The Director's Chair Issue #56 – July 29, 2005 (Introduction to "Directing the Money")
THE DIRECTOR’S CHAIR
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July 29, 2005 Scene 6 – Take 7
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Welcome to Issue #56 of The Director’s Chair (July 29, 2005)
1) This month’s Feature Article is called “Walk The Talk”-
Introduction to “Directing the Money” by John Gaskin. The
purpose of this article is to demonstrate that ‘Directing’
Money in the film production business (or any business, for
that matter) is fundamental to your career – especially if
you want to rise on the food chain of film production.
This is the second of three articles from John Gaskin who has
written a book called “Walk the Talk.” “Walk the Talk”
started out as an effort to answer a question that Ron
Howard asked John in 1993. The purpose of the book expanded
from that question into a way to help Directors understand
that ‘Talking Money’ is a simple, but necessary, tool to use
during the film production.
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4. FEATURE ARTICLE – “Directing the Money”
“Walk The Talk”- Introduction to “Directing the Money”
The topic of money in general is a little scary to most of
us. When you approach the topic of money in film production
– steel your nerve! There are reputations at stake and
careers on the line.
The purpose of this article is to demonstrate that
‘Directing’ Money in the film production business (or any
business, for that matter) is fundamental to your career –
especially if you want to rise on the food chain of film
production. If you’re already a Film Director, you know all
about the flow of spirit, vision and creative collaboration
that it takes to make a film. If that momentum is stopped in
some manner, the whole project is clouded with doubt and
apprehension. Film crew of all stripes can smell that
arrested movement almost immediately ? sometimes even before
the Director and Producers.
Beneath the noble flows of creative spirit and collaboration
runs the green flow of money. NOTHING happens without a
corresponding effect on that money flow. Begin to think like
a film director, but in the area of money flows. (It’s
really just a minor skill, like playing bridge.) Would a
good director worry about the small stuff? (Okay, maybe, but
let’s hope not.) Then don’t put your attention on every
penny – think in concepts of $1,000 at a time.
Keep those creative juices flowing; however, like it or not,
your performance is measured to some degree by how well you
can ‘Direct the Money’ – in whatever level of production you
choose, but especially if you?re an aspiring, or working,
Film Director. How well you can do that is how well you
control your career in film.
Anything that’s bought (I mean ANYTHING) is tracked and
compared to the budget. Every conceivable type of film
equipment, prop holding rooms, toilet paper, you name it, is
compared to the ‘approved budget’. But, you’re not going to
get fired because you wasted toilet paper. On the other
hand, if you ‘Direct the Money’ (and know it when you’re
doing it) by borrowing the Construction Department’s
forklift for a couple of hours, instead of renting another
one, you’re ‘Directing the Money’. Now you just need to
learn how to parley that into a truce with the Studio Exec,
Producer, Production Manager, etc. by talking competently in
terms of budgets and costs.
It’s time to introduce some details. Let’s take a look at
what, exactly, is a priority in order for you to be seen as
a competent ‘money talk’ person in film production (say a
Producer, UPM or Department Head).
The very first task is to be able to make comments
intelligently about the budget. Read the shooting schedule
(and other script breakdowns) from a viewpoint of money. Ask
the accountant what is the average cost of shooting per day
and multiply by the number of shooting days. Become familiar
with the terms of the budget and learn how to comment about
the most important elements (read as, know what categories
of costs could benefit you, or hurt you, the most). Become
familiar with the ‘look’ and presentation of a budget, so
that you’re not mistaking a subtotal line for an expense
(actually, I’ve seen that happen too often to laugh). You’ll
get some hands-on practice in the next article, or simply
click the “Walk The Talk” link below to buy the book.
Before going any further, let’s look at the 4 basic sections
of a budget. (As I said in my article ‘Making It in Film
Production’ I’ve written these articles for the complete
novice, so please be patient if you’ve already been exposed
to the fundamentals here).
Have a look at the illustration below. This is page 37 of my
book, “Walk The Talk”.
These Are the Four Major Sections of Any Budget, Anywhere.
1.Above-the-Line: This section includes all costs associated
with the Writer, Director, Producers, Cast and Stunts. The
costs of the writer, director, producer and stars is driven
by the market place, Major Studios or financiers, so I won’t
spend much time on them. However, you will need to have a
good understanding of the costs associated with the
daily/weekly cast and stunts. (Note: In the very early days
of film budgeting there was actually a heavy line drawn here
– thus the term ‘Above’ and ‘Below’ the line.)
