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Approaching HODs on a Budget

Hi everyone.

I was wondering if anyone had any advice for approaching people when you're on a low budget. I'm shooting my second short later in the year, I'm getting great feedback from script eds and I have a very strong vision for the film. It's moody and atmospheric and its success is going to rely (as most films do) on getting a great art director, sound designer and DOP.

My worry is that when I make my approaches with the budget - at the moment 6.5K but hopefully closer to 10K by the time we reach post - anyone worth their salt is going to run a country mile, because to make it work I'm going to have to have everyone on a flat rate which isn't anywhere near comparable to commercial rates.

What advice do people have for getting good people on board a low budget short?

Cheers,

Chris

  • Personally, I respond well to honesty and humility - overselling your project, telling me there's 'award-winning' cast or crew involved or suggesting that I'm going to have to be 'hard-working' or 'dedicated' for little or no money and touting something as a 'career move' or 'showreel piece' all cause me to instantly pass on a project.

    Professionals aren't always busy (although they try to be) - some professionals *enjoy* helping other filmmakers get their foot on the ladder. If you've got what you feel is a great project then let that greatness show through in your ads - if a project sounds different, fun, creative or challenging (in a good way, not a poorly thought-out way) then experienced people are likely to be interested.

    Be polite and respectful of people's time and grateful for their contributions and perhaps you'll even forge some working relationships you can count on in the future.

    3 years ago
    • Andrew maybe they are looking for dedication because to their experience people show less thereof when little or no money is involved. But then if the person says they'll be more dedicated when there is money next time, how can one believe it. A dilemna there.

      3 years ago
    • Hi Alève, I think the problem is that any halfway decent crew member could easily fill every weekend doing favours for student/amateur wannabe creatives. There is NO showreel value for non-creative roles/trades to do favours. They have usually been messed around by a dozen small productions in the past, inexperienced directors who will reshoot a setup 30 times then try to work them until 2am as for some reason the shoot got behind. Remember that it is the day job for them - you don't expect a Morrison's fishmonger to be a fishmonger for free at the weekends.

      Money helps trades see that creatives are serious about a production. It shows that their time will be valued and appreciated. Yes, crew will be a LOT more dedicated if there's money involved for them to do their day job at a reduced rate at the weekend.

      3 years ago
    • @Alève Mine Hey Alève! In a perfect world everyone would be as passionate and dedicated about our films as we are - but in my opinion, when somebody's looking for cast and crew to work for free or reduced rates they have to respect that if they get anyone *at all* then that's already more than they had any right to expect.

      3 years ago
    • @Andrew @Paddy

      Thinking about the roles on my sets, they were all creative. There wasn't any accountant because there wasn't any money. Which other roles aren't creative?

      And had there been an accountant, who is explicitly denied creativity altogether, wouldn't it be a "showreel" value to have one more film listed in their CV?

      In this framework, it pays not to take the initiative in the arts. Or maybe in other fields, too. Which may explain why people often prefer not to. Sound decision.

      But there are those like me who can't stop taking initiatives. And they are quite serious indeed. Let us have cleared that out of the way. Looking at other things the person has done before may help, even if these are not films. And some live conversation. Of course you need to take the time and invest effort in making an informed choice. Not looking into a project hard enough, on the basis of previous experiences with other people or other projects, results in erroneous categorisations.

      When starting with no resources, finding actually skilled and passionate collaborators who will build something for free in the beginning is essential: a qualitatively poor film may be a (much) worse thing to have done than nothing at all.

      (Plus: their working for money doesn't tell me much about their skills or passion.)

      3 years ago
    • @Alève Mine About the money: essentially I agree *however* if you're paying someone - whether it's a small or large amount - you agree on what you're getting for that payment - this benefits the employer and the employee since if I tell you I'll deliver x VFX over x days for x money you know what you're getting - if I don't deliver you have every right to expect what you're paying for. Conversely, if I do deliver and you want changes or additions that weren't discussed or budgeted for then I have every right to say no or to ask for more money.

      In my experience, asking for 'dedicated and hardworking' crew on low paid/expenses-only productions tends to mean 'I want you to work for free/minimum wage until my film is finished and is as perfect as it can be irrespective of how long that takes' - I wouldn't agree to that for Steven Spielberg - I'm certainly not going to entertain that thought for members of Shooting People (and out of respect, I'd never ask it of them either).

