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inflated budgets


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#1 Jason Maeda

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Posted 03 June 2005 - 10:20 PM

While 99.9% struggle to stretch the $ they are given, some must have (virtually) free reign to spend. This is also the case in fashion photography and an interesting thing takes place. Photographers both exaggerate their budgets and rent more then is necessary. the estimate part I understand: one doesn't want to run out of cash due to conservativism. The unnecessary gear is more interesting and occurrs for at least the following two reasons I have witnessed: 1. it protects the photographer from being denied more gear on a more expensive job with the same client later, and 2. clients expect their big time artists to spend a fortune on "complicated" lighting, and may wonder if it doesn't happen.

I know that seems ridiculous but it is true. I guess I'm wondering if any of you, who have worked at the top level of hollywood movie making, have ever seen a similar thing.

JK :ph34r:
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 04 June 2005 - 01:29 AM

Not really. Unlike fashion photographers, cinematographers do not submit a budget, only a list of equipment needs that they hope fits within the budget.

Even on the biggest shows, departments are squeezed all the time. When Shelly Johnson shot "Jurasssic Park 3" the one advice that Janusz Kaminski gave him was not to be talked out of the equipment he needed.

On bigger shows, the demands of the director and producers are bigger: more spectacular shots, more amazing locations, bigger special effects. So the actual budget these crews get to accomplish this are usually not quite enough to pull it off. From an outsider's perspective, it seems like an awful lot of money is being spent. But from the DP's perspective, it can be like "I'm supposed to light this football-field-sized set with half the lights I need to get a decent f-stop?" And before that, it was a production designer saying "I'm supposed to recreate JFK Terminal inside a soundstage on that amount of money? Are they kidding?"

Usually a movie raises "x" amount of money and that's what the budget is based on, whether or not it is realistic.

Where the excess comes in is that on bigger shows, the directors demand a certain amount of flexibility to make decisions on the set. For example, a Steadicam operator may be on standby just in case he is needed. Extra lights may be on the truck in case something breaks down. There is some redundancy and excess crew in order to provide more flexibility or to be able to work faster. That level of creative flexibility comes with a price, but it is expected to some extent on a bigger film.
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#3 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 04 June 2005 - 09:07 AM

I came up through low budget - and I'm still there to some extent. And that means I write very lean camera and light lists. Only the essentials. Because that's how we used to do it - to some extent, my like for minimalism and single-source lighting could probably stem from the fact that I never had much light to work with! :D Anyway, as I moved over to England and did some bigger stuff (at least for me) the habit still remains to do it lean - if the production can save a buck by going with Fuji I'm happy with that. Or rent an Arri 3 instead of a 435 and I often use the Zeiss old T2.1-series and so on, so forth.

Problem is this isn't what they want, I found out. The human psyche is bizarre, but you know the more you brag about how busy you are, the more jobs you get? Same thing goes here - the more exotic the camera, grip and light list is, the more respect you'll get.

Your aim should always be to shatter the budget for all three departments - then you get hired the next time. Promise you - this is how it works. I've seen it a million times on collegues that have gone to the top - they all have one thing in common and that is that they light a lot and they have lots of stuff and gadgets and they shatter budgets.

Because in the producers/powers-at-be's minds that creates the impression that you deliver MORE. More coolness, more quality, more value. Ask any Hollywood pro and they will always have a story about how some producer sneaks up to them on an exterior in magic hour and says "aren't you going to use any lights?". Gabe Beristain, BSC alluded to it in the article about the Ring 2 in a recent AC article, for example. My teacher at the workshops way back, Andrew Laszlo, ASC, hade tons of stories of that kind.

They want to be dazzled. Impressed. Engulfed by the enormity of it all. Showbiz. That's how it works.

On a commercial earlier this year I was actively persuaded to change to Kodak from Fuji because Fuji was percieved as a low budget alternative and not as impressive. God's honest thruth.

So from now on I'm sticking Arri 765 on my camera list, Technocrane even if we're just doing statics and 19 18K HMI's for that close-up of the hand.
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#4 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 04 June 2005 - 09:14 AM

I'd like to add that in the case of commercials versus features, the same basic need is shared - and that is to impress people who don't have that much experience with film.

In the case of commercials it's the ad agency and the clients sitting watching the client monitor and in features it's the investors and executive producers and press that come to watch the star.
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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 04 June 2005 - 11:14 AM

Maybe I don't generate the respect you do, Adam, but I find that my requests for equipment -- which are highly realistic -- are typically met with the "what can you drop?" question. No glamour in the world of indie filmmaking... The only comforting thing is to hear big ASC members tell me that the same thing happens to them, only on a bigger scale.
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#6 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 04 June 2005 - 11:58 AM

Sure you get that - that's because your list was excessive to begin with, as it should be. That's why you're so successful, David :D The last thing you want from the producers is silence - then you know you're days are numbered...

