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Film Production Tips

FILM DIRECTORS - 'Direct the Money'

FILM DIRECTORS - 'Direct the Money'



Most Film Directors have elected to stay away from film budgets and production costs. The heavy grinding SHOULD be left to accountants — BUT, the Film Director is at the helm of a big money-burning machine. At his service -at least, at face value- is a team of film production experts (the Line Producer, Unit Production Manager, the AD team, Production Accountant,etc.) all there to assist the Film Director.

The Film Directors make it their business to understand the basic functions of on-set filmmaking, without being able to fully light a set, or operate a crane, or focus a steadicam.


The Film Director's job is to produce his/her vision of the script - on time and on budget.

As a Film Director you need to get a degree of familiarity with the money flow, especially with the budget creation and the weekly ‘Report Card’ - the film production's weekly Cost Report that's sent to every Studio exec, every Bond Company, every financier associated with the film production in any manner. 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.


Picture the following scenario:
You’re the Film 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 of this on a creative plane. But, you also know that 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.

Usual Way:
As the Film 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:

Film 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: Film Director – 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.)

Film Directors deserve all the help they can get. Some Directors, 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, as the Film Director, can be familiar enough with the language of money in film production, you’re up the proverbial creek.

The purpose of these articles is to give you a familiarity with talking and thinking like those who do the budgeting. These articles stick just to the budget ‘talk’ that you really need to know, without becoming a budget technician. If you want the full information simply click this link Walk The Talk.

'Walk The Talk means knowing how to 'Direct' the money.


Here are the article titles:
1. MAKING IT! In Film Production
2. Introduction to 'Directing the Money'
3. Translating Ideas Into 'Money Talk'
4. Your Participation In Above-the-Line Budgeting
5. Your Participation In Below-the-Line Budgeting
6. Your Report Card - The Internationally Recognized Cost Report
7. Presentation of the Weekly Cost Report – It’s As Important As the Dailies

When you read my articles, print them out. Make your own examples. Reread them. Send me your questions if you get stuck. You'll find that you'll be way out in front of the pack!


I've written a series of 7 articles summarizing the book for Film Directors, Producers, Film Crew and Film Students. Check them out: