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Five Common Mistakes That Destroy Production Budgets


Guest Post from Garrett Wesley Gibbons

While producing content for film, television, and the web, we can easily dump money into the wrong areas, spending premium dollars that don’t yield premium results. If you want to produce stellar content on time and on budget, stay away from these surefire ways to waste your money:

Rush your production

There is an old bit of wisdom in the media world that says: "Cheap, Fast, or Good. Pick two."

Let's assume that you don't want to compromise on quality. That leaves you with two variables to work with: speed and cost. If you want to keep costs down, plan ahead and don't rush. It's as simple as that. A rushed production always spends more money than it should.

It's amazing how many elements are more expensive when you need them on short notice: rushed labor fees, expedited processing, and overnight shipping, for example. If time is tight, there is also no time for the all-important cost-saving technique of shopping around. If you are in a rush, you'll be stuck with whatever is in front of you, and at the mercy of whatever fees are presented, since you won't have time to explore other options.

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Granted, we don't always have the time to plan ahead and develop a concept at a leisurely pace. Some projects just need to be done on tight schedules, despite the experience of the leadership team involved. If you're brought into a rushed project, though, you can bet that money is being wasted around you.

Distrust your collaborators

I can't tell you how many meetings I've been in when a high-level decision maker decides to ignore the professional opinions of his collaborators at the expense of large amounts of money.

For example, a client or producer or director may feel that it's extremely important to shoot a project on 35mm film, which will cost far more than the budget allows. The director of photography may insist that an Alexa will fit this job perfectly, or perhaps a RED camera or even an inexpensive DSLR, but her advice will be ignored because someone has in his mind that film has the best look, and must be used at all costs. Don't throw away your money based on what you think will add value to the project unless you truly have an informed opinion.

Just as the team should trust the director of photography's recommendation about which camera to use, they should also trust the advice of the make-up artist, the art directors, the production designers, and every other person on the creative team. If someone was hired for her expertise, trust that expertise. Not only can shoehorned solutions from management create the need for expensive workarounds, they add a ton of extra time into the process, as the professional seeks to quietly make the most of what limited options are available, rather than going full-speed with the (rejected) plan A.

This sort of professional snubbing is not only terribly inefficient, but creates an environment of distrust that greatly obstructs the creative process. When small barriers and challenges arise, the ignored collaborator will be tempted to say, "if only we had gone with my recommendation" instead of immediately looking for creative ways to solve the problem. The snubbed professional feels devalued and powerless, and will be less likely to feel that she has the creative autonomy needed to solve problems and take healthy creative risks as the project progresses.

Now I should mention that this distrust goes both ways: if a snubbed DP completely distrusts the creative decisions of the director or producer, it will also introduce friction into the process that will likely waste time and money. But if you moved forward with your best efforts to collaborate with your fellow professionals, there won't be wasted time spinning wheels in distrust.

Change something critical at a late stage

So many projects are delivered late or over budget because of the addition of new elements at a late stage in the process. It may be a major script revision that comes halfway through filming (effectively nullifying the footage shot earlier), or a narrative structure that changes at a late stage in the editing process, or even a wardrobe change the night before (which requires rush costs), but it will always end up costing more money if the change comes at the last minute.

Have a big idea? Suggest it to your collaborators in case it's an easy modification, but be willing to stick with the original plan and save that great idea for the next project.

Put your ego first

Compromise is an essential aspect of both collaboration and operating on an economical budget. The attitude of "my way or the highway" will lead to both creative dissent and increased budgets. I know that you really wanted that location, but it's three times as expensive as the similar one down the street, and your producer is telling you that we don't have budget for your first choice.

Don't let your ego get in the way; things might not turn out exactly like you originally planned, but we don't always have that convenience. Stick to your creative guns when necessary, but pick your battles carefully and don't let your pride get in the way of the production schedule or budget.

Hire the cheapest people possible

This may seem counterintuitive: how can you save money by hiring more expensive people? Whenever you go with a low-cost option, you're raising the likelihood of failure of some sort. The probability of rewriting, reshooting, and endless editing revisions climbs quickly as less-experienced, less-skilled people are introduced to the process.

Find people you know you can trust. And do it right the first time.

Garrett Wesley Gibbons is a director, DP and editor at Cosmic Reach Media. He is based in Seattle, but works worldwide on music videos, commercials, and short-form documentary projects.

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