers make intimate stories that are usually very talky. The same thing with Christopher Nolan who made 'Following' with a borrowed 16mm camera over the course of a year, if you look at the credits he hardly even had a crew. He was his own cinematographer, camera operator, etc. I think what people don't realize is that you don't have to ask permission or have a million dollars to make a movie, all you need is a camera, a sound man and a few lamps and dedicated actors. But above all, you have to be a storyteller with a vision and a passion to tell it. John Cassavetes was the same way, he made films about people and his films hardly cost any money to make.


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#6 Oron Cohen

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Posted 11 December 2013 - 06:29 PM

I think we're missing (or me) are missing some details, first, I consider a classic short anything in between 10-20min , this is what most film festivals consider a short as well, are you after making a 15min or so short?

 

if you are, I think the approach is somewhere in the middle, you pay for whatever you feel you can't get for free or might damage production if not payed for, well it be an actor, a camera, lights, location etc. usually it will be one or two things. for example some lights, one major location that most of the film is set in and 1-2 crew members that will usually get something for their contribution but not industry rates.

 

From my experience it will usually come out to something around 10-20K in USD, but I'll recommend to try and secure some locale film fund or someone to invest a little bit and take it from there. 

 

The 100K shorts do exist, but they are usually made by very experienced filmmakers not someone that want to break into the industry. 

 

just my 2c


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#7 Richard Boddington

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Posted 11 December 2013 - 06:34 PM

So Richard you would be for the "make 100k feature on your own" camp? That was my orginal idea, granted I haven't acquired said 100k and no idea where to get it. 

 

That was my route, yes. But there are many roads up the mountain, no single correct way.  I know personally a guy that made a short, and from that went right to a 85 million dollar Hollywood feature, and has since done one more after that.  This of course is incredibly rare.  There are a lot more guys that have broken through with a feature that was shown at Sundance, and the director acclaimed as a genius.

 

Getting the 100K is where the producing skills come in.  Then you have to sell it and get it into distribution, blah blah blah.  I could write volumes on this subject having been down this path.

 

R,


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#8 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 11 December 2013 - 06:41 PM

I think it's worth pointing out that being successful with features is next to nothing to do with the quality of the feature, and everything to do with one's ability to sell it. This means being appropriately connected and having friends in the right places, much more than it means being an expert screenwriter, director or cameraman.

 

Not many indie features are brilliant, but absolutely awful ones - ones which are outdone by even the average of the genre - get distributed all the time.

 

P


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#9 Daniel Mooney

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Posted 11 December 2013 - 06:46 PM

I'm like this, liking these response. 

But to interject, I'm not looking to become Kevin Smith, and have a whole career launched with one movie (granted, for years thats what I thought I would do). 

I wanna start small - like getting a movie picked up for distribution - maybe show people I can make money for them, so they'll be more inclined to bankroll my next film. I know a guy with three films on netflix who does that, but he's kind of secretive as to how that came about, for obvious reasons. 

Would doing a HPV short help that? Either by doing a short based on a feature length script I have or at least getting some exposure and maybe a festival win, here or there? (I know trying not to sound like one of those dudes who thinks that everything he makes will be solid gold, but a guy can dream)

 

Thanks 

Dan


Edited by Daniel Mooney, 11 December 2013 - 06:47 PM.

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#10 Richard Boddington

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Posted 11 December 2013 - 06:46 PM

The best work always finds a way to get out there.  I knew absolutely no one in film distribution when I started, not a single person.  That changed as I made my film.  Ads on Mandy.com brought in one person, who brought in another, that lead to another contact, etc.  And it just keeps growing.  Point is....as the famous line from Sound Of Music goes, nothing comes from nothing nothing ever could.

 

You only have two types of people in the world.

 

1) Those that do.

2) And those that watch others doing.

 

R,


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#11 Richard Boddington

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Posted 11 December 2013 - 07:21 PM

Would doing a HPV short help that? Either by doing a short based on a feature length script I have or at least getting some exposure and maybe a festival win, here or there? (I know trying not to sound like one of those dudes who thinks that everything he makes will be solid gold, but a guy can dream)

 

Thanks 

Dan

 

Try for sure.  Keep your expectations in line.  Getting shorts into festivals is ridiculously competitive.  There are so many being made, and many are excellent.  I have sat through hundreds of them at festivals.  Plenty of short filmmakers enter their short into 40+ festivals and they don't get into a single one.  The entry fees are a huge source of revenue for festivals which is why festivals promote themselves so much to filmmakers.  My last feature was in the Rhode Island International Film Festival over the summer.  That festival had 5200 entries from around the globe!!