      3 years ago
    • @Alève Mine I'd also add that if a film is 'qualitatively poor' because the filmmakers have been unable to find professionals to work for little/no money then it could've benefitted from a little more forethought in the planning/budgeting stage - no films are made for zero money and the less money you have, the more critical it becomes that you spend it wisely.

      If you want a pro DoP, Sound Recordist, Editor and Post-Production Audio (the minimum I'd suggest for something watchable) then budget for them from the outset - whatever's left is what you have and if it means sacrificing too much of the movie to make it viable well then, it wasn't a viable project in the first place (doesn't mean you can't make it, just that the outcome of your film is reliant on the goodwill of others and essentially out of your hands).

      3 years ago
    • @Andrew Morgan
      1) Planning and budgeting doesn't in itself make funding appear;
      2) The main alternative is (henceforth "the other option", because alternative has too many syllables): not making a film;
      3) What you're saying is that if I did have funding for a specific project and hired you, then I wouldn't be able to know what I'm getting myself into, not having a grip on any possible additional fees? I currently create audiovisuals for third parties and just work with the initially agreed fee until the client is happy with the product. Is that not industry standard?

      3 years ago
    • @Alève Mine 1) Of course not - but if you're paying expenses, buying food for the cast and crew, renting a location and/or equipment/props/costumes then you *have* a budget.

      Dialling back some of those expenses by pruning the project may free up some cash to pay a professional for the services you need - you may not be able to offer much, but it may be enough.

      And if your film falls apart because you can't creatively afford those cuts then it wasn't viable in the first place - it's just fuelled by naïve optimism - and some films get made that way but it's always harder and takes longer and is likely to be of a lesser quality than planning something within your means.

      2) The alterative is making the best film you can within the means at your disposal - but that doesn't absolve you of proper planning or budgeting - and a well-planned film shouldn't be dependent on the goodwill of others to see it completed.

      3) Not at all - if you hired me to do the VFX on your movie we'd sit and discuss exactly what you wanted, I'd offer up alternatives for things that weren't feasible in the budget, we'd agree on a timeframe with milestones for deliverables and we'd build in some key signoff points where you could request reasonable changes.

      If I failed to deliver something we'd agreed on then I'd fully expect to put that right on my own time - if you request changes or additional work that wasn't agreed upon beforehand then that's extra work for me and I'd expect to be compensated for it.

      That's how the industry works. Agreeing to do something nebulous for a client for a fixed fee irrespective of how long it takes would put us all out of business.

      3 years ago
    • @Andrew Morgan
      1) I admit bringing some - as healthy as possible - food and water. Including valuable proteins (especially considering I shoot action), with a vegetarian alternative, fibre-rich crackers and fruits. Generally organic. But for a very small team. Mostly no lights nor sound. A very few tens of pounds. 2 or 3. To be able to afford that, the main criteria for the location are: no rent fee, and walking distance from my place (I carry any equipment in a second-hand suitcase with rollers), because with the food thing, I definitely couldn't afford public transport, not that I could before the food thing. Do I really have to justify "nobudget" with such information? Don't be cruel, man, believe that nobudget is NObudget. I work on a borrowed computer, do the soundtrack and edit myself, then do the online news, then send to free festivals, then starve. It's a rather speedy process actually, especially the starving part, but it has its darn limitations, like the fact that you can only starve once - and I've used my quota already - which is why we need funding.

      2) I absolutely agree: the world shouldn't be as it appears to be.

      3) I wasn't aware that non-nebulous mandates existed. That agreement process sounds like it takes time.

      3 years ago
    • Non-nebulous is essential - you simply cannot (with any commercial sense whatsoever) offer an 'all you can eat' buffet to clients. That's the kind of thing that can (and will) kill your company.

      3 years ago
    • @Paddy Robinson-Griffin
      I'll try and remember that.

      3 years ago
    • @Alève Mine
      You mean: I'll try and keep that in my nebulous mind.

      3 years ago
    • @Alève Mine Heh heh, when you take a car to the garage, when you take a basket of groceries to the checkout, when you visit the dentist, they don't say 'pay £x take whatever you like', they have a cost for everything. They may combine items to sweeten the deal, they may offer payment plans, but they don't do 'all you can eat'. In fact, 'all you can eat' buffets are the hallmark of cheap, stodgy, greasy food (and even then, they make the money back on the drinks), not quality where the dishes are fairly, appropriately priced ;-)

      3 years ago
    • @Paddy Robinson-Griffin
      Ok, even I'm not going to forget that analogy.

