A No-Budget Film Budget

I thought it would be fun to look back at the “budget” of my first film. I put the word budget in quotes as there really wasn’t one. I’d get my paycheck on Friday and use it to cover the expenses for that weekend’s shoots.

Above The Line – $0

There were no above the line expenses as we wrote the script ourselves and paid ourselves nothing. We were going pay ourselves out of all of the money we were going to make from selling our film. Yeah right!

Production Total – $7,121.93

Locations – $155.88

I really appreciate everybody that stepped us and let us invade their homes. We didn’t want to be a financial burden in addition to the inconvenience. So we did give our friend, whose home we shot at for three three-day weekends, $100 to cover the electricity we used.

Another one of my friends worked at a fairly nice hotel and managed to get us a room for a night for $55.88. We had to be on the DL about filming there (we carried our own “luggage” up to the room) but it worked out great.

knifeProps – $342.66

The movie involved a hardened criminal who liked to carry knives so we ended up spending $93.68 on various knives, only two of which ended up on screen. They’re all still in a box in my basement. We actually went to a knife shop in Santa Monica for them as I didn’t see any I liked at the Hand Prop Room the day I went. We had the proprietor of the knife shop dull the knives as much as possible. In retrospect probably should have went the safe route and got prop knives.

Other prop expenses included $52.24 for breakaway glasses(Hand Prop Room) and $100 for bed sheets (Bed, Bath, and Beyond).

We made the blood from corn syrup and food coloring ($5.50).

Equipment – $4,097.37

Bulk of our budget went towards equipment. We purchased a Panasonic DVX100B ($3,384.44). We bought instead of rented as we had assumed we were going to make more films with it. I did use it to shoot a still unfinished documentary about a band but that was about it. That was the very last of the prosumer standard definition cameras so renting would have been advisable.

We also bought Final Cut Studio ($550) and a second hard drive to back footage up on $162.93. The director had the last Mac Pro before Apple went Intel. The processor died not too much later so didn’t get the mileage out of Final Cut that we hoped. He did get us as a student discount so we take comfort from that.

Food – $712.63

A hungry crew can get on edge so I tried to keep them well fed. Roasted chickens and potato salad from the grocery store deli were go to items. We kept around cases of chips, granola bars, and water for snacks. A handful of times we splurged on restaurants including the Thai place down the street.

Hotel – $257.60

We went up to Santa Barbara for a night to shoot some makeup footage. Got two motel rooms at The Presidio on State Street. Had a fun night.

Lights – $709.44

$675 of this went towards renting a lighting kit from a friend of a friend. We also used some China ball lights at times.

Wardrobe – $480.00

We had a very cool girl do wardrobe for us. Loved hanging out with her on set. She used a combination of clothing we bought with clothing the actors owned.

Her wardrobe assistant “quit” after the first day of shooting. Well he stopped returning phone calls and emails so we assume he quit.

Parking – $6

We filmed a very short scene at night in a parking garage. We were using a fake pistol in the scene. The cops quickly checked in on us. We told them it was a student film so they let us out of a ticket for filming without a permit. It was a pretty stupid thing to do and the footage didn’t turn that great. You couldn’t even tell the guy was being threatened on the top floor of a parking garage due to a combination of the framing and lighting.

Tapes – $265.35

We used Panasonic brand MiniDV tapes. They cost about $9 each when bought in packages of three from Circuit City (it was on my way home from the office). Always tried to keep extras around in case we needed them.

Gas – $95.00

Everybody pretty much paid for their own gas but we did pay a few times for when people went out of their way as well as for my girlfriend’s gas as we used her Jeep to pick up and return the lights every weekend.

Post-Production – $110.17

SunsetFocus Group – $86.90

We rented a projector and screened a cut of the film for a focus group. They were primarily the friends of our co-producer so they were much too kind with their notes.

Sound Effects – $23.27

We bought a couple sound effects from SoundDogs. Can’t recall what they were at the moment.

Other – $2,085.30

Cigarettes – $18.74

The crew had a few smokers so every once in a while I was asked to pick up a pack while running around. I wonder if anybody has ever successfully quit smoking while producing an independent film?

DVDs – $114.99

I think we ended up having to try a few different types of DVDs before we found one that we could burn the movie to and be confident it would play in all DVD players. We also bought labels that we would print from my ancient laser printer.

I might use CreateSpace for my screeners next go around.