 

So if you strike short film gold the world can open up to you, yes.  The statistical odds are small though.  What was that famous line from Han Solo as they flew into the asteroid field....never tell me the odds!

 

R,


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#12 Daniel Mooney

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Posted 11 December 2013 - 08:22 PM

Aye yes.

 

I knew it wasn't going to be an easy choice, it seems like with Digital Revolution came some great things but also over-democracization - everybody is flooding the already flooded industry to "make a name" for themselves.  

Now let me throw this out there. 

Does having a big name in the project matter? For example I was talking to a producer friend in LA, she said a big name would want something like 3 grand a day. But some of the "big names" she gave me - I never heard of it. Most of them it seems get steady gigs on TV, but like I said not anyone you would know unless you were a fan of the show I suppose. 

So that's 3 grand a day for someone I don't know, I can't imagine what anyone bigger would be. Now for a feature, I can see how having a goofball D list actor can make some of them Sy Fy orginal movies go up into the millions. We joke about them working for a sandwich, but their still getting big bucks. 

Now that takes something that I've budgeted to shoot, and expands the budget to almost twice as much. 

I'm told you can get around this by shooting one of the big three Indie sellers - horror, low bro comedy and Science Fiction. But that you should still make a concentrated effort to get a 
"name".

Is this true? How much of budget should I lot to getting this "name?"


Edited by Daniel Mooney, 11 December 2013 - 08:24 PM.

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#13 Richard Boddington

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Posted 11 December 2013 - 08:46 PM

 Now for a feature, I can see how having a goofball D list actor can make some of them Sy Fy orginal movies go up into the millions. 

 

You mean millions for the licensing fee from SyFy Channel with a D-list actor? Uh no, no where near possible I assure you.  I know what kind of licensing fees SyFy pays and you will not be going anywhere near the "millions".  Also SyFy is sifting through dozens of pitches from established producer/director/writer teams.  You're no where near playing in that game....yet.

 

As for getting a name actor into a short? Yes great idea. There aren't any name actors that work for $3000/day.  And an unknown actor isn't worth $3000/day.  If there is a SAG contract in place for a short, and 99% of the time there isn't as shorts are made non-union, with non-union actors, and financed via the director's credit card.  The SAG low-budget contract will be used.

 

The most common way for big name actors to appear in shorts is like this.....1st AC/aspiring director is working on a movie with A list actor.  1st AC gets to know A list actor on set, 1st AC pitches short script to actor, actor likes it and agrees to do it.  This means coming out for one day.

 

OR, the director is making a short about a cause close to the actors heart, feed starving children, help animals, free the Dali Lama, you name it.  The director approaches the actor and the actor agrees to appear in the short to support said cause.

 

Otherwise, you'll be forking over some very big money, which has been done before.

 

I think you'll be disappointed once you start to see what TV networks pay in licensing fees for indie films.  The term, "the millions" is never used.  Try "the thousands" and that will be for the very best work, from the best producers.

 

R,


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#14 Richard Boddington

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Posted 11 December 2013 - 08:53 PM

I'm told you can get around this by shooting one of the big three Indie sellers - horror, low bro comedy and Science Fiction. But that you should still make a concentrated effort to get a 

"name".

Is this true? How much of budget should I lot to getting this "name?"

 

If this were true wouldn't every producer use this approach? Have you been to AFM and seen the thousands of completed films on sale there?  If you can make an extremely good movie in any of the above mentioned genres, sure you could sell it, it might do very well.  Problem....making a quality sellable movie in any genre is very very tough.

 

Look at the number of movies the Hollywood studios spent 100 million plus making, only to see the movie crater at the box office in 2011, 2012, and 2013.  How many indie producers have the kind of resources the studios have?

 

If there was a magic formula, we'd all use it is my point.  Predicting film success is the same as predicting the stock market, the ground is always shifting.

 

R,


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#15 Daniel Mooney

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Posted 11 December 2013 - 08:56 PM

Well,

I remember a while ago looking up some of these "This giant monster versus that giant monster" sy fy films that were getting made, some of there were like 500k but some where we like 4 million....granted they were the usual "mockbuster" types. 