      3 years ago
    • @Alève Mine I just can't agree, Aleve (with your first post). Not in my experience anyway. If I agree to do something, I give it my all, regardless of the money involved. If there's no money, I may not do it, but if I agree to the terms, I'm a professional and give it the best I'm capable. No professional I have ever worked with has ever balked on their job because of money.

      More often, it's those eager and just out of film school that tend to give up early on. They think they know more than they do, and cause all sorts of problems; "I can't believe they are putting the camera THERE. Idiots." I tend to shy away from students and fresh former students for that reason.

      3 years ago
    • @Dan Selakovich
      Thanks. Good to hear. Nowadays when I feel like giving up the last bit of polish, I remember the time I paid a producer for a song, and when I asked for a modification upon hearing, he wouldn't bother making it. Then he wanted to sign me for development, but I didn't believe in future quality there. It didn't sound like me anyway. Then I take a short break, have some tea or something, then finish the polishing. Of stuff that has nothing to do with what I'm aiming for. Gotta live off something, right, whatever sense that makes. Today I'm particularly acutely dying to polish every corner of my film projects instead. Gotta go. Big day for irrelevant things tomorrow.

      3 years ago
    • Time away from projects translate exponentially into distance.

      3 years ago
    • @Alève Mine "stuff that has nothing to do with what I'm aiming for." Yeah. Know that one much too well.

      3 years ago
    • @Dan Selakovich
      I hope you get to do what you're aiming for soon.

      3 years ago
  • Thanks Andrew!

    3 years ago
  • That's really helpful - I've been hanging back on sending out emails to potential crew in fear of being laughed out of Dodge, but that's given be a bit of confidence. Definitely not into selling it up, just want to make it the best it can be. :)

    3 years ago
  • And that's great. Be organized, be ready with answers to questions - if a DoP wants to know your initial thoughts for how you want your film to look/feel, have examples ready or cite other movies you'd like to emulate.

    Advertise early for post-production staff - allow them to give you pointers *before* you shoot so that when it's time to do their job, everything goes smoothly - then if there's any bumps in the road, they're more manageable. When you have cast/crew interested, keep them informed in the build-up to shooting and keep them in the loop once you're in post.

    You're looking for pros because you want to create the best film you can - and because their skills fill in the gaps where yours are lacking - ask for input and ideas where things may seem a little fuzzy and then if you decide not to follow their advice, explain why - communication is the single most vital skill a director possesses in my opinion.

    No one enjoys wasting their time and seeing a film through from beginning to end is tough. If you can show you're passionate and dedicated to the project that'll instil confidence in your potential cast and crew that you can pull this off and that'll ultimately it be worth it creatively if not financially.

    3 years ago
  • Good question!

    It's not a great budget, but it's far from bad either. Spent wisely you can accomplish a decent short with it. If you can keep the shoot down to 2 days (a weekend), pay a few hundred to each HoD, you can spend to get a great result.

    The biggest mistake with shorts is making them too long, and consequently spending too long shooting them. Keep the shoot tight and your per-day spend can be quite reasonable. You can pay department heads a non-insulting fee that way, and benefit from their experience.

    3 years ago
  • Keep in mind, that those of us that been around awhile have a finely honed bullshit detector. Don't bullshit people. Even if your Uncle really is Roman Polanski, just keep it to yourself. I get asked to work on shorts all the time, and I turn down nearly all of them--and it's never about money.

    Bad scripts it the number 1 reason. If I don't like the script, I won't bother with no budget. 2. If I think the director or producer is bullshitting me (like, "Spielberg is going to watch this. He really likes the script." Fine. But Spielberg is never going to hire me to edit. What good does that do me?). Or "if you'll do this, we'll hire you on the feature." We all know there's no feature, and if there is, there's no guarantee we'll get hired. So, if I don't like the people involved, I won't do it. 3. If I like the script and the people, I'll want to know the post sound budget. If they haven't allotted enough, don't have a proper dialogue cutter, or are going to mix the thing in their living room, I won't do it. Bad sound makes my cutting look bad. (But if you pay me enough, I'll ignore all of the above).

    Be honest about everything. Some DPs are amazing with just 3 lights. Some need every light in the truck. So share with your DP the budget for grip and electric, or your mixer the budget for his equipment. Will the art director have enough time and budget to do what he/she needs to do? In the end, people want to look good and have the time and budget to do a good job. If a location needs a lot of art direction, but you've only got 8 hours budgeted, you might get a "no" from an art director.

