Production Control for Filmmakers
We talked to finance/production expert Ameena Din about filmmakers taking on outside resources to control their productions.
With luck, every emerging filmmaker reaches the point where the next project involves more than a handful of crew and actors working to build their portfolio. We asked Ameena Din if there is a specific budget amount above which filmmakers should definitely bring in outside help, such as cost analysts and production coordinators, to develop an effective structure for their projects.
“This really depends on a filmmaker’s level of experience,” says Din. “After years of experience in the business I know that a production cannot run without an army of seasoned professionals. There are so many important details that need to be attended to in the course of business, and even more in the course of a production. Having a solid, experienced staff is the only way to ensure a smooth and well-organized production.”
Serious production support can include: cost and overhead analysis; assembly and adherence to budgets, forecasts, and production schedules; supervision of accounts payable (A/P), accounts receivable (A/R), production accounting, and payroll.
Developing an effective structure for media start-ups means developing production budgets and forecasts, establishing efficiency processes and procedures, and creating accounting and finance controls. Din’s preferred analytical and production tools include Excel and Movie Magic. She tells us she is also exploring “… a new platform from Ease Entertainment to control budgets for our shows/movies.”
Note: Indie filmmaker Hunter Weeks has found the database program Bento 4 useful for the business end of his documentary projects.
How does a filmmaker set budget aside to pay for these resources? What is the range of fees a filmmaker should expect? Din says that it is difficult to establish a ballpark figure for budget and fees without first knowing the specifics of a project. She does list several items that need to be addressed:
- How long is pre-production estimated to run for?
- How many locations are involved? Is there travel involved? Car rentals? Allowance for foreign exchange rates?
- What type of insurance is required? Liability? Errors and Omissions? Directors and Officers?
- Will casting be outsourced? How long is casting expected to take?
- Are background checks required for the cast?
- Will an outside payroll service be utilized to take care of production payroll and/or worker’s compensation?
- How long will post-production run for? How many editors will be needed?
- Will equipment need to be rented for post? What format does the network/customer want the final cut in?
With the array of media – film, television, webisodes – used by filmmakers, would the support systems involved in budget and production control vary?
Din says yes. “Each type of outlet (film, television, online) requires a specialized support system controlling/handling the project to ensure that guidelines are adhered to. This includes everything from network and contract requirements to format and delivery requirements.”
Investors and ROI
For a creative storyteller, making a film is a labor of love. We asked Din at what point novice filmmakers need to step up to the next level by thinking about return on investment (ROI). Should they always treat family and friends who donate money as investors who deserve some return?
Din wastes no words on this topic. “My view on this may be different from others’ because I primarily work on the finance side of things – but I believe that ROI should be a consideration from the start. While it is admirable to take on a project because one believes in it strongly, it is important to remember that those funding the production might be doing so solely for financial gain. That’s why establishing expectations with investors up front is imperative.”
Experience is King
What’s the most effective way for a beginning filmmaker to organize and control production, even on a very small project?
From her experience Din says “… the best way to learn how to control production and put together efficient production schedules is by learning from others.” She stresses that “… most people who want to learn the creative side of the business have to start out as Production Assistants. While being a PA is far from glamorous,” she points out, “it gives one a close up of how things work from the bottom up – and nothing can compare to firsthand experience.”
Several years ago Din had a work colleague who decided to change career paths to become a producer. “I really admired his dedication,” she says, “as he trudged through two years of doing PA grunt work while in his late 20’s. But now he’s a story producer and he’s happy with what he’s doing!”
Din again stresses, “… learning the different requirements is easiest when one studies the business from the ground up.”
Ameena Din is presently Director of Finance for Giant Pirate Entertainment, LLC. She has over 14 years experience as a strategic planner, production controller, and cost analyst for both large and small entertainment companies.
Her prior experience includes: Production Controller/Strategic Planner at Motion Picture Production, Inc.; a Senior Cost Analyst at CBS Studios, Inc.; and Senior Operations Analyst at Global Digital Satellite Systems, Inc.