Festival Submissions – $1,065.00

We submitted the film to 24 film festivals:

  • AFI Fest ($70)
  • Ashland Independent ($30)
  • Bend Film Festival ($60)
  • Boston International Film Festival ($80)
  • Breckenridge Film Festival ($45)
  • Bronx Independent ($25)
  • Chicago Underground Film Festival ($40)
  • CineVegas ($40)
  • DV & HD Festiva ($30)
  • Indie Fest USA ($25)
  • Indie Memphis ($40)
  • Kansas International Film Festival ($50)
  • Los Angeles Film Festival ($70)
  • Malibu International ($50)
  • Phoenix Film Festival ($50)
  • Portland International ($45)
  • Rogue Independent Film Festival ($5)
  • San Diego Film Festival ($35)
  • San Francisco Independent/Sedona International ($80)
  • Santa Barbara International ($50)
  • Savannah Film Festival ($40)
  • SoCal Independent Film Festival ($40)
  • The Other Venice Film Festival ($30)
  • Tucson Film & Music Festival ($35)

We got into none of them.

At one or two of those I felt suspicious that our film was even viewed. It would be great if film festivals could include a sentence or two from the screening committee with the rejection notice.

I understand that it is hard for filmmakers to be objective about the film they just spent so many hours bringing to life but I would recommend that they take a good look at what films screened at a festival in the past before submitting their film there. We submitted an early cut of the film to the Los Angeles Film Festival and should have known that was going to be $70 down the drain.

Another mistake we made was submitting to film festivals while we were still editing the film. We should have waited until we were absolutely certain the movie was as good as it could be before submitting it anywhere.

Postage – $520.19

$303.06 of that was shipping the camera back and forth with the rest mostly being costs of sending screeners to festivals we submitted to.

Printing – $52.28

This was all copies at Kinko’s along with a test print of our poster.

Web Hosting – $261.80

This was four years of hosting ($4.99 a month) and domain name renewals.

Total – $9,317.40

While the movie could have been a lot better in many areas I am very proud of the fact that we were about to make a 73 minute film with no experience and very, very little money. It was a stressful but great experience that taught me more about film, business, and life than I could have imagined.

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Script Coverage

At some point in your film career you will start soliciting scripts as well as start receiving unsolicited scripts. The latter will happen whether you are successful or not and without regard to your role. Producers, directors, actors, PAs, and even craft services will all receive unsolicited scripts either for consideration or in hopes they will be passed on.

ScriptsScripts naturally congregate towards like scripts. Unread, they assemble in piles (or more likely your inbox these days), like middle schoolers on the side of the gym during a dance. They all hoped to be liked and to possibly even be crowned king or queen.

When we got around to reading scripts we would write coverage that we could share with the other members of the production company. Honestly, we only did it for scripts we liked. The scripts we didn’t like ended up in the recycling.

Our template for script coverage was as follows:

  • Top Page
    • Title
    • Author
    • Genre
    • Logline
    • Summary of Story
    • Summary of Review
    • Recommendation
    • Scoring of each section
  • Synopsis
  • Review
    • Premise
    • Structure
    • Characters
    • Dialogue
    • Conflict
    • Originality
    • Writing
    • Overall
  • Evaluation
    • Final Evaluation
    • Recommendation

When you receive scripts via email, or with a cover letter, those will often contain a logline and summary. When they do we usually just copy and paste them into the top page. It is good practice to write your own synopsis of the script. If it is too difficult for you to write it clearly then that may indicate story problems.

Each section of the review was graded on a five point scale along with a paragraph or so of commentary.

Any section that is scored less than a three indicates that it needs some serious work and is enough to give you pause on the script. All fours and fives and you’ve got a screenplay that you feel pretty good about recommending.

Obviously script coverage is the first part of the conversation a production company has when deciding on a script to produce. Budget, talent, and marketing are other considerations. But it all starts with a great script.

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International Distributors

As I was going through some of my files I came across this list of international distributors that we built years ago. Not sure if it is still accurate or not but I thought I would post it in case somebody else can get some value from it.

I have contact names, email addresses, and phone numbers for some of them but didn’t want to post them here. Shoot me an email if you’re interested (will at this domain) and I’ll send those your way.