No, but seriously, there is a sliver of thruth to it. Ecxess breeds success, as they say.

Edited by AdamFrisch, 04 June 2005 - 12:03 PM.

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#7 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 04 June 2005 - 12:17 PM

Yes, I agree that sometimes you have to give the (false) impression that you are more important than you are just to get respect... but I've just never been comfortable with play-acting like that.

Certainly it comes true with salary negotiations. People respect you more when you are a little unaffordable. But there are limits to playing that game if you want to end up with the job!

But I never ask for a piece of equipment out of ego or a need to impress because I'd feel guilty if I got it -- and didn't use it. It might screw me over when it comes time to ask for something expensive I REALLY do need.
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#8 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 04 June 2005 - 03:36 PM

Yes, I agree that sometimes you have to give the (false) impression that you are more important than you are just to get respect...  but I've just never been comfortable with play-acting like that.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Neither have I. I'm doomed to failure and destitution because of it. :P
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#9 Landon D. Parks

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Posted 04 June 2005 - 04:40 PM

I know at least from my point of view, if I was making a film as a producer, and I had a budget to get this done and the DP comes in and says "I need 40 HMI's and 6 cameras" I think I'd tell him to take a walk. I understand the need for the DP to impress someone like Spielberg, but when your budget is REALLY low, and you just want to get your film made and the DP is coming up with a list you know he will not need, it would make me angry.

The way I see it is: Get what you NEED upfront, then if you need something later, it's justified. But getting equipment upfront that you dont need is a waste of production money.
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#10 Rik Andino

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Posted 04 June 2005 - 09:09 PM

I know the indie movie market is get what you can afford...
And make due without it, what you can't afford.
Making many good indie films amazing achievements in improvisation
And in the creativity and the ingenuity of film crews.

And to some extent even many studio features function on the same idea...
Just get what is needed and the budget can handled and don't get too ridiculous.

But music videos and commercials is a whole nother story...
And I think it starts not from the DP or gaffer and lighting crew...
But straight from the Producers themselves
Who try to get agencies to shell out enormous amounts of money...

And since most of the agencies already believe
Commercials cost an excess of money
They won't respect a producer or production company
That comes to them with a modest budget.

Besides the fact that the bigger the budget the bigger the cut the producer gets
As well as the ad agency and the production company...hell everyone...
So it's in all's best interest to have a bigger inflated budget.

Once the budget approved it becomes a game of finding ways to spend it properly
So there's no surplus budget left over...
But at the same time not going overbudget and shooting themselves in the foot.

In films the producers have different mentalities
Their job is to reduce the amount of spending
And shuffle the money around so there's money to hire a bigger star...
Rent a great location, or do tons of great post effects,
As well as using the money for publicity.
So they try to push the crew to lower their demands to get things done.

Anyways both Adam and David are right...
But it can be different mentalities for different industries...

But trust me many commercials are run just like fashion photography...
That's usually cost the same people finance both.
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#11 Stephen Williams

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Posted 05 June 2005 - 05:22 AM

DP comes in and says "I need 40 HMI's and 6 cameras" I think I'd tell him to take a walk.

Get what you NEED upfront, then if you need something later, it's justified. But getting equipment upfront that you dont need is a waste of production money.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>



Landon,

On Dante's Peek there were high speed FX shots that used up to 12 cameras. If a shot can't be repeated then 2 cameras from each angle should be used! When lighting multiple large sets then 40 HMi's may be needed!

Stephen
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#12 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 05 June 2005 - 10:24 AM

I know at least from my point of view, if I was making a film as a producer, and I had a budget to get this done and the DP comes in and says "I need 40 HMI's and 6 cameras" I think I'd tell him to take a walk.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Generally a DP would only say that AFTER you described to him what you wanted for the scene -- so if he said he needed that much equipment, it probably is because he's trying to accomplish what you said you wanted, within the schedule.

I've had the director say something like: "I wanted to Steadicam through both floors of this big mansion in one continuous shot. It's a day scene and I want light streaming through every window. Trouble is, we only have access to the location at night."

So after the line producer gets my request for a dozen scissor lifts and small condors, dozens of 18K's, and extra generators, plus extra crew to set-up up, including a pre-rig crew so that the director doesn't watch me light for three hours, suddenly it's like "why do you need all of this equipment?"

"Because the director wants to move the camera through multiple rooms and two floors of one house in one shot and fake daytime at night." So the producer has a talk with the director...

Then the director comes back to me and says "OK, we can shoot the upstairs in a separate take from the downstairs."