2.Shooting Period: This is the most important section for
anyone looking to produce films. As you would have guessed
from the title, it includes all production costs of the
actual time of shooting the film, including a bit of ‘wrap’
time (say a week or two) after the shooting is completed. It
includes all of those costs that you would intuitively think
of – like the labor costs of all crew, camera-grip-electric
equipment rentals, as well as, all construction-wardrobe-
transportation costs, etc. When I first started in the
business everyone called this section ‘Below-the-Line’, and
I still hear it occasionally. The official definition
currently in use for ‘Below-the-Line’ is the sum of the
Shooting Period and the Post-Production Costs (see point #3
3.Post Production: This section of the budget includes all
costs associated with the time period AFTER the shooting is
complete – costs like editing, sound mixing, music, visual
effects, etc. I won’t be spending any time on
post-production costs. It’s in the interests of the Studio
and Financiers to create the best ‘look’ they can. There are
experts in this area who stay current with the technology.
The only control you can hope for is a tight coordination
among the Director, Editors, Post-Production Supervisor and
Financiers to arrive at some real plan for ‘post’.
4.Other: Finally, the last section includes costs like
insurance, on-set publicity costs, legal expenses, etc. The
financiers have certain requirements for these areas and
usually have a pretty good idea what they’ll cost before
approving the financing. So, in the interests of
self-preservation, always defer any discussion of ‘Other’
costs to the Studio, Bonding Company or Financiers.
Occasionally, an ‘Overhead’ account is added after
Contingency – but it’s almost never used. Again, they are
what they are, once the financing is in place and the
Bonding Company agrees to bond the show. (Note that if
there’s a bank involved, there will always be a Bonding
The four different sections illustrated above is a typical
Budget Summary sheet. These four sections are universally
referred to; so don’t be afraid to use the terms.
Additionally, if your show is an independent production,
there will be three more lines at the bottom (always
presented in bold) – they are Financing Charges, Bond Fee
and Contingency after the budget is approved (often referred
to as the ‘Locked Budget) all costs incurred are compared to
the approved budget.
At this point you need to switch gears from budgeting to the
process of reporting the costs as they compare to the
budget. There is an internationally agreed upon format for
this purpose, called the Weekly Cost Report. It’s the
‘Report Card’ of how the show is going.
This Weekly Cost Report process is where the fun begins and
you’ll need to be familiar with the many in’s and out’s of
cost reporting. How the costs are gathered together is a
technicality belonging in the realm of accounting – what you
need to know is the importance of the Weekly Cost Report,
and how to ‘Direct the Money’ by knowing how to acceptably
manipulate the reporting process to show an honest, but
credible presentation of the production costs. It is THE key
report card presented to those with the money behind the
film production. It’s presented to the Financiers/ Studio
Execs/ Bonding Company every week, on every financed film
production on planet earth, period.
Presentation of this cost report can make or break your
credibility. AND, to my knowledge, there’s nowhere else you
can learn these tricks of the trade – except for an off-hand
statement here and there in the larger film schools.
I want to remind you that in the 20 years that I’ve worked
in film production, I have NEVER shown a crew member a Final
Budget or a Weekly Cost Report. They are considered
sacrosanct by Studio Executives, Financiers and Bonding
Companies everywhere. Well, I’m about to open the door and
let you walk through.
These articles are NOT techniques on budgeting and cost
reporting. They are techniques on becoming FAMILIAR enough
with budgets and cost reports to allow you to ‘Direct the
Money’. Stay tune in for my next article, “Translating Ideas
Into Money Talk”.
When you read my articles, print them out. Make your own
examples. Reread them. Email me if you get stuck. You’ll
find that you’ll be way out in front of the pack! For the
full information, simply click this link Walk The Talk to
buy the book.
John Gaskin – 20 years experience in the Film Industry as a
Production Auditor. See ‘About the Author’ at
Visit his web site at http://www.talkfilm.biz. The articles
are available FREE. Or, just buy my book, “Walk The
Talk” for the full information and training on ‘Directing
NEXT MONTH – Translating Ideas Into Money Talk?
Most directors, producers and crew have elected to stay away
from budgets and costs. The heavy grinding SHOULD be left to
accountants ? BUT, the control still needs to rest with the
Director, Producers, Production Managers and Department
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