Australia

Benelux (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg)

  • A-Film Distribution
    • Address: Meeuwlaan 98-100, 1021 JL Amsterdam, Netherlands Postbus 37743, 1030 BG Amsterdam, Netherlands
    • Website: http://www.a-film.nl
  • Accatone Distribution
    • Address: 20, rue Cujas, 75005 Paris, France
  • Belga Films
  • Benelux Film Distributors
  • Cineart/Cinelibre
  • Cinemien Film & Video Distributie
  • Independent Films Netherlands
  • Kinepolis Film Distribution
  • Paradiso Home Entertainment
  • RCV Entertainment BV
    • Address: Oscar Romerolaan 10, Postbus 142, 1200 AC Hilversum, Netherlands
    • Website: http://www.rcv.nl

Canada

  • Lucky Break Entertainment
    • Address: 21 Northgate Crescent L4B 2K5 Richmond Hill, Ontario
  • Maximum Films
    • Address: 9 Price Street, Toronto, Ontario, M4W 1Z1
  • Thump Inc and Norstar Filmed Entertainment

France

Germany

  • Concorde Filmverleih GmbH
  • Constantin Filmverleih AG
  • Kinowelt Filmverleih
  • Prokino Filmverleih GmbH
  • Senator Film Verleih GmbH
    • Address: Kurfürstendamm 65, 10707 Berlin/Postfach 151220, 10674 Berlin, Germany
    • Website: http://www.senator.de
  • Tobis Film GmbH & Co KG
    • Address: Pacelliallee 47, 14195 Berlin Postfach 330546, 14175 Berlin
    • Website: http://www.tobis.de
  • X Verleih AG

Italy

Japan

  • Cine Qua Non
    • Address: 7F 33-7 Udagawa-Cho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 150-0042 Japan
  • Toei Company, Limited

Latin America

  • Cinema Group SRL
    • Address: Lavalle 1944 2 1045 Buenos Aires Argentina
  • Distribution Co., S.A.
  • Eurocine SA
    • Address: Tucuman 1980 PB, 1050 Buenos Aires, Argentina

Nordic

Russia

South Korea

Turkey

United Kingdom

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Outlining a Screenplay in Trello

Every movie starts with a script. Every script starts with an outline. Some writers (those either lazier or smarter than me) have a mental outline they can reference when they sit down to the keyboard. Plot and dialogue flows from their fingertips like water over Niagara Falls.

My writing process is more like being stuck in the middle of the desert. Water is nowhere to be found. I’m fighting off hallucinations as I crawl around searching for an oasis. In the end I’m reduced to sacrificing my hands trying to hack it out of a cactus.

So for me writing is hard, bloody work. I’ve found that creating a map of my story helps to lead me to those springs of inspiration in an otherwise barren place.

Outlining a screenplay is often done in a notebook or in a Word document. I’ve used Workflowly in that capacity before. Though what I usually come back to is the index card. They’re small so they travel well but they also have two sides giving enough room to put a sentence describing the scene on one side and more detail on the back. Laying them out is an easy way to see the story arc.

At this point in my life I’ve found I’m carrying around a bag much less making the index cards not as convenient as they used to be. I suspect the smartphone has many writers in the same boat when they aren’t camping out at coffee shops.

My new outline tool of choice is Trello which is web-based project management software (apps are available for iOS and Android). It works well on my desktop and on my phone. Best of all it is free.

Trello is organized around the idea of boards. For each new script I create a new board.

Creating new board in Trello

Each board is comprised of a series of lists that the cards are dropped into. Some might want to start out with creating a list for each act.

Three Act Structure in Trello

Or, if you subscribe to the hero’s journey structure you can create a card for each stage.

Hero's Journey Structure in Trello

It is easy to drag and drop cards between lists as well as reorder them on each list.

Add a scene by clicking on “Add a card…” Fill in the scene description. Since our character is a bad ass cop we’re going to open with a car chase.

Creating a new scene in Trello

For each card you can add further description, comments (useful if you have a writing partner), attachments, and colored labels that can be customized (character arcs, themes, etc.).

Scene detail in Trello

With the mobile app you can create cards from the car (ideally as a passenger), from the doctor’s office, or from the john. Whenever and wherever inspiration strikes.

After you have finished outlining your script you can export or print the board. And then start writing.

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Film Production Release Forms

Bunch of Papers by Seiichi Kusunoki used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic LicenseMaking a film, even the lowest of the low budget variety, involves a lot of paperwork which, while tedious, is important to do. One of those things is getting a release form from all of your cast members as well as for any music you use. Basically anything that will appear in your film in the visual or audio sense needs to have some i’s dotted and t’s crossed.

