Five Ways to Cut Cost in Independent Film

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hello! Welcome to Friday, world! We are in the swing of final fundraising for TEXICAN, which goes hand in hand with the big money question on film in general. So how did I do it? Ideas below!

1. Shoot in free space

My instinct is that there are plenty of film locations in the world that don’t cost any money to shoot in, and if you can write a compelling story that takes place in one of those locations then by all means do it. If you’re making your first film - like I am with TEXICAN - then set yourself up for success! We’re shooting a ten page, 2 actor, one location SAG-AFTRA movie in one day - yes, it’s a tall order but it’s manageable, and our location is being provided at no cost.

2. Be a good person so people give you help for free

That being said, BE A GOOD PERSON SO PEOPLE GIVE YOU HELP FOR FREE. Yes, this is a two-way street; I wouldn’t be getting as much love and support on TEXICAN if I wasn’t already surrounded by incredibly generous friends who trust me and trust my ability to approach and deliver on this project and my project-promises. But how do you build up that trust? BY BEING A GOOD PERSON.

Granted, this is no “okay, i’m making a film and i need to be good now so that i get free things now,” kind of instruction. It’s a general get-your-life-right kind of advice that makes all of the difference for - i’d assume - a wide range of fields in the world. But there are SO many moving parts in a movie, and if you have to rack up the cost of every single thing it will easily become financially unrealistic. However, if you have a strong network and have a history of rewarding the people in your life with goodness, then they have no reason why they wouldn’t help you solve your funny questions now. For example:

Angela and Ross Holman were instrumental to TEXICAN by offering our location for this shoot. Both of them are artistic, creative people who enjoy new ideas and energy - and, get this - they’re already good people that I have a history with. When we talked about this idea, they offered to help with location from the beginning.

Angela and Jeff Hickenlooper have also provided a world of support - Jeff donated a $300 wine package for our Indie-Pendence Day’s Silent Auction which raised us a nice chunk of change to offset production cost. Additionally, they are groovy, open-minded folks who appreciate new ideas and energy. I needed to provide housing for our out-of-town actor on this shoot, and could easily save $400-$1000 by finding a suitable match that would agree to house an artist. Angela and Jeff did it - they let a stranger into their home simply because I asked them to. They trusted me, they’re interested in the situation, and honestly, they are the best ambassadors to Cincinnati that I could possibly hope for a new person in this town.

Finally, my sister Kristen has done SO MUCH WORK on this movie that it’s unreal. She helped me format the script. She asked me questions about dialogue and motive. She prop and set shopped. She prop and set prepped. She location-scouted. She attended meetings. She organized the fundraiser with me. She did all the graphics work for me - except designing the logo. She followed up with all of our silent auction winners. She took notes on convos we had and reminded me of important things to think about. She pounded the pavement to get the props we needed. She picked Edixon up from the airport, took him for coffee, and brought him food when he needed some during a rehearsal.Once she even gave me a shoulder rub for no reason (and it was amazing.) Yes, we’re sisters and I’m older than her so I’m used to bossing her around. BUT SHE’S GONE ABOVE AND BEYOND any typical Production Assistant because she also lives with me and could potentially never get a detox if needed. All of this Kristen-magic happens because we have a good relationship, because I’ve put time into her and building our relationship and now that I need her help, she feels comfortable (and hopefully inspired) by giving help that I didn’t even know I needed.

These people in your life help carry the weight - it takes a village to raise a short film (at least the first one,) which in turn has allowed me to keep my head on straight and steer the ship directly.

3. Trade

Sure, money is a non-questionable medium, but honestly, the value of money only extends to its dollar amount. Trades, however, tend to be much more valuable (and don’t cost anything (or as much) financially. For example:

I spent 2.5 months of my life this year, and 4 months last year in shows at the Irish Heritage Center in Cincinnati. This is a beautiful space in Cincinnati, with lots of big, open rooms. Actors NEED space to rehearse and explore - safe space to work through emotions and try out new ideas. With Edixon in town, and both of us on a tight rehearsal schedule, I needed room for us to start creating this life, together. I was able to book rehearsal space for three days by cleaning the Irish Heritage Center, which was a generous trade offered by the owners of the center, considering they typically rent this space out by the hour. Even better - my good relationships with Chester and Kristen allowed me to accomplish the tasks outlined by the Irish Heritage Center in less than an hour (which is a huge WIN for my schedule,) since both of them agreed to help me clean in exchange for dinner. A double trade for me!

That being said, Scott at Blank Slate was likely more inclined to let me throw a fundraiser for our movie there because I also offered lots of promotion and advertising for the company on a day that we would be otherwise making no revenue. The trade wasn’t service-for-service, per say, but it was definitely opportunity-for-opportunity, mutually beneficial. Scott knows I have skills with organizing and throwing small (think target 10k) fundraisers at this point, so he essentially relied on my skills to promote his business sales.

It worked.

4. Negotiate contracts

You know what I learned really fast when I started assembling a team? People can make a deal. Tread this advice carefully, friends - do NOT make deals with your team that aren’t mutually beneficial OR ELSE THEY’LL NEVER AGREEABLY WORK FOR YOU AGAIN.

Do you want the best work out of your team? Of course you do. So make them a good offer.

But, negotiate. I began by asking around some typical standard rates for various positions we needed filled for our production. Then I compared this against what our budget was and what I also considered to be a reasonable fee for x-amount of days of work. With this information, I was then armed to open up negotiation conversations with my cast and crew on their rates. I was lucky enough to assemble a team that is passionate about our topic and live in a city (with the exception of Edixon) that needs to encounter this topic - we’re all emotionally/personally invested in this work at least a little bit. I also was very open with my team about our budget limitations and my vision of what we would/could have, so they were also armed with information about what we, as a team, could afford. At that point, I either offered what I could pay, or I received an offer and negotiated. I offered profit percentages (which is actually a separate tax idea that plays well for everyone,) and did not defer anyone’s payment. Everyone is getting paid within 6 weeks of this film and I have all of their money sitting in my bank account right now. I want the opportunity to work with these people in the future, I want to convert them to #teamturnwest, and I want to entice them to giving me their best work for one shoot day.

5. Hire yourself 

Listen, I’m not gonna lie - I have a multitude of talents. Life has seen to it that I’ve worked a day job since graduating college in 2011 with a threshold for perfection that was extremely high. I’ve developed really great office and organizational skills, managerial skills, promotion skills (still baby-skills but getting there,) time-management skills, research and high-level reading skills (thank you, Shakespeare, and also the Department of Health and Human Services,) acting skills (Barbara Marchant, my peers, and CCM,) and personal skills. So I was not hesitant about diving into new things I HAD NO CLUE ABOUT and attempting to learn them myself. Would I learn enough to be successful? Maybe. But would I learn enough to know when I needed to hire an outsider? Absolutely.

That being said, I composed and constructed the entire schedule and timeline for the team, organized a financial campaign (with a LOT of help,) constructed and navigated all of the SAG-AFTRA paperwork (with Angela) and wrote/directed/and am acting in this movie myself. My actor payment will go immediately back into the company and probably actually be someone else’s day rate, although per SAG-AFTRA I will be making a payment on behalf of my pension/retirement plan. But I figured out what I CAN do, and then took on the responsibility of executing these things in a meaningful way.

I can’t “do it all,” and I don’t want to - our movie would probably be very preachy, I’d be exhausted, and nobody would have any fun (always a priority.) But I CAN do a lot of it, I CAN learn a lot of it, and the #allycan mentality has led me into being a full-fledged independent short film producer. #dreamscomingtrue