Budget and Script Synchronization
In budgeting and scheduling situations where the production requirements outweigh the budget, more often than not the screenplay will need adjusting. This is where a director will take a lead role in conforming the screenplay to the budget, given that it's ultimately his responsibility for telling the story with the means available. Lowering costs in the preproduction stage doesn't have to mean lowering expectations or quality. Many of the best crowning moments in cinematic history take place in the simplest settings, or even completely out of camera view.
For example, in the final payoff scene in Mel Gibson's 1979 film
The first step toward cutting production costs is to reduce the number of shooting locations. Fitting as many scenes as possible into the fewest number of locations is an incredible time saver, even if it requires rewriting dialogue. As long as the story is being effectively told, your audience will never notice, and certainly won't care. The number of locations in Quentin Tarantino's
By limiting his location shooting, Tarantino was able to stretch the film's relatively lean production budget of $1.2 million. Because the warehouse was integral to the storyline, the fact that the location remained consistent wasn't irritating to the audience. They didn't expect the characters to show up in all sorts of locations.
Minimizing Camera Setups
Rethinking every scene and compiling as many shots as possible into each camera setup is effective for the big screen and cost-effective for your budget. Even a complicated fight scene between two characters can be shot with two cameras and just three setups for each camera. By switching lenses between the cameras, and shooting two takes for each setup, your film editor will have twelve different angles of the fight sequence to work with.
Cutting cast members may be painful, but the savings can be significant. Make sure that every character in your film is absolutely essential to the story, and be prepared to eliminate any who don't serve a specific purpose. For example, a surly waitress in a restaurant scene can be replaced with a voice-over, using only over-the-shoulder hand-held camera shots of menus, food, and dollar bills being tossed onto a table.
Here's another typical situation. Say, for example, you're shooting an office scene in which your actors are singing a royalty-free “For He's a Jolly Good Fellow.” You have extras playing coworkers. If there are fewer than five extras, they must be paid the higher rate for having “lines.” Five or more is considered a crowd, and with no individual lines they're paid a regular rate as extras, which is significantly less. These are the types of budgetary situations that you need to be acutely aware of during all phases of filming.
In the film industry, one of the surest ways to kill a career for producers, directors, and unit managers is to consistently overlook the budget or lose track of where money is being spent. There's a general misconception that most studio productions just naturally go
When a director insists on spectacularly destroying a dozen new cars in a chase sequence instead of the two jalopies that were designated in the original screenplay, you can be certain that studio executives are going to verify that the extra cost will be more than covered by box office receipts before any approvals are given.
It's also a reality that directors, unit managers, and anyone else who has some say in where money is spent do lose their jobs as a result of blown budgets. Virtually every decision made in regard to going over budget is made with the knowledge that the added expense will pay for itself in increased audience appeal.
Many below-the-line costs are negotiable, and shopping around for the best deals possible is one of the smartest approaches to keeping those costs in line. Among the very best deals for aspiring filmmakers are items that can be borrowed. With a lot of footwork and sincerity, camera equipment, locations, props, laboratory time, and even vehicles can be begged for and borrowed.
Feeding the Troops
Virtually all successful low-budget filmmakers place a high priority on one consistent budget item — food. Whether the cast and crew are being paid union scale, nonunion wages, or absolutely nothing in exchange for experience and bragging rights, everyone will work better, harder, and happier if they're well fed. Major studios spend fortunes on first-class catering for all of their productions, and they do it because it's one of the most cost-effective methods for maintaining a buoyant atmosphere on-set. When it comes time to trim the budget, this is absolutely the last place you'll want to cut costs.
One of the basic factors in your budget that should not be overlooked are funds set aside for