As the producer you’re going to want to get as much latitude as possible. You don’t know what the future holds for your film (box office success and untold riches hopefully) so you’re going to want to try to account for all possibilities in regards to mediums it is presented on and manners in which you’re going to market it.

You should retain the rights to sell the movie domestically, internationally, online, as a ringtone, or even as a stage play should Broadway come knocking. Best to get all of that covered upfront rather than go back to each of your cast members under a deadline with hat in hand.

The same sort of coverage is necessary for your marketing. You want to be able to use their name, image, and performance on posters, in trailers, press kits, and websites. The more places you can put them out there the more exposure both them and the film get.

Don’t forget about the lunchbox rights either.

I imagine release forms often include the words “any” and “all” to cover the bases.

Now, whether or not an actor or his lawyer agree to all of that is a different story. If you’re in the position where you’re dealing with lawyers you’ll be best served by getting one of your own.

These are the release forms we used on our first film:

Those are for sample purposes only. I recommend talking to somebody smarter and more handsome than I particularly if they carry around business cards that have the designation “attorney at law”.

Keep blank copies of your release forms with you at all time (stuff them in your camera bag if necessary to never forget them) so that you’ll always be ready to shoot something you can use in your film. Tracking down people that wander into your guerrilla shooting after the fact is close to impossible.

Have somebody on the crew be the designated receiver of all release forms so that you don’t have to worry about losing them during a shoot.

The more ready you are with your paperwork the less of an inconvenience it will be and the more you can concentrate on making your movie.

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Production Company Operating Agreement

Starting a production company, or any company for that matter, is not something to be taken lightly. Particularly when you’re starting it with other people. Since you’re binding yourself to them legally you want to be very careful about who you pick as partners. It has been said that you need to pick your business partners more carefully than you pick your spouse as you’re going to be spending more time with them.

One of the first things that you’re going to want to do after making the decision to go down the path is to draft an operating agreement that spells out what exactly it is you and your partners are agreeing to. Having these conversations up front can be hard (and potentially hurtful if you’re starting the company with friends) as you’re in effect putting a value on everybody’s contributions. But figuring things out up front can save even more hurt down the road if things don’t go exactly as planned (which they often don’t).

An operating agreement should outline:

  • Who the members of the company are.

  • Titles and responsibilities.

  • What each member’s share is of profits and losses.

  • What each member’s share is of votes. (often the same as share of profits but not always)

  • The company’s assets.

  • Bank account information.

  • Authorized signers on accounts.

  • Who the go to person is on taxes.

  • Salaries.

  • How to dissolve the company should that ever happen.

Those are just some examples but you’re going to want to have a long discussion about this and include anything you deem prudent. Everybody should feel comfortable with what is in the agreement before signing it. If they aren’t it will only lead to problems later on.

I really want to stress the part about laying out responsibilities. Everybody goes into creating a business with the best intentions. Sometimes things change such as people getting married, moving, losing interest, etc. It would be really good to figure out how those situations will be handled before they happen. One suggestion would be doing vesting for everybody’s ownership. Basically that means that somebody starts off with a low percentage of ownership and that increases at certain milestones (performance based or length of time). That will hopefully keep them motivated and lessen the resentment everybody would feel if somebody ends up not pulling their weight.

This is a link to a sample operating agreement based on what we used:

Sample Production Company Operating Agreement

I would personally take a look at a few samples before drafting your own. Use them as guides for your sit down with your partners.

Good luck to you and let me know when you’ve finished that film.

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Pick a Niche for Your Film’s Marketing

When my former no-budget production company was developing scripts internally, or when somebody was championing a script that they had found, we had some contentious discussions on the potential audience for the films. When you truly believe in the story you want to tell you (usually incorrectly) make the assumption that everybody else is going to be interested in it. You’re too close to it to see the flaws.

Nov07 314 by Lord Jim. Used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.The answer to the question, “Who is going to watch my movie?” is not “people that enjoy movies.” The answer isn’t even “gender aged xx to xx.” None of those people are going to watch your movie because they haven’t heard about it. Discovery is probably the largest problem that independent filmmakers face today. Even if your film is in the hot new genre (is it still vampires?) you’re still going to need to find a way to tell fans of the genre about it.