I've worked with SAG in the past, a new media agreement with a web series I created and short film agreement for my last short film. Doesn't phase me and I haven't had any bad experiences (except one actor who came up, just because he wanted the SAG notch to help get in. Never bothered with reading the script, did a terrible job, kept in apprioriately hitting on my actresses despite my warnings, making them feel uncomfortable.  I spoke to my SAG agent about the possibiliy of just simply removing him entirely from the whole project but contracts are contracts)

I was just discussing this with an actress friend the other day, she's swiftly moved from copy and credit to only paid work. We were discussing about how it seemed like there was no middle ground - it was like you either do something for copy and credit or you end up having to pay someone usual scale. You can't just hand some one a 50 spot for a day shooting that you might normally have made copy and credit LOL. 

Then again tho, I've had so many terrible actors come out for copy and credit, I feel like using SAG actors might be the only way. Nothing worse then putting a William Shatner next to Christian Bale.

Richard, what would it be for a feature to get a big name? Because now you got me thinking about the feature route.....

Thanks, 

Dan 


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#16 Richard Boddington

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Posted 11 December 2013 - 09:21 PM

Richard, what would it be for a feature to get a big name? Because now you got me thinking about the feature route.....

Thanks, 

Dan 

 

How big is "big"?  The sky is the limit on actor prices.  You want Tom Cruise?

 

If it's possible I would try and allocate 10K/day for the right name.  That would be "big" by indie film standards these days.  The vast majority of productions can't afford that though.

 

R,


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#17 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 11 December 2013 - 10:41 PM

 even your average crappy Syfy channel orginal film is still being made for at least a million, more if it has a big name in it I suppose. 
 

 

Having shot a few crappy SyFy channel movies, I can tell you that the budgets are often as low as $150,000, with most coming in around $250,000. SyFy originals are generally in the $750k to $1m region.

 

Of course, the only way they are able to do this is by buying product from companies who make these films on a production line with low overheads, and an endless supply of crew who they pay less than minimum wage.


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#18 Bill DiPietra

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Posted 11 December 2013 - 10:48 PM

Richard has much more experience in the business, so I would heed his advice.  However, I will throw my two cents in...

 

It's a matter of the concept...not the budget & not even you.  You need to start with an idea that is attractive to others.  And if it isn't, make it so.  Then the connections & (hopefully) the money will find you.  I don't think planning a film around a certain amount of dollars is feasible or realistic until you have a solid idea that you want to shape into a film.  It's pretty hard to plan a budget without the story.

 

I made my last 8-minute short for $6,000 (give or take a few hundred.)  I shot on 16mm Plus-X, had workprints made, edited on a Steenbeck and had a Hi-Def transfer made with one answer print and standard & Blu-Ray DVDs as the final formats.  It was selected for three different festivals and won two awards.  The amount I spent for 8-minutes may sound like a lot, but it was worth it for the quality that I got out of the final product.

 

So yes...you get only what you put into something.  But that doesn't only apply to finances.


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#19 Richard Boddington

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Posted 11 December 2013 - 10:52 PM

Having shot a few crappy SyFy channel movies, I can tell you that the budgets are often as low as $150,000, with most coming in around $250,000. SyFy originals are generally in the $750k to $1m region.

 

Of course, the only way they are able to do this is by buying product from companies who make these films on a production line with low overheads, and an endless supply of crew who they pay less than minimum wage.

 

Thank-you Stuart I wasn't going to throw out the actual numbers, but yes, there it is.  Some producers have dollar signs in their eyes when they think, SyFy Channel and this just isn't the case.  Nor is it the case with most buyers. 

 

R,


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#20 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 12 December 2013 - 01:52 AM

If you had a hundred grand, why the XXXX would you make a short? Shorts don't make money. the best they can do is showcase your talent but then again, it showcases your talent for making shorts which are NOT the same set of skills it takes to make a feature. I just went though putting together a package for a feature and while building the return on investment projections I ran across a BUNCH of features with budgets of 100K, many of which were relatively profitable given their budget.  You couple that with the newly found  willingness of name actors to work for less on lower budgeted films because of the tent pole money drain that keeps moderate A-list features from being made and you have a great opportunity to hire bigger stars to do your low budget project. You write a great script that showcases their talent and you put asses in the seats which translates into larger foreign and your project grows legs which makes decision makers very comfortable about taking meetings with you. This is a business and the business this business is in is making a profitable commodity. The commodity we sell are feature length motion pictures that appeal to a large demographic. Wrap your head around that reality and you become successful, ignore the facts and you live in oblivion. Very few people make a living making shorts. Off the top of my head, the only one I can think of right now is Kenneth Anger. I know there are others but still your best chances are with features. 


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