Say “Thank You”

This post, and the latest addition to my camera bag, comes from a “duh” moment I had recently on set after a lengthy location shoot following two consecutive rehearsal weekends. Each day we were on set, the gracious owners of our location vacated for our convenience, allowed us to rearrange their furniture and swap out their light bulbs, and even cooked lunch on the day of the shoot. Granted, this home belonged to our director’s parents, but that does not diminish our appreciation for their contributions to the film.

We expressed our gratitude verbally, and I’m sure it was not overlooked in various text messages and phone calls, but as we were packing up to leave, one of our actresses pulled a “Thank You” note from her purse and we all gathered around to sign it. If you’ve ever received a hand-written “thanks,” you know how far the gesture goes – perhaps more so as digital communication has become the norm. A note is a very simple and inexpensive way to follow-through on your collaboration with a person or business in a personal way.

Although this post is focused on locations, there are a lot of different people along the way who help make our films possible and thank you cards will only cost you some spare change. If your budget is tight and you have a lot of cards to give, here’s one you can print at home:

Film Reel Thank You Card

Print this card at home and fold it in half. Consider printing several per page, using cardstock, or decorating it to make it more personal. Get creative!

For something with a touch more professionalism than the freebie above, here are a few customizable designs you can get from me on Zazzle:

FilmReelWoodCard FilmReelGreetingCard FilmReelThankYouCard

With my feature film, I waited to distribute Thank-You’s after the movie was completed. For some of our locations, this was two years after they opened their doors for us. I can’t believe it never occurred to me to write something on set while all of the cast and crew is there to sign it, rather than scrambling to hand-deliver or pay for postage down the road. Later, when someone sees your note proudly displayed by the recipient, it could even spark a conversation about your film. Since these little gems are lightweight and don’t take up much space, I’m adding a dozen to my camera bag just in case. I have had good and bad experiences with locations, and a bad experience can ruin a location for you and for all of the filmmakers in your area. Do yourself, your cast and crew, and all other filmmakers a favor and tell your location how much you appreciate their willingness to be a part of your project.

To all locations out there: “Because of you, we didn’t have to build an entire set from scratch. Thank you!”


Anatomy of an Independent Film Budget

As my weary team and I near the close of our independent film’s second year of production, I often think back on our purchasing decisions. Before we started filming we set budget caps for each ‘department,’ distributing our funds across each area, and although we managed to stay within our budget, our estimate about the distribution of those funds wasn’t quite as accurate.

[Bone to the Dog; est. budget: $5,000; Genre: Dark-Comedy; Main Characters: 8 +1 dog]


Where does this money go? What does the budget of a $5,000 film look like? My guess is that the answer to these questions varies widely depending on who’s making the film, genre, and total budget. This experience will inform my budget estimations for future projects, and how confidently I spend money in each area, but I also hope that the same information can lend you insight as you budget your projects. Keep in mind that in this example I’m only factoring money we actually spent in each area (some budgets calculate value of items they already have in inventory).

Right away, the Camera/Electrical department blew its cap – even though we had free access to a camera and light kit. Lenses and rigs, memory cards, spare lights, and diffusion sheets, just to name a few expenses in this category. Luckily, we were equally surprised that our $300 “Locations” budget was never touched, and neither was our “Emergency” category; both of these are eliminated in the graph below. This exemplifies the sort of push & pull that kept us within our budget. The graph below shows the following other expenses on our film: Wardrobe (e.g. tie, apron), Props (e.g. Arm Sling, Dog treats), Business (e.g. Business Cards), Catering (e.g. water, pizza), Special Effects (e.g. fake blood, digital effects), Misc. (e.g. Duct Tape… twice… as I discussed in an earlier post)…

2011-2012 Budget for Bone to the Dog

2011-2012 Budget for Bone to the Dog

I think the biggest surprise for us was the hefty Wardrobe department. In our student film production, we mostly went with clothing our actors already owned. I guess that’s the advantage of writing about slacker characters wearing t-shirts. This time we needed suits for most of our characters, and we often couldn’t find what we wanted at the thrift store. The biggest factor inflating this part of the budget was that we felt like we could afford to be picky. I think we would have spent more conservatively if we’d realized how much it would add up, but the payoff is very consistent and appropriate styles and colors in our characters’ clothing. Keep in mind though that even Jeff Bridges supplied all of his own clothing in The Big Lebowski, and that worked pretty well for the Coens.


Again, easier for some characters than others. (This image belongs to the copyright holder)

This budget breakdown is very specific to our circumstances. Had our film taken place in space, special effects and costuming might have weighed in a lot heavier. If our local setting, charm, and good luck hadn’t helped us acquire so many locations for free, we could’ve spent a lot there as well; several businesses opened their doors for us to film during business hours and their generosity saved us.