A mistake that filmmakers make is confusing genre with niche. With a huge marketing budget or incredible word of mouth a film might be so good that it is genre busting. The Blind Side was wasn’t just a movie about a football player but was also a movie about a family and a movie about a young black man overcoming the streets. It was watched by sports fans and moms alike.

That is likely not your film. You’re not going to have millions of dollars to buy 30 seconds during the late night shows or to buy space on the sides of buses. You likely don’t even have the budget for an ad on most websites. What little money you have needs to be spent in the most productive manner possible. My suggestion is to pick a niche. Concentrate your marketing efforts there to build an audience that will grow organically through word of mouth.

Does your romantic comedy involve travel? Target backpackers or digital nomads. Your drama has somebody battling a disease? Look at support groups. Movies have been very successful targeting churches if the film has religious themes. Every possible interest has a place, or places, where that community gathers on the Internet. That is where you should concentrate your marketing.

Whatever you do don’t take advantage but instead offer something of value (a film they’ll be interested in).

Don’t think of this as pigeonholing but as a marketing strategy. Obviously your film deserves to be viewed and enjoyed by as wide of an audience as possible but the wider you cast your marketing net the shallower it reaches. Particularly when you’re casting in the same waters as the major studios. Find a pond where they aren’t fishing. The fish you do catch live in multiple ponds and will spread the word. The smaller the pond (the more you niche down) the easier it will be to be heard.

After picking your niche it will take some research about where to find people interested in it as well as the best way to interact with them. One place to start is reddit.com. They have communities for almost anything you can think of. If you can find a subreddit for your niche that has tens of thousands of subscribers then you might have found an audience.

One word of warning. Be prepared for backlash if you are trying too hard and too blatantly to sell. Many people don’t mind hearing about your product as long as it is relevant to the conversation. But they closely guard against things that come across as spam. So read, and possibly participate, before posting about your film.

Getting your film made is a huge challenge. Getting the word out about it is an equal challenge. Finding a small community that loves your film in not the only way to market your film but I believe it might get you the highest return-on-investment.

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Thoughts on a Reddit Film Festival

(I apologize if this already exists or is in the works. I did see that there is a /r/RedditFilmFestival but it only has two posts in the last two years.)

Communities around the world host film festivals which bring movies to them that they might not otherwise catch at their local cinemas. They also hopefully provide a boost to the local economy in the form of tourist spending. And lastly they might bring a little bit of celebrity excitement that will get the town buzzing.

Reddit is a community (albeit a virtual one) that is without a film festival. It doesn’t need an economic boost (I don’t think) but it is full of generous people (see Secret Santa) and could maybe throw a virtual film festival that benefits a charity.

I think filmmakers would jump at the opportunity as one of the biggest challenges they face is letting people know about their films. What better place for them to do it than “the front page of the Internet”? It would be great publicity!

Screenings should happen all within a week or two, just like other film festivals, so that it can lead to lots of discussion thus furthering the publicity for the filmmakers. Running a film festival is a lot of work so you also wouldn’t want to drag it out too long for the volunteers sake.

The films could potentially have larger audiences than you can get at ANY film festival. Even if you had a couple showings at a large theater at a regular film festival you could hope for maybe two or three thousand people seeing your film. With this film festival anyone in the world could see the film. (This could become an issue for films that have already sold foreign rights so they should be warned up front.)

One of many people’s favorite things about film festivals is the Q&A with the directors and actors that takes places after the screenings. Filmmakers can do Q&A sessions either via an AMA or via Google Hangouts and thus furthering the exposure their film is receiving.

I personally believe an important part of a film festival is curation. It hurts when your film isn’t picked (as has happened to me too many times to count) but it leaves a much better product for the audience which is who a film festival is ultimately for. Maybe the noble souls of /r/MovieCritic could lend a hand screening the submissions.

One more thing to consider is what movies to let in and how to categorize them. You would probably want to limit submissions to films released in the last year or two to keep the festival’s programming fresh. Letting in movies of any budget would probably generate larger audiences (fact of life is that films with larger budgets tend to generate larger audiences) but could end up excluding the low or no budget filmmakers that are part of the Reddit community. I think it is important that they be represented should this ever become a reality.

One way to ensure a wide range of films would be through the categories of awards. Large film festivals tend to separate out international films from domestic films (won’t apply here with Reddit being a global community) and documentaries from features. Maybe awards could be given based on budget tiers with awards for best film with a budget under $25,000, $1 million, or unlimited. I, for one, would love to see the best film made for under $10,000.