    Just be straight with people. You'll be amazed how far that will take you. If you can only afford to pay people 200 bucks a day, tell them; "This is a small film, and I simply can't pay you what you are worth. So what we're doing is paying everyone the same amount." If a DP thinks he should get more while the production mixer gets less, you don't want that DP anyway.

    I've gotten great crews this way. You might find that you'll get an amazing gaffer because he always wanted to work with this big DP. Or a great boom man because he wants to work with the mixer. With that in mind, get your key people first.

    3 years ago
  • Hey - you guys stole all my best answers!

    No, in all honesty Chris, listen to the guys above as they have some stella advise.

    To boil it down - be professional.

    Good luck.

    Wozy

    3 years ago
  • Your script is too long.

    I know this without reading it :-)

    If you like your script you should now try and get rid of the words.

    Your dialogue is no longer what you want your actors to SAY, it's what you want them to communicate. Everywhere they can do that with acting rather than words, or at least fewer words than you have written, they are punching up the movie no end.

    talesfromtheargo.com/layer-cakes-j-j-con... - find "eyebrow" if you don't want to read the whole thing.

    3 years ago
    • Thanks for the link Marlom. I am amazed though - can you do lottery numbers too ;)

      3 years ago
  • I would imagine most HODS on shooting people will consider working low or unpaid as part of a collaboration if the piece will be good for their reel. Short films are rarely about the money - commercial projects are different.
    The main reason I wouldn't consider a short is if I don't feel it will enable me to do good work for my reel. What is important to me personally is that there is a) a good script, b) a realistic budget overall including for camera and lighting equipment c) that the shoot is going to be approached professionally - eg I'm put off by those posting for a DoP a week before the shoot (when are we going to do prep, recces and book our equipment then??) and d) you are picking your DP for their talent not because they have their own camera. Any DP with decent contacts will have access to good deals with rental houses anyway...
    Sounds like your budget is fairly decent if your script isn't too ambitious so state that in your posting.
    Good luck :)

    3 years ago
    • Thanks Tasha, yup agree. I'm looking for a DP who can take what's in my head and add something of what's in their head. :) Talented people are infinitely more important to me than kit.

      3 years ago
  • I'd agree with all this. 6.5K is not bad at all for a low budget - not too ambitious - project, and if you approach both your crew and rental houses with humility and honesty then you'll be able to get deals that can make it all happen.

    Some of the best stuff I've done in the last few years has been very low paid (or unpaid, once you factor in kit I've provided). These projects can be very important for everyone involved. So just make sure you heed everyone's advice here, and your own gut instincts (which seem to be sending you to the right place anyway) and you should be more than able to get this done with decent people.

    Good luck!

    3 years ago
  • This came through to the Documentary Bulletin so I can only speak from that perspective. I raised £7K from crowdfunding towards post-production costs of my latest feature documentary, Iboga Nights, and it perfectly covered all the costs. I had filmed the bulk of the project by that time but since I'm a self-shooter costs were minimal.
    I did get myself involved with a production company who allowed use of their facilities at no extra cost as well. You might be able to strike a deal likewise.

    Anyway, the film did win Best UK Documentary at Open City Docs 2014 so the finished product must have worked! I'm sure your money will be enough for a short.
    All the best and good luck!

    3 years ago
  • All of the above plus a good idea. If the idea is to make a showpiece then some part or whole of the production needs to be exceptional. We all can make time for something if we can see value in it.

    3 years ago
  • Thanks so much all. Some great tidbits of advice that have inspired confidence.

    I want to attack the headline shorts fests so I need to make a piece that really jumps out, gives the crew a good show-reel piece, allows me to get some young bods involved in junior roles so they get a leg up, but crucially also helps me to start earning a living as a drama director (I'm an editor by training and have been making promos for an absolute eternity!). So the prod values of the whole shebang are key. I want to be working with top people - thus my post - because I know in my heart of hearts that with the right creative team around me I can deliver as a director.

    Honesty and interpersonal relationships are at the core for me. I've worked on too many horrible sets in my time to have it any other way. It's supposed to be fun and light hearted - we're making up stories. :)











    3 years ago
  • Incidentally on script length, it is a bit of a concern. It's 12 pages, probably not 12 mins because I write quite purplish scene description for my own stuff as a way to jog my own memory later, but lets say it's 10. Set in one room in a hotel, 3 characters.

