Show Me The Opportunity

In Make Your Movie by Isaac Stambaugh

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Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve written about developing a team of friends who will become some of your most valuable supporters, cast, and crew. And I discussed key elements to remember when writing and developing your story and screenplay. Once you have finished, or are nearing completion of your screenplay, it’s time to plan your budget.

I could spend days explaining where the money goes and the best ways to use it. But for our current purpose, I’m going to highlight some of the key elements that I think are the most important and/or most overlooked. The common thread throughout the budget is providing opportunities where you can’t provide a lot of money.


This category is pretty self-explanatory. It represents your cast and crew. Obviously you’re going to need actors, and you’re going to need a slew of people to help you capture the actors presenting your story.

Most everyone, no matter how much money you have in your budget, will be looking for the most efficient way to spend what they have. The best approach I have found with being economical with crew is to find talented people with good attitudes and creative problem solving skills who are looking to gain experience, step into a position higher than their previous one, and are passionate about your particular film. Begin by building around those with the most experience who are open to teaching as they work. Know that you will have to pace yourself accordingly with the experience of your crew, but with a limited budget, this approach can prove beneficial.

When thinking about crew, most of you probably first think about who your DP (director of photography) will be. However, I want to caution you about the emphasis you place on this position and the importance of visuals. Although the DP is a very important role, I would argue that capturing good sound is at least as important as capturing good visuals. Too often young filmmakers give little consideration to their sound, and when they screen their passion projects for others, no one can enjoy the beautiful images they’ve captured because they’re so distracted by the awful sound quality.


I wrote some about locations in my previous blog. You can reference that and, in addition, here are a few more tips.

When looking for locations, remember to plan space for parking, staging equipment, holding actors, dressing room(s), and a place for food and eating.

For the locations budget, you’ll need to plan for not only a location fee, but also money or gifts to pacify annoyed neighbors, money or gifts to pacify property owners who did not understand what they were agreeing to, and repairs for damages you may have caused.

Also, be honest and make sure that when you book a location you over-communicate the degree of inconvenience you are going to cause. It’s better to get that out of the way up front than to allow yourself to be vulnerable to a homeowner having second thoughts an hour into your production day.


For equipment, look to partner with folks who own the equipment needed. Figure out what you can offer them that they don’t already have. It may be the experience of working on a feature film. Again, it may be the opportunity to move up into a higher crew position than they are normally hired for. If you think creatively, you can often find solutions that don’t always require cash.


You’re going to need costumes and set décor. This is an area where the subject and story details of your screenplay really matter. You’re going to want to write a story that only requires modern-day inexpensive clothing and modern-day inexpensive locations. You’ll want to ask actors to provide their own wardrobes and look for locations that need little to no décor. Then it will be your job, or the job of those in your art department, to find ways to enhance what the locations and actors can offer.


I’m not sure it’s possible to place too much importance on food when it comes to film sets. It really does fuel the crew physically, mentally, and emotionally, especially when people are working for little or no money. When on set, food equals respect. Don’t just think about food from restaurants, but also within your network. Look for people who want to help but aren’t sure how. Some of those people may be great cooks and can help your project by pleasing the stomachs of your crew.


There are so many little things that are easy to overlook in the budget.

Insurance: You should figure out a way to pay for production insurance. Many equipment rental companies and locations won’t work with you if you can’t provide a certificate of insurance to cover their property.

Gas: It takes a lot. You’re typically traveling more than normal and often extra vehicles are involved. And people may ask to be reimbursed.

Appreciation: There will be times when you will need to express your appreciation during production. Sometimes this is as simple as ice cream sandwiches or a cold drink at the end of the day. Plan to express your appreciation in tangible ways at least two or three times.

Contingency: Plan to forget. There will always be expenses you didn’t think about or expect. Be sure to set aside 5% to 10% of your budget for those things.

Marketing and Distribution: Don’t forget to plan telling people about your movie and creating a way for people to see it.


Don’t skimp on post. You need to spread your budget out between production and post-production. Just like the production crew positions, you’ll want to find people who are looking for an opportunity to move up. Look for an assistant editor who wants to be head editor. Or someone who produces commercial jingles who has been dying to score a film.

Don’t be discouraged by the long list of things you need to pay for. Because there are a lot of people out there just like you who have the dream of making a movie, and now you have the opportunity of facilitating that dream for them as you pursue your own.

Photo (Flickr CC) by Tax Credits

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Isaac Stambaugh

Isaac Stambaugh

Isaac is an award-winning producer and videographer who began his career writing and producing 144 episodes of television before transitioning into feature films. While producing feature length movies ranging in budget from $2,000 to $500,000, Isaac has become a leader in creative and efficient low budget filmmaking. Most recently Isaac produced A Strange Brand of Happy which released in 45 theaters nationwide, and the upcoming drama Hope Bridge with Booboo Stewart (X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Twilight Saga) and Kevin Sorbo (Hercules, God's Not Dead). Isaac currently serves as Producer for Rebel Pilgrim Productions.
Isaac Stambaugh

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