Now onto the business part of this musing.

Pretty much all film festivals charge a fee for submissions. That combined with ticket sales and sponsorships provides the bulk of the revenue for the festivals. They are usually staffed by volunteers but have many hard expenses as well. I think this theoretical film festival should leverage all three of those revenue streams as well.

Let’s look at those in reverse starting with sponsorship. I know Redditors often revolt against advertising, and sponsorship is a pretty in-your-face form of advertising, but I think having that money donated directly to a charity in exchange for naming rights would be something most wouldn’t have a problem with. The “Reddit-Mercedes Benz Film Festival” or whatever.

(We’ll all just have to cover our ears (eyes) with the inevitable rumblings of a minority about anything the sponsor has done to affront them or their cat.)

Ticket sales (paying to view the films) is something to consider jointly with the question of where to host the films. Vimeo is the first site that springs to mind as a place that can host the films as well as process payments for viewing. There would have to be a mechanism to get the films onto the site as well as to take them down once the festival is over. Ideally this could be where the films are uploaded for the submission process so as not to need to send DVDs around the globe.

In keeping with the theme of charity the revenue from the films could be given to charity after paying the hosting provider their fees. Maybe the filmmakers could split the revenue with the charity. (It is hard to make a buck on indie films!)

While I like the idea of the whole film festival going to support a specific charity (to help make a big dent in one area) one marketing tactic could be to allow each filmmaker to pick their own charity to support. They could then market their film to supporters of their charity/cause.

The last piece of the revenue equation is the submission fee. I believe having one is critical so as to not innundate the volunteer reviewers with submissions from every person who has ever made a film. Some film festivals charge up to $100 for submission fees but I think something in the range of $25 would be good.

A possible extra inventive would be to have a page that listed and linked to all films submitted so that filmmakers would still get some value for their money even if they aren’t selected for the festival.

A possible downside to all of this from the filmmakers’ perspective is the concern of piracy. Both by the audience streaming the film as well as by the reviewers. There isn’t anything that can really be done to mitigate that threat (DRM doesn’t work) but I have enough faith in humanity that when a charity is involved people will generally do the right thing. Keeping the “ticket” costs down will also help to discourage piracy.

Obviously this is all a pie-in-the-sky idea but it is one I would like to see. There is so much room to help filmmakers and charities and Reddit is a community that can make it happen.

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Starting a Production Company

A handful of years ago I started a production company with three other filmmakers in Santa Monica, California. We were about ready to start selling copies of the first (and it turned out to be the only…so far) feature that we made so we thought it would be wise to pass that revenue through a company. The other thoughts were that it would give us some legitimacy for our next film as well as kick start the momentum that we lost in post-production on the last film. I was the “business guy” so the task to do the paperwork fell to me. We were so cash poor that LegalZoom wasn’t an option for us.

Starting a production company is pretty much the same process as creating any other company though there might be certain tax differences (particularly in states that offer production credits). We decided to go with a limited liability company (LLC) as we wanted to limit the exposure to our personal assets…not that we had many of those. We also went with a pass-through LLC which meant that each member would record their share of profits (there were none of those) or losses (lots of those) on our personal income taxes each year.

(If you decide to “start a production company” without actually creating a company, and you’re doing business using a name other than your own, you might need to file a DBA (Doing Business As) statement depending on the jurisdiction you’re in.)

I should point out that starting a production company has nothing to do with making movies. You can do the former without ever doing the latter. Many people do the latter without ever doing the former. In fact, I think that is how most of us start out. This post is only to outline the process should you ever choose to go down the path.

With the reminder that none of this constitutes accounting, financial, or legal advice the steps we took were as follows:

Pick name

You’re going to want to do a Google search to make sure that meaningful and/or clever name isn’t already being used by another production company. You might only need to make sure it isn’t currently being used in the countries you’re most likely to distribute your film but it would be prudent to avoid any possible future confrontations. So pick something original.

Shiny New Production Company

Register the domain name if you want to. A custom domain name and website adds an air of legitimacy to your fledgling company but not much. Your reputation and resume matter much more than any name, website, or email address.

We registered a domain name for $20 and paid $4.99 a month for hosting.

Total cost: $24.99

Decide roles

Everybody needs to decide what roles, if any, each person is going to take in the business structure. Note that these are different from roles in the production process. The company president might be a production assistant on set. Letting people leverage their talents both on and off set should lead to better movies and less disagreements.

