Filmmaker Focus: Writing with a Budget
Exec Producer Dale DeVino had recently brought up the idea that we should start getting a little more personal with our films and projects on the website. Showing the fans and other indy filmmakers the process of getting a picture on the screen from start to finish. Luckily, he caught me at the perfect time, as cameras roll on my short film and directorial debut “Feed A” this September. Unfortunately, I can’t give away many plot details, as I would ruin any surprises that are in store for our faithful viewers. However, I would like to give a little insight into what a lot of filmmakers and fans never get to hear: conceptualizing the film under an extremely small budget.
In Hollywood, a script is often written and pitched to the right people, it is then purchased or optioned. If the script is purchased, it is then fleshed out by, typically a major production company, and therefore the funding and talent is secured because the big boys have big money. We here at Killer Goose Films don’t work like that as we are completely self funded. We all write scripts and we all love doing it. We construct short films that are a couple days of shooting . But Killer Goose Films focuses its talents mainly in one direction, and that is the ability to write a script with the intention of shooting it. Anyone can write a script, but it is an entirely different beast to explain how you are going to realistically tackle and fund the story within the confines of the typical American citizen’s income.
Therein lies the fun of Killer Goose projects. We all have a story to tell, some of us many, but we don’t want to break the bank while doing so. Let’s be honest, the starving artist stereotype will only float you for so long until you truly do need to become financially responsible for yourself. “Yea right, Clarke,” you may say. “I will make films first and foremost and worry about money later. I will max out my credit cards if I have to.” Many people have this idea. But the truth is, you are not Kevin Smith, and the odds of you spending that last dime and not having two nickels to rub together in the hopes that this final hoorah will be your big break are slim to none. You probably have a better chance of being struck by lightning directly on your balls twice. That’s not to say that your film won’t travel the festival circuit and pick up some awards, but you want to be able to turn your film into revenue. At Killer Goose, we are not concerned much with the revenue right now. There will be time for that in the future. We are concerned with making great films. This in turn leads to us trying to be financially savvy about how we go about funding our films.
When planning and writing our films, we keep in mind budgetary constraints. One of the smartest things KG has done yet is invest in equipment. Currently we have multiple lighting kits, cameras, and sound equipment at our disposal. “But Clarke, why wouldn’t you just rent the stuff? You are only shooting for a few days.” That is a fair observation, but the reason is that next time I go to make a film, I am going to have to rent and pay for these goods again, whereas if I had splurged a little and purchased them, I would not need to worry about rentals, timing, or insurance for those pieces of equipment, not just next time, but any time after that. Now that we own a boatload of equipment, we can shoot ANYTHING. ANYTIME. My point about the equipment is that when I write a film, I can worry about how I am going to feed the cast and crew, and spend more money on things that matter, like set design and props. I can focus my energy on authenticity and making sure the crew and cast are happy rather than equipment, because I already have it.
Writing for the budget is also a hard task, but one that can constantly change and adapt to what you want to accomplish. We here at KG are the writers, and therefore, can change anything we may need to, whether it is cheating a shot, or changing a location. This is a very important ability for the writer to be able to embrace. Yes, the script is your baby, we know, and yes, that is the vision in your head, but it is important to remember that if you cannot feasibly do it, you must figure out another way to tackle the problem and because you are in control of the project you can do anything you want. The audience did not read your original script, and therefore are not going to say, “Damn man, the original ending with the giant hookers with light sabers would have been so much better, but he just couldn’t afford to shoot it. That guy is a hack.” KG’s films are KG’s films. We maintain creative freedom and control, but again the only thing we are limited by is budget. We must write what we can absolutely, positively, without a doubt shoot. Even if is an aesthetically risky shot, if we can pay for it, we will do it, or as I said earlier, re-write it to something we can do. It is a very valuable weapon in your filmmakers arsenal to able to adapt on the fly. Both Dan Linke, and Dale DeVino had to make creative sacrifices for their projects, and the end products were still brilliant, because through adapting to the monetary constraints, they were able to go back to the drawing board and acheive something even better.
Now, the new kid in town. When I started conceptualizing “Feed A,” I knew it was going to be a little bit of a beast on the budget, but as I wrote the story and fleshed it out I kept in mind what I could and could not do, both in terms of action sequences and stunts. Believe me, a lot of great practical effects can be done for next to nothing. Dan Linke and Shawn Reber proved this during “Dead for Life.” “Feed A” is quite action heavy, and that is something that worried me at first, but thrilled me more. A lot of people in the indy market are a little hesitant on taking on action, as the territory can be quite daunting and intimidating and most of all EXPENSIVE. The plot should dictate the action, but the plot and action can always work around the budgetary constraint with some intuitive brainstorming.
One of the greatest things that happened during pre-production of “Feed A” is the crossing of paths with practical effect master Andrew Pattison. After a month of shopping around for great practical effect and costume artists, and being discouraged by the numbers thrown out to me to achieve my desired effects, I thought I may need to re-work the film a bit, or wait. Producer of both “The Call” and “Dead for Life” Aaron Garfinkel then came and threw out Andrew’s name and said he did great stuff. I quickly set up a meeting. Andrew blew me away. He had some great ideas about ways we could do things for cheaper, and Andrew had a quality that was completely and utterly KG, and that was how to do things for nothing. The night I met Andrew, I knew he was the guy for the project, and over the last 3 months of going over his house to work on props for the film, I knew I made the right choice. All I needed to do was wait a little bit, look around for the best deal, and not be discouraged right away that some of the big guys were shelling out as much as renting Megan Fox as your private date for the night in Princess Leia attire.
Pre-production for “Feed A” is coming along astronomically well, I couldn’t be more proud of the crew and cast I have surrounded myself with, and that is because they uphold everything KG is about, trying as hard as we can, to do as much as we can, with the little we have.
Over the next few months I will be updating you through the process of making, “Feed A.” It will be a chronicle of the long journey of completing a film with Killer Goose. So keep a look out for my Filmmaker Focus blog which you’ll be able to find right here.
See you soon geese,
Writer/Director of Feed A