Friday, December 16, 2011

Politics of Low Budget filmmaking

Recapping Monday's blog, I discovered a new way to make Ghostkeeper 2, the sequel to my 1980 film Ghostkeeper. #2 was budgeted at just under $2 million, and at that, was difficult to finance.

What broke the budget barrier was the use of a Canon SLR that shoots HD video was well as it's primary purpose, that of a single lens reflex camera meant to shoot still photography. And it's small and extremely portable, meaning that you can film more in less time. 

To put it simply; I can cut down a budget of $2 million to just under $500,000. Maybe even less. And come out with a product just as good, maybe even better.

But there are issues, as some would suggest. 

The camera package would be far less than for a 35mm shoot or even the popular "RED" digital camera. For one thing, John (the DP) prefers to use a Nikon similar to the Canon 5D. With the Nikon he can use older Nikkor lenses, many of which are damn good lenses. And you can pick them up at really good prices.

Add to that the camera body, less than $2000, add the accessories and it's about a third of the price of a regular movie camera package. You could even add a spare body at that price. 

But the issue is this;

While the technical advantage works for the camera package, as well as editing on Final Cut Pro (of which I can use), the "other" part of making the movie is labor. And the unions. 

While we can cut the price of cameras, cutting weekly and day rates is another story. There's two ways to do this; first you just grab a dozen people and head out to the mountains and just shoot it. Fast and quiet, don't bring attention to  yourself.

Second is a little harder; you talk to the unions and hope they give you a break. 

One major note here; I'm talking about shooting in Canada, in the mountains. Shooting in LA is far easier, I could pick up a non-union crew at bargain-basement rates, maybe even a union person who needs a job for a few weeks.

The advantage here is that there's so many crew members in the L.A. area, that nobody is really going to bother with you, there's too much going on. 

But Canada is a smaller crew base and it's harder to pull off. Union people have been known to protest non-union shoots to the point where they either hire union or leave.

Another point here for anyone who thinks we're taking advantage of people; our pay rates would be probably half of what union pays, but this goes for "above-the-line" also, meaning I get the same cut, in fact my cut would be lower than anyone else on the crew, and I would be doing three jobs, writing, directing and co-producing. 

What would I get: Probably around $5000 for the whole thing, meaning months of working on the project, doing the budget on MMB, writing, directing and signing checks. But there's a catch here dictated by WGA. I will eventually get paid.

This matters if and when the movie is sold. Once it's sold, I have to be paid my minimum WGA writer's fee. But only if the film is sold. And only if it makes  enough money for me to get some. 

And this goes for the crew, who would also share in a portion of any sale, in accordance to what they were paid on the shoot. And they would have worked maybe 4 weeks at most.

Another factor also exists; some provinces in Canada are not getting as much movie production as a few years ago when the Canadian dollar was almost 65 cents. So now any movie that comes in is welcome and compromises can be had.

Unions can help, but you always have to be straight up with them, you can't pay the stars $100,000 and the gaffers $500 a week. But that makes sense.

I'll be up in the mountains next week and try to figure out how best too do this; there's other issues, even at a low budget. One big one is accomodation, food and per diems, which can kill a low budget production, 4 weeks on a shoot would easily take 25% of the budget.

To deal with this I would go back to the Hollywood of the 1940's and 50's wherein the studio would go on location for 2 weeks, shoot every exterior they could, then go back to the studio and built sets to shoot for 4, 5, 6 or more weeks. Thus I would spend maybe 5 days on location with a full crew, and pick-up shots with a minimum crew of 3 or 4.

While all this sounds like a lot of work, I really enjoy it, figuring out how to do the technical and logistical side while also remaining faithful to the story and the tone of the movie.

And there's the potential of working with the original 4 actors, one of which is 86 now, as well as the DP, John and a few others. All this after 32 years, it would be completing a circle.

But we'll see where this goes for 2012.



  1. Does this mean we can shoot the rock star movie????

  2. Once I figure out what's wrong with the script, hey, that might make a good blog, or have I done it already?