It’s easy to topple over.
Many films make the mistake of spending too much of their budget on above-the-line costs. What are above-the-line costs you ask? Those costs would include:
- Story & Rights
- Cast & Stunts
- ATL Travel & Lodging
These costs are only 5 line items of about 50 others. So many movies make the mistake of flooding these 5 line items with the majority of the budget leaving pennies for the rest of the production. It is easy for a film to topple over and face plant when actors, producers, and directors are paid millions, but there isn’t enough money to pay crew above minimum wage. This is the main reason for IATSE (crew unions) cracking down on films. You can’t have actors, producers and directors sucking down shrimp cocktails and champagne while your crew is eating left over Subway. It used to be that if your production budget was between $1.5M – $2M, it would be flipped as a union production. Now, IATSE is flipping productions that are teetering on the $1M line.
You waste your resources too fast.
I don’t know if this is common knowledge or not, but sometimes when you make a movie shit happens. Someone gets hurt, something breaks, and you have to spend unplanned money to make up for it. Well, what do you do when the majority of your budget has gone to ATL and you don’t have enough to put out whatever fire came up on set? That’s a major problem. The further down the road of the film you go, the more expenses come up. Most independent filmmakers and producers find they never budgeted enough for distribution deliverables. What a tragedy it would be to pay an A-list actor to be in your film then not have enough funds to handle the legal, insurance, and deliverables fees to distribute it!
Decisions are made too slow.
The most common problem I see with top heavy productions is poor, slow, and complicated decision making. Why is this? Too many cooks in the kitchen. Budget is not the only deciphering factor of a top heavy production. Too many producers on board is another. I see more productions with too many producers than not, and it rarely causes the production to run any smoother. Instead of there being one decisive voice, decisions have to be funneled and negotiated through upwards of 5 voices. This slows down the decision making process, and when time is money, this is wasteful.
There’s a saying in film, “Keep the money on the screen.” This means that you want to limit the expenses you have that do not directly go towards the physical filming of the production. These expenses include permits, legal fees, insurance, ATL payment, travel/lodging, etc. You get the picture. I hope. Unfortunately, many productions spend so much money on producer fees, talent, director fees, 1st class flights, and 5 star hotels that little money is left to make the actual quality of the production any good. It is sad when roughly $15M is used for the filming of the production out of a $65M budget.
Keep it simple. Focus on quality, taking care of your people, and trimming the fat.