"Trouble with that is you don't have the time for me to move an entire floor's worth of lighting up from one floor to the next for another set-up. Even if we split it up, I STILL have to light both floors simultaneously just to have a chance of making the night."

"Well, what if we only Steadicam through half of the second floor?"

And on and on...

Or let's say I'm on a distant location and need to carry two sync-sound cameras with me simply because I have to have a back-up. Now the director tells me that we wants to shoot some shots now & then at 96 fps, so then I have to add a THIRD camera like an Arri-III to the package. Then he describes some shots that can only be done with something like a small Eyemo, so that's a fourth camera...

DP's order equipment to solve a problem or get a shot that the director asks for OR MIGHT ASK FOR (if they are not the type who likes people saying "no" to him.) Or to make a schedule. At some point, a producer might have to step in and talk the director down to something less ambitious. But when you're working with a producer-director who doesn't want to hear no, but doesn't want to pay for the extra equipment, then you're in trouble.
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#13 Max Jacoby

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Posted 05 June 2005 - 02:29 PM

In the case of commercials it's the ad agency and the clients sitting watching the client monitor and in features it's the investors and executive producers and press that come to watch the star.

I had a chat just yesterday with a friend who worked on 'Aeon Flux'. He said that the term 'video village' doesn't come from the director's monitor, but from the monitor tent set up for the producers. On that show the video village was so big that they had to have 6 Mongols (I kid you not) to move it around every time.
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#14 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 05 June 2005 - 04:33 PM

What's a Mongol?
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#15 Landon D. Parks

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Posted 05 June 2005 - 05:03 PM

I was just using 40 HMI's and 6 cameras as an example. I understand that some may require many more of both. I was just ususing to say that I don't think someone should order excess equipment until they know they need it.
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#16 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 05 June 2005 - 05:14 PM

Hi,

The scariest thing about lighting gear is the way it multiplies over area. I once lit a room with a lot of fluorescent sidelight. The director liked it and said he wanted to do another location the same way. Thing was, the second location was four times bigger, and what's more the practicals which were forming the fill light were at least twice as bright. So, where the original location had used two 4x4 kinos, it was going to take at least sixteen to do this other location the same way. Sixteen 4x4 kinos suddenly sounds like rather a lot, but that's.... just what the situation demanded, if they wanted to be able to roam about through this space and have it all be lit the same way as the first space. Then she wanted it lit that way from both sides, so you're saying "Okay, but I'm not sure that very many rental companies will be able to supply thirty-two 4x4 kinos, or even 16 Image 80s, or whatever, which would actually be more expensive." Thirty-two identical units? Yikes! And this was a production so small it would hardly be considered a real production by most on this board.

Needless to say we didn't do it; I fired some 2Ks into the (white, inevitably) walls and got something vaguely similar.

Phil
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#17 Justin Hayward

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Posted 05 June 2005 - 06:12 PM

But when you're working with a producer-director who doesn't want to hear no, but doesn't want to pay for the extra equipment, then you're in trouble.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


I think this is one of the most difficult things about cinematography, because I hate to say no. While I mean ?it can?t be done?, I sometimes feel they think I just can?t do it.

Trouble is, usually the director has come up with a really good shot and I want to do it, but sometimes I can?t figure out how to do what they want (good, I mean), given our time constraint, gear, whatever, and I have to say "I'm not sure it's possible".

I do; however, sometimes I question whether or not a more experienced cinematographer than me could pull off whatever it is they?re asking.
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#18 Dan Salzmann

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Posted 05 June 2005 - 07:17 PM

All we can do is draw on all the knowledge that comes from experience and research and use it the best we can. Even Napoleon, Ben Franklin and Socrates made mistakes.
I think all of us hate to say no to a director but sometimes it's no. Sometimes it's yes, but...
Maybe a more experienced cinematographer could pull of what they're asking, maybe not.
It doesn't matter because for better or for worse it's you that's on the show and there's a reason for that.
Stiff upper lip and get on with it!
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#19 Patrick Neary

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Posted 06 June 2005 - 12:35 PM

Most folks want to work with the production, not against it, so I think for some (me included) when they want a sweeping crane shot but only have a budget for a broken stepladder and 3 pieces of speedrail, there's a tendency to say "we'll try to make that work" knowing full well you're only delaying catastrophe. Unless you really know how to make a sweeping crane shot with a broken stepladder and some speedrail...(but then you start to cultivate a reputation as a junk-meister, don't you?)

At a certain level of production you do just have to put your foot down, not to be confrontational, but just to get what is really needed.
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#20 Max Jacoby

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Posted 06 June 2005 - 02:56 PM

What's a Mongol?


A person from Mongolia. Before you ask, I have no idea why they hired 6 Mongols for a shoot in Berlin.
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