Posted: Jan. 7, 2010
Category: Budget / Production

When Good Productions Go Bad: The Money Squeeze

When production finances get squeezed, it’s easy to consider shooting the same show for less.  Instead of, say, three pages a day, you start planning to cram in six or seven or ten.  Of course it can be done; you can work harder, shoot smarter….

And then you start hitting the wall.


Maybe you try to get by with fewer setups.  Tell the gaffer to leave the big lights on the truck.  Send the dolly grip and second makeup and three PAs home.  You wrap your days without getting all the coverage you planned.  Avoid rehearsals.  Let the crew eat lunch from a bag.  Jackhammer be damned, tell sound to live with that last take.  No time, no time now, you’ll fix it in the mix….

That’s about when the wall starts hitting you.

The problem is, budgets are each handmade to fit one and only one specific script.  Even episodes of cookie-cutter TV shows warrant different budgets.  This show has one more location, that has a bit more pow-bang-boom than whoosh-swish-wow.

When you’re struggling to cobble together those last few dollars of a tight budget, there’s always a temptation to shave costs here and there.  Oh well, I wanted $500, but $450 is close enough.  So let’s shoot anyway….

Nice thought.  Very bad idea.

Productions start from a concept.  The director’s job is to translate that point of view to the screen.  Your budget is based on the results of that vision.  It’s based on the REALITY of the script.

Danger comes when you try to squeak by with a bit less.  When your funds are cut, you can’t expect to make the same film.  You want to, but if you try, all you’ll make is a film that’s just not made well.

What to do?

When money’s tight, it’s time to tighten your script.  Not lengthen your shooting days.  Heresy you say, knowing that your heart & soul are in your script.  That may be so, but if you want to tell your story, you’ll have to do it with fewer words.

This is where the real pros and wannabes go their separate ways.  Losing a location or two, a few actors, even a page of dialogue could put you right back on budget.  And on schedule to shoot the setups you need.  It might even tighten up your script.

Here’s the good news and the bad.  When the buck stops before the bank has closed, you have to make sure your script matches your money.  Do the necessaries or your movie will never match your dreams.