The Director's Chair Issue #57 – Aug. 28, 2005 (Translating Ideas Into Money Talk)
THE DIRECTOR’S CHAIR
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August 28, 2005 Scene 6 – Take 8
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3. Book Review – “Walk the Talk”
4. Feature Article – “Translating Ideas Into Money Talk”
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Welcome to Issue #57 of The Director’s Chair (August 28, 2005)
1) This month’s Feature Article is called “Translating Ideas
Into Money Talk” by John Gaskin. 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 Heads.
This is the last 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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3. BOOK REVIEW – “Walk The Talk” by John Gaskin
If you have read the last two articles of The Director’s
Chair, you will have read excerpts from John Gaskin’s book,
“Walk the Talk.”
I have gone through John’s book myself and I must recommend
this book to anyone who is involved, (or wants to get
involved) with film production.
The book is written in an easy reading style at a level
appropriate for film students and crew who want to upgrade.
It is also useful for Directors, new Producers and UPM’s who
may want some help with the basics of budgeting and cost
The theme throughout the book is to encourage the reader to
become more aware of budgets and cost reports and how it
affects their career.
As John says on the front cover of his book, “Like it or
not, your performance is measured to some degree by how well
you control the money. It’s like ‘Directing’, only you are
‘Directing the Money’.”
“Walk the Talk” is very well laid out and has sections for the
beginner and the advanced professional. The book is divided
into 5 parts:
Part One – Translate Ideas into Money
(Survive Film Production)
Part Two – Budget Creation
(Surviving the Pre-production Budget Process)
Part Three – your report card
(Walk the Talk in Your Cost Report Presentations)
Part Four – Surviving the Everyday Fact that Money Talks
(Knowing Basic Administrative Technique is Vital)
(Rate Comparisons, Production Forms and FAQ’s)
Check out “Walk the Talk” at http://www.talkfilm.biz
4. FEATURE ARTICLE – Translating Ideas Into Money Talk
“Translating Ideas Into Money Talk”
by John Gaskin (c)2005
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
Get a degree of familiarity with the money flow, especially
with the budget creation and the weekly ‘Report Card’ – the
Cost Report. Find a comfort level where you can, AT THE
VERY LEAST, KNOW WHAT TO ASK. Know how to formulate the
questions — you’ll impress the money belts off Studio
Picture the following scenario — you are a Line Producer and
your Director wants to do a crane shot that entails several
movements best handled with a ‘Techno Crane’. It will also
involve 100 background extras (the first 50 need to be SAG
Studio Executive: “That’ll cost $200,000 and I don’t see
how that will pay back at the box office. It cost even more
than that on my last show, and THAT was in Denver just last
February … yaddy, yaddy, yah.”
(Remember, the Studio Executive is going to estimate high).
You, the Line Producer (or the Director could do this
himself), rather than feeling out of your element, say,
“According to my charts a top of the line ‘Techno Crane’ can
be rented for $8,000 for a week (if you aren’t already
familiar with basic costs of Techno Cranes, etc. Figure
17.2, Table 1 of my book presents some general costs that
can be used as ’round numbers’ to help formulate this kind
of answer). We can shoot out the extras over two
days — according to my charts that’s about $14,000 a day for
the SAG extras and $7,000 a day for the non-union extras
(see Figure 17.2, Table 2 of my book). According to my math,
that’s ($8,000 + 14,000×2 + $7,000×2) = $50,000.”
Then, after taking a breath, you also say, “Because we’re in
the Studio I know that we can get our shots with 10 Hour
shoot days all of this week. As you know, wrapping the crew
2 hours early saves $10,000 a day (See Figure 15.3 – I’ve
made a chart to broadly indicate the cost of crew labor for
the last two hours of overtime on small/ medium/ big budget
shoots to give the reader a general familiarity with the
costs of overtime). There’s the $50,000 we need. And
anybody who would shoot in Denver in February must be……”.
