Last week, Tribeca Film Institute kindly livestreamed their “Budget 101” panel for indies unable to attend the event in NYC. I tuned in since I haven’t had to make a budget for a film since college and they were short projects (the panel focused on feature films).
A ton of great information was provided for both fiction and nonfiction budgeting. There was definitely one piece of advice I had to share here as well since I have always been curious about it too.
When it comes to preparing a film budget, professional directors include their pay in the budget.
This bold statement came from Lesli Klainberg, the documentary filmmaker on the stage. She mentioned that she’ll often hear young filmmakers say they want to make their films “for as little as possible”, which is an obvious rookie mistake.
Huh? Wait, isn’t that the indie filmmaker creed? Aren’t folks always bragging about how they made a cinematic masterpiece on the cheap? Apparently not. Klainberg went on to break it down like this: not including salaries for yourself as a director or producer and your key crew members on your budget comes across as unprofessional.
But what if you don’t know how much to pay yourself? Go ask.
For example, Klainberg suggests going to the DGA for scale rates or even checking with other filmmakers. If the pay estimates will hinder your production, offer to defer part or all of your salary. The keyword in that scenario is defer. At least it will still be itemized on the final document and will properly reflect your creative worth.
It was repeated several times on the panel that you can’t go into independent filmmaking just for the money. The feature game isn’t easy. But if filmmaking is your job, don’t spend too long treating yourself or your peers like unpaid interns. You’re worth more than that.