Monday Prescriptions – Can You Afford To Be Cheap?

Hello Film Doctor friends.

This Monday Prescription we’d like to talk about wrong budgeting decisions and “false economy”. Know the saying “Buy cheap, pay twice”? Well, it also holds true for film projects.

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Trying to put together a production on a shoestring budget? Cutting corners? One of the biggest mistakes an independent production can make is to focus on price over value – making savings to sacrifice quality. We’re not saying go over board. We’re not telling you to make your quality/value/budget so high that it is unachievable. But know that sometimes, the cheaper option can backfire – e.g. cheap material that breaks/tears/wears out, cheap SFX that will turn your tense gunshot points into laughable moments, cheap cameras where your phone has a better resolution, etc.

Look below to see where cutting costs is and isn’t an issue!


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Where You Cannot Afford to be Cheap

  • Sound equipment – While there is abundance of camera equipment to choose from – some very decent and affordable – the sound department is still one area of production that will eat into your cash-flow. And you can’t be cheap about it – get the sound wrong on your shooting days and be ready to brace yourself for a nightmarish post-production. Invest in the best possible sound kit and mics, as well as a person, who’d operate it – a good sound recordist is worth a pot of gold, and often you’ll find that they come with their own equipment.
  • Production Design – Unless you’re working on a project that lends itself to a more “natural” look, production design is one expense category you really need to invest in. There’s nothing more disappointing than a great concept killed by bad execution – bad design, in this case, or no design! Nothing screams cheap louder than an empty room with no thought/money gone into its look. Building a set/construction? Your materials need to be top notch. Shooting a period piece? Your props and costumes need to look as authentic, as possible.
    • Catering – You can save on food & drinks but be careful, especially on a low-to-no budget production. If you want your crew and cast to endure a 12-hour+ shoot for which they’re not even getting paid/getting paid a fraction of the usual cost, you better cater for them well. Do not be rude and disrespectful by giving them hundreds of white bread sandwiches with ‘extra value’ cream cheese just because it’ll only come to £3/$5 in your budget. You don’t need to order take away from the Ritz but be creative and spend a little more and you’ll have a happy team who feel respected.


Where You Can Afford to Save Money

  • Location(s) – Low budget productions do better when not burdened by elaborate locations. This budgeting should start at script level – write your project (or buy a screenplay) with the available/achievable production budget in mind.
  • Catering – Although it’s crucial for the happiness of your cast & crew, it’s also one area where you can save money… if you’re clever about it. Instead of spending loads of cash on take-aways/pizza deliveries every day on set, opt in for batch-cooked salads and pastas, or get a deal with a local cafe for sandwiches & coffee.
  • Unnecessary Crew – Of course you want a great team compiled of excellent individuals but you must must must ensure that you hire the correct amount from the outset. If, during production, you discover that there are all too many runners ‘on standby’ or supportive team members whose wages/expenses you are paying, then it is silly to haemorrhage away money on crew that are not adding to the project. This is not mean-spirited. It is a part of every business. Money must be spent wisely!

‘Monday Prescription’ No. 77 – There are certain production corners you simply cannot cut to save cash. Spend lots of time planning and budgeting to know how and where to cut, so that you don’t decrease the value of your production.

Do you have any horror stories of productions that came out looking cheap/nasty because of a budget cut? Do you have other ways a production can save money? Share your story/thoughts in the comments section. We’d love to hear them!
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Have a great week!
The Film Doctor Team
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