Directors, Line Producers, Department Heads, etc. deserve
all the help they can get. Some of these people, through the
school-of-hard-knocks, have developed a ‘knack’ for
conceptually streaming their creative ideas through a
‘what’s the cost?’ process. But that process is all too
often tainted with blame on ‘the blue suits’ and ‘the money
guys’ and ‘all they’re interested in is the money’, etc.
It’s also often based on misinformation, biased toward a
predetermined decision. Take my word for it; unless you can
be familiar enough with the language of money in film
production, you’re up the proverbial creek.
Some training and drilling is needed to get to know the
tricks of directing and controlling the costs during film
production, but not a lot.
There’s a regularly occurring pattern of problems presented
by and to the director, producers, production manager,
department heads, etc. on down the line. Conflicts that come
up are almost always due to poor, or no, translation of a
creative need into a cost that is based on accurate
projections. Most attempts made by creative people to
trade-off expected costs with some kind of savings somewhere
else in the budget are clumsily presented and easily shot
down by those who know the ‘lingo’ of budgets and costs.
Let’s take up an example:
You’re the Director of an Independent Film Production.
You’ve shot the exteriors called for in the script and
you’ve seen the dailies; however, you KNOW that there’s a
better shot of that exterior in Oklahoma that would give the
perfect hook to the opening of your film.
You know that you can convince the producers of this on a
creative plane. But, you also know that the most producers
will shudder at the task of dropping that bombshell on the
financiers/Bonding Company that you need to dip into the
closely guarded Contingency funds. (Oh, did I tell you that
we’re going to Okl…).
How do you pose solutions to those added costs?
2. What’s the right way to approach the game of cost
3. It’s always going to be a challenge to present this kind
of choice – but, a very doable challenge if you know how to
translate your needs to cost trade-off’s by using my Walk
The Talk ideas.
Here’s a variation of three typical kinds of questions for
feature film or TV productions. I’ve shown the way the
questions are usually posed, as well as the Walk The Talk
Example of Walk The Talk On Reshoots
As the Director you sincerely express your view that the
Oklahoma shot would be a perfect opening for the movie. What
kind of response do you think you’ll get? Here’s the most
likely, from my experience:
Producer/Bonding Company Rep – This will put us over-budget
by $130,000. I’ll talk to the… ‘whoever’ – (it’s a stall for
Walk The Talk Way:
Alternative: Director/Line Producer – The cost of shooting 1
day of exteriors will not require a full crew in Oklahoma.
I’ve called the Film Commission there (see my web site for
internet links to all Film Commissions and major Unions) and
they have assured me that there are plenty of local crew
available to work at a very decent rate. I estimate it
should cost about 1/2 of your estimate, say about $75,000
(see Figure 17.2, Table 3 in my book) to give us a bit more
than we absolutely need. I can get that back over the next
5 days here in New York. You see, I’ve rehearsed the next
five days with my very experienced cast and there’s no way
that we can’t complete the scenes scheduled in 10 hours a
day instead of the budgeted 13 hours a day. And, as you all
know, that last 2 hours in New York costs about $10,000 a
day (see Figure 15.1 in my book). Alternative: Bonding
Company – Oh. Have the accountant make a schedule of the
costs and we can check them. (That’s a Financier’s last
stand – it’s up to the accountant to verify your estimates.)
Example of Walk The Talk On A Crane Shot
Line Producer/Director: The Director wants to replace the
opening scene with a shot of the fields from over 100 feet
up, viewing the pond at about a 45-degree angle to the pond.
Then the Director wants it to slowly swoop down to the
surface of the pond where we’ll focus on the car’s outline
in the murky depths.
Producer/Studio Exec – That kind of shot will require a 150′
crane and there aren’t any around here. So, we’ll have to
bring it in from Georgia (1,000 miles away), and we’ll need
divers and a special effects crew to raise the bottom of the
pond with platforms, etc. etc. etc. It’ll cost at least
$150,000 more. (Again, Producers like to go high.) I’ll
talk to the studio.
Walk The Talk Way:
Alternative: Director/Line Producer – I have a great idea
for a crane shot. The concept is easy to sell to the studio.
