A Need for Money » Not What You Think

Recently, and majorly the reason why I haven’t been on my own site much lately, I discovered that in order to make a movie, you need money. Money. Tis true the old adage that it’s “the root of all evil”. (And recently I discovered, thanks to some “richer people”, that only the poor say that.)

But here is what I see… If you don’t have money in order to make a movie, you’re going to need to settle for what you get. If you have money, even if it’s just a little, you’re bound to increase the production value. Better actors, better locations, better props. And all because you applied some money to the situation. And here is precisely why:

When you can pay for something, you then have control of something.

That’s right. Let’s look at an example straight from the “Jeff files”…

In 2008, as a follow up to filming Plastik, I wanted to work with my DP on a movie that he wrote/conceived called Trigger. It was basically a crazy, one room production that was going to take place in a coffee shop/book store. Now, one of the people on the production (the Script Super) was married to a man that would own that shop. (I won’t mention any names to protect the innocent, but this situation left me with a horrible taste in my mouth.)

So, we had permission to film in there. We brought in several actors working on their first productions with me and my group, Transdimensional Films. With like six actors and 15 crew prepping the set, we were ready to make this thing happen. It was just about the “hour in” realm that we started to get the feedback from the owner about our “being there”.

Now, not to disparage, but the business this place saw was extremely nominal. They made less money than I was dropping for the cast and crew. In a matter of less than an hour I had put out almost $60 for drinks (some props), food, and materials. I left my credit card there to provide “coverage” for everything that we were going to buy.

As we began filming, we noticed a few things that we could have used help on. But the one that made the difference was the fact that a front display refrigerator was on. You know the kind… The one they put pie in to display to the customer while they were buying coffee. Well, as it happened, there were only displays of packaged creamers. Yeah, little white buckets of Half-and-Half proudly shown off in a box they typically come in. And that was all.

When the audio department came to me and told me that we would have issues with this refrigerator running, I gently approached the situation with the owner, who was keeping out of sight in back. Frankly and bluntly the answer we received was “no”. As if we’d done damage to his place already, which we hadn’t, we were told in not so many words that our presence wasn’t appreciated there. “No. No, I won’t. Sorry.”

Sorry? No, no you’re not. So, as the EP and Producer/Director on the shoot, I had to make a decision. Do we stay or do we go? I convened a meeting with the department heads and we scrapped the shoot. I didn’t want to do it, but the look on the owner’s face and the sheer tenacity of his answer made the situation difficult, especially with our position so tenuous. We didn’t provide him money, even though we DID have a contract, how do you enforce something without money to back it up?

So, with that, we pulled all of our resources and people and left the building. Needless to say, he could tell I was pissed off when I paid for our purchases. And his wife was not invited to work on the set any longer. I felt bad about that, as she was a “I’ll do whatever I need to do” kind of person.

Another good example comes from my files again. This time, it’s with personnel. And I won’t go into great details about it, but to explain the situation.

We were ready to film. It was a smaller crew. Much smaller. Like five people; each with a specific role and importance. None of us were paid. But I did have a good rapport with each of them. So, when one of them had to call off because of “girlfriend issues”, I was pretty perturbed. The plans had been in the works for seven weeks. We all knew the schedule. We knew what we had to do. We knew how important it was to film what we needed to get done, ESPECIALLY since this was a packed, one-day shoot. We had one day. It was mostly because of schedules, since getting twenty people together to film something can sometimes be difficult enough. Now we were short a huge portion of the crew.

What would have happened if that guy was being paid? Say even just $50 or $100 for the day? Would he have been so easy to just flake out? The answer is definitely — no. Or, at least the cause for his flaking out would have needed to be much stronger, such as a loss in the family. But even with cash, it’s not a guarantee. Some people are just disgusted with success, or even those who strive to find it. And that’s bothersome. But then again, that’s a whole other post.

So, cash will help. I was once told by a decent DP by the name of Travis Binkle, “You should pay people something… Even if it’s just $5.” And then I never saw him again, as he walked off the set and into the sunset in the middle of a production. And he’s right. At least something.

So why pay them money? Simple, there is more control, you’re apt to making the production stronger so you don’t have to pay people for numerous days, and you’re building a rapport with the filmmaking community as a person who pays for the work and not one of those who is trying to do whatever with whatever they can (ie. Credits/DVD/Food or the CDF). And that is why I will pay people from now on, not rely on the “free”. But now I have to make money in order to film something with other people. And that’s the reason for the hiatus between movies. And I’m quiet… Again.