Roles you might want to include are President, Vice President, Director of Finance, Director of Marketing, etc. I thought it was important to have a specific person responsible for each business operation (operations, finance, marketing, development).

Create operating agreement

The operating agreement is what governs the way the company operates, how ownership is divided, how profits and losses are allocated (a different thing than ownership), and how roles are defined.

You’re going to want to spend a lot of time on this document as it will be referenced should there be any disputes amongst partners later on. And there too often are disputes.

Register LLC with state (of California)

Bunch of Papers by Seiichi Kusunoki used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic LicenseWe first had to file the Articles of Incorporation with the California Secretary of State. That established us as a LLC and in return they gave us a Secretary of State File Number. Cost for this was $70.

With that file number we were then able to file our Statement of Information with the Secretary of State. That outlines who the members of the LLC are as well as what industry you’re in (Film Production). Cost for that was $20.

Total cost: $90

Get EIN from IRS

Your new company now has to register for a tax id number with the IRS so that you can do fun things such as open bank accounts, pay employees, and do taxes. That can be done online for free and was a surprisingly simple process.

File with the state tax authority

Now that you have a tax id number you can start paying taxes to your state’s tax authority. In California that authority is the Franchise Tax Board. You have to pay during your tax year so your first year fee is due upfront. California has a minimum tax of $800 for an LLC which I believe is the highest in the nation. You can find the California LLC tax form here.

Total cost: $800

Register with municipality (Santa Monica)

As I was living in Santa Monica at the time we needed to fill out a Business License Tax Application with the city. That included a home occupation agreement. The business license tax was $0 as our gross revenues were going to be below $40,000 (minimum fee is $75 otherwise). There was also a process fee of $25.25 and a Zoning Code Conformance Review fee of $32.78.

Total cost: $58.03

(I think a lot of home based businesses skip registering with their city but we erred on the side of caution.)

Create business checking account

We opened our checking account at Wells Fargo. To do so we needed to provide them with a copy of our operating agreement as well as our tax ID number. Each authorized signer had to go into a branch and show them their driver’s license.

The account cost $12 a month and we had to pay $19.95 for checks.

Total cost: $19.95

Create books

You’re going to want to keep track of your accounts and your spending with software. It will make doing your taxes at the end of the year MUCH easier. Quickbooks is still probably the most used bookkeeping software for small businesses. GnuCash is similar and free but more difficult to use. Xero is an online accounting suite that I’ve heard good things about but have never used. I have tried Wave Accounting which is free but was a little unresponsive.

You’re going to want to create Revenue and Expense categories for each film. You might even want to create subcategories for each department. This way you can track the company’s profit and loss as well as that of each movie you make.

Have an annual meeting and record meeting minutes

Limited liability companies are not required to hold annual meetings and record the minutes (record of when the meeting occurred, who attended, what was discussed, etc.) like a corporation is but it is a good idea. It shows that you’re operating as a company as well as provides a platform for each member to raise issues.

These meetings are where we laid out our goals for the year that we were then held accountable for during our monthly conference calls.

Minutes should be printed out and signed by each member to acknowledge their participation and agreement of what was discussed and decided on. This is important to avoid disagreements down the road.

Conclusion

It ended up costing us $992.97 to start our production company. As members we then loaned the company money to cover any ongoing costs that our meager revenues didn’t cover. While I don’t think we utilized that company to the extent that we could have (a whole other story) we did use it to produce a short film and in general was a good learning experience for us. It was a lot cheaper than business school. It also gave us accountability to each other to work on writing scripts, reading scripts, and moving forward on our productions.

One word of warning. Remember to be careful about the partners you start a company with. If you have any doubts at all going in then you probably shouldn’t jump in bed legally with them. You can hire them to work on your individual films rather than including them in your business. One of the points of having an LLC is to reduce risk so don’t choose risky partners.

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Drag and drop scheduling added

Drag and Drop SchedulingA new feature for Moviestud.io was rolled out today. We now offer drag and drop scheduling of your scenes as you’re viewing your production calendar. The scenes are colored the same as your production board strips for easy identification and you can click on them to access additional information such as cast, scene length, etc.

We hope this makes your film scheduling process just a little bit easier. As always please reach out to us with any suggestions on ways we can make the production process easier for you. Email info at this domain or use the Feedback feature inside the software.

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