From my study of costs, it will cost about $13,000 to get a
150′ crane and crane operator “all-in” (if you aren’t
already familiar with the basic costs of cranes and
operators, etc. Figure 17.2, Table 7 presents the general
costs that can be used as ’round numbers’ to help formulate
this kind of answer). We’re replacing the other opening
scene (driving too fast on the highway at night) so; let’s
assume that the only additional costs are putting the car on
a platform and settling it into the pond. I’ll leave that up
to you — BUT, if it’s more than $5,000 I want to know about
it. So, let’s say it’ll cost no more than another $20,000
for the shot. Let’s talk to the Key Grip and Gaffer (the
department heads of the Set Operations and Electric Dept’s)
for their opinion. (Never—I mean NEVER—go to the crew for
opinions about costs without the Line Producer in tow. It’ll
make an instant and long-standing enemy.)
Alternative: Producer/Studio Exec – Oh. Have the accountant
make a schedule of the costs and you can check them.
The purpose of these articles is to give you a familiarity
with talking and thinking like those who do the budgeting.
These articles stick just to the budget ‘talk’ that you
really need to know, without becoming a budget technician.
A budget is simply an amount of money needed, or made
available, for the purpose of producing a film/TV
In the last article we covered the four major categories of
any budget. Review the categories and get a ‘feel’ for the
types of account descriptions that are listed. Don’t spend
too much time on it right now; we’ll be spending more time
on it later.
The full process of budgets and costs travels the following
simple course of events:
1.Budget Preparation During Pre-Production
2.Final Approved Budget (Just Before the Shoot)
3.The ‘Cost Report’ Process Starts (The Cost Report compares
the projected known costs with the budgeted costs on a
line-by-line basis). Note that the Weekly Cost Report has
the same structure universally, so if you are familiar with
one cost report, you’ve become familiar with all Cost
Reports everywhere. It is regarded by all film productions,
in every country, as a report card of how well you’re doing
with the investor’s money.
DON’T UNDERESTIMATE HOW IMPORTANT THIS DOCUMENT IS TO YOUR
Here’s some general information on budgeting and how it
relates to ‘Translating Creative Ideas Into Money’. This
final section of the article segues into the next couple of
articles, where we’ll be looking at some details to increase
your familiarity with budgets.
The budget is intended to be a direct reflection of the
final shooting schedule. Every time the script says
something simple like “Joe looked at the clock” or as
complex as “Dawn in the Desert” all of the associated costs
for that activity should be detailed in the budget.
Furthermore, every aspect of the script that has been
detailed by the First Assistant Director through the various
reports that assist in organizing the shoot should be
detailed in the budget. When the Final Approved Budget is
signed off by us all (the Director, Producers,
Financiers/Studio Executives, Production Manager and the
Accountant) we are attesting that the budget, the shooting
schedule and the script are all dynamically linked.
So, you need to contribute to the “Final Approved Budget” in
any way that you have the authority to do so. As a
Director, feel free to insist on ample budgeted working
hours for the crew as well as for the more obvious elements
of cast, stunts, special effects, camera cranes, etc.
If you are a Line Producer, Production Manager, Department
Head (or even a crew member keen to get an upgrade) you
should be familiar with the format of a budget page, like a
Departmental Budget. (See Chapter 17 of my book for an
example of a Budget of a ‘Small Unit’ to shoot a “New York
Alley Scene”), or simply click this link Walk The Talk to
buy the book.
The usual production ‘breakdown’ reports, like the Shooting
Schedule, Day-Out-Of-Days, etc. are usually well known and
very familiar to Directors, Producers, Production Managers
and Department Heads; however, translating the associated
costs into a budget requires such detailed monotony that it
quite often overwhelms (or, under whelms, if you like) the
creative minded people. However, you can quite quickly get
familiar with the language of Budgets and Cost Reports. From
that stepping stone you’ll be able ‘Direct the Money’
without getting lost in the techniques.
If you found this article helpful, get the full information
– BUY THE BOOK at http://www.talkfilm.biz “Walk The 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
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