    One of the reasons I' making it is that our national funding agency wanted to see what I could do with a 'more fleshed out' narrative before allowing me into their scheme. My first short was a 4 min non dialogue short so I've kinda written something longer on purpose, to show I can deal with characters and dialogue (still minimal).

    Is 10 too long for that budget?

    3 years ago
    • Whether 10 or 30 mins you are fine. It is more about how you direct the whole project. So many variables.

      3 years ago
  • Hi Chris

    Lots of good advice has been posted.

    I would suggest getting a DP and production designer on board at the script development stage, even if they are not going to be on the shoot, they can really help you explore the visual world of the story so you can build the look of the film into the script, this will help you plan your budget by knowing what's really needed up on screen to tell the story.

    Personally I hate posts that ask for a DP who has their own kit and state that it can be either a 5D, Blackmagic, Alexa or RED EPIC or equivalent. Each of theses cameras will bring something different to the film both in terms of look, easy of use, crew required, size of grip equipment,lighting, how big a camera van you need, post work follow, data storage requirements.

    Choose the person first then the most appropriate camera/ lenses to shoot on.

    All the best

    Chris

    DoP

    www.chrisbairstow.com

    3 years ago
    • Second that. The criteria currently used by so many to select a DP...

      3 years ago
    • I honestly find that amazing and I wouldn't dream of it - I'd be happy shooting on an iphone if I had the right DP - not really but you know what I mean. Kit is just kit. As far as I'm concerned it's the photography and lighting skills that count, I had an awesome DoP last time around and he managed to light the whole thing beautifully with pracs and some lighting stands. It really was a joy to watch and results were outstanding.

      Thanks Chris.

      3 years ago
    • @Chris Bogle. What a joy to hear. Too many folk want the latest and greatest equipment and think that will create a great movie. In my opinion so not true. It's what is shot that matters. I am a professional Production Designer, I would definitely be involved in a low budget short if I could see the the potential in the script and if it wasn't so ambitious it would be impossible to shoot on a low budget, "less is more" Planning well will save time on the shoot, getting professionals will also save time and money, they know their stuff! We don't all run screaming if there isn't a budget, we care about film making and will be approachable if, as many have said, it is an honest and passionate request for help. Don't bullshit, we have been there before!


      3 years ago
  • Hi Chris,
    For me, it is the script first and foremost. If there is an engaging story that I can really imagine and visualise, then I feel I can bring a lot to the table as DoP and I will consider it regardless of the budget. That being said, the script has to be realistic for the budget and yours in one location I think is definitely doable. When I've been on low budget sets in the past, honesty is definitely the best policy. People respond to it well and you are definitely on the right track.
    Best,
    Caroline
    DOP
    www.carolinebridges.com

    3 years ago
  • Hotel room for a weekend and you can probably get the whole 10pp in the can. You'd want a second (adjoining) room as a production area too, or rent a small suite for the weekend. But it sounds very do-able.

    3 years ago
  • Thanks Caroline. Yeah and I'm honest with people I hope, from reading the thread I'm absolutely astounded at the lack of professionalism that seems to abound with short directors!

    I've been making some approaches to designers over the last couple of days and the other thing is, do you circumvent agents? Loads of the guys I like have their emails up on their sites and I feel like sending unsolicited requests is a bit of a no no.

    3 years ago
  • Absolutely bypass the agents - their job is to soak up 15% of any deal they set up, but if the talent you like gives an email address they won't want to suffer that 15% (or pass it on to you).

    You have money - people WILL want to talk to you. It is the single biggest indicator that you're serious and not just asking for a freebie. Make contact with no embarrassment or reserve.

    3 years ago
    • For actors that I don't know personally, I ALWAYS go through the manager. Most actors are pigeon-holed, and are completely desperate to show their range on their reel. I got some great talent on the last thing I did, and every one of them used their scenes on their reels. On a personal note, it made me feel good that all of these working professionals used my stuff. At least I didn't shoot shit scenes!

      3 years ago
  • Awesome, thanks Paddy! :)

    3 years ago
  • Seriously, in production you spend half your life trying to swerve agents who feel they need to show their clients that they earned their 15% by being pains in the arse ;-)

    3 years ago
    • Just as an example of this BTW I had an agent DEMANDING a Winnebago for her client, shooting in a 7th floor flat in a council block in East London. He didn't want it, it was a thoroughly inappropriate and useless request, but the agent had to be seen to make demands.

      3 years ago
  • Yeah I've a couple of mates in London with agents and they've both told me they're barely worth the bother and sometimes more hassle than they're worth.

    3 years ago