It’s been a question asked of me many times in the last year. Sometimes the answer has been quite glib. Work out a budget for each element of the project (cast, crew, props, locations, costumes etc etc) in as much detail as possible and try your damnedest to stick to it!
Sounds easy but its tremendously difficult; the tricky bit is sticking to the budget as closely as possible. Along the way your realise you idea of filming a certain scene – say a Turkish train being blown up - is going to cost a fortune and would increase the budget to way beyond what you could ever afford and in actual fact doesn’t add too much to the film anyway.
You then make compromises. Lots of compromises. And that’s what’s its all about. Compromises to ensure the project is made but not at any cost. I can’t get or afford that actor – who else could I cast? I can’t use that location – its too costly where else could I use?
When I started on this journey of Pre-Production last January I calculated and then refined a budget of £100k. If you compare this to David Lean’s epic which was made for about £10m in 1962 - adjusted to about £50m in 2018 you realise I could hardly pay the catering bill for the production! Thankfully that budget of £100k has roughly stayed where it is but does flex plus or minus a few per cent occasionally.
Thankfully I don’t have a huge crew – on average we have a skeleton of Director, DoP, Sound, Hair & Makeup, Costume and perhaps an assistant. I’m not working out on location in the Middle East but mostly in Dorset with Dorset actors and crew.
What I do is fine detailed planning of each stage. Each shot broken into component parts. So last Octobers 5-day shoot in France and Dorset cost roughly £20k. It was budgeted at £20k. Luck? No a shed load of negotiating, planning, refining, re-planning, cutting when needing to and figuring out a workaround or a compromise when it was necessary.
Next March we have a five-day shoot in a studio – budget is around £11k. The detailed plan is not yet complete but some days it’s slightly higher than £11k, some days it’s slightly lower. The idea is to try and stick to the goal and “square the triangle” between costs, quality and schedule. Can we make a good quality production in a reasonable time with the money we have available? And of course if you don't have the money you have to cut you cloth to suit what you have in your pocket.
Luckily as writer, director and producer I can answer and then fix most of the issues. The scenes too costly, okay rewrite the scene or change the location. We can't pay an actor what they want okay we need to find a good actor who will.
Looking at what we’ve shot so far - about 25% it’s so far so good. This is down to the cast and crew are magnificent and I wouldn’t change them for the world.
Will we complete it for around £100k? Ask me again this time next year! Whatever happens I think there's a book in the making!