There are many ways to look at saving money and sometimes you have to spend more in the beginning to save more in the end. This is true for the two top things that will tank your film overnight.
Mistake #1- FOOD. Have you ever been at work and starving? When you're hungry its all you can think about. As a resourceful filmmaker you've probably made deals with people to work for very cheap, if not free, to help achieve your creative vision. After a couple 16-hour days people start losing steam. The one thing that keeps people going and also lets them know you care about their well-being is food. DON'T go cheap. Little bags of chips for snacks and pizza or subs for lunch every day is NOT cool! It sends a message that you want favors from people but you don't care enough to feed them well. Take some of the money you saved on hiring cheap crew and allocate it to food. There are a million caterers and restaurants and if you take the time to plead with them for deal, most likely someone will come through with something affordable and you will look like the hero. My partner and I just wrapped a low budget movie filming on a mountain in Topanga, Canyon, California. To drive down the mountain was a half hour so losing someone for over an hour a day to handle lunch was not cost effective for us as we were already short staffed. In pre-production we asked some of our key crew if they could refer a caterer who they like. Catering for film is not cheap but we figured “what the heck” doesn't hurt to ask someone to work with us on our tight budget. I called a caterer who was known for gourmet, healthy food and explained our low budget situation but said I want to establish the relationship as our film budgets get higher and higher. Would they be willing to work with us on the numbers for the first film? They agreed, and we were heroes every day at lunch with our crew who continuously thanked us for having good snacks and meals. For $10 a person, they delivered and setup the food. They brought two hot meats and one hot vegetarian option that changed every day as well as a hot side and fresh salad with toppings and homemade dressings. The meal included a dessert, coffee with the fixings and a gourmet lemonade or ice tea. With all of that food, it reduced what we spent in snacks and drinks as well as saved on gas for sending someone out to pick up lunch and losing a production assistant. Our crew moved so much faster and efficient knowing that we also cared enough about them to plan good meals. One of our celebrity actors walked over to the caterer and asked for a business card. He was a vegetarian and said most films forget about the non-carnivores and he usually has to pick through the side dishes to try and create a meal. He then walked over and thanked the producers.
Mistake #2- PRIVATELY OWNED EQUIPMENT- It's very tempting to make a deal with someone to lower their rate and in return you will rent their equipment. We've done this deal many times on low-budget sets and sometimes it works out. BUT, when it doesn't work out, this initial savings in money could cost you THOUSANDS. We were shooting in the middle of the night for exterior scenes and had rented a generator from our gaffer to power all of the extra lighting. About 3AM the generator stopped working and all the lights went out. Since we rented the genny from an individual, he did not have an emergency help line and tech people on stand-by to come out and fix or replace the genny. We were screwed and literally shut down for the night since this was our last day of shooting and didn't need anymore scenes. We had made specific deals with actors on how many days they would work and now had to go back to their agents to try and get them for another night shoot and work out all the schedule conflicts. Since we had SAG actors, we still had to pay them for the whole night. It was a nightmare and in the end we did NOT save money on our cheap genny.
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