Last night I met another local filmmaker who excitedly told me about how his $150,000 movie made $2,000,000 in foreign sales and DVD. Now, that’s super impressive, and I’m happy for him-

But I’m also massively pissed.

When you make a movie for $150k, you generally — not always — have to make some sacrifices. These sacrifices are typically at the expense of everyone else that worked on the film, other than you and your producing partners.

Some examples —

Paying Your Director $8,000 To Direct The Movie.

Now, if the time requirement is only 2 months, that’s arguably not a terrible wage, except for the fact that most directors should be making more than $1000 per week. More than likely, however, you’re paying your director $8k for at minimum 1 month of preproduction, three weeks of filming 12+ hour days (more like 16 as a director), and two to three months of part- to full-time hours for his involvement with the film edit and post production. $8k for 4 months of work is not cool.

Slashing Your Crew Members’ Day Rates.

A typical day rate for a key position crew member is anywhere from $500–750 per day here in Utah, from my experience. Now, most people can live on $1000 a week, especially if your production only lasts for three to four weeks. Even then, I think $250/day is rock bottom for the key players when you’re doing low or micro budget productions. Yet, I’ve heard about sound mixers and gaffers getting as little as $150/day to do their jobs. This, to me, is not being a savvy producer, it’s taking advantage of people who do this for a living.

No Backend Compensation.

If you spent $150k to make a film and it made $2 million, you HAVE to pay your cast and crew some backend. There’s just no way around it. How much? As much as friggin possible, because you wouldn’t have a movie if these people didn’t help you make it. Give your investors their money back plus 10%, then do your 50/50 split. But out of your 50%, give 40 of it to your cast and crew with a nice thank you note. If you don’t do that, in my opinion, it’s just gross.

Now, I can assume that these producers are not savvy producers if only for the simple fact that they didn’t take advantage of free money. In the state of Utah, if you make a movie for more than $200,000, you qualify for a 20% tax credit, which means you get 20% back of what you spent in the state. That’s $40,000. Which means you only end up spending an extra $10,000 to get back $40,000. There’s no reason to not do this, yet it’s rarely done. For some reason $150k seems to be the magic number, but they’re missing out and frankly being irresponsible.

Last point: I have not seen a GOOD movie come out of Utah for $150k.* That doesn’t mean I thing it can’t be done — I think it means that these producers don’t care about telling good stories. I hear about how they whipped a story together in two weeks, or started filming without an ending yet. It’s attrocious.

You may think that is a subjective statement…it’s not.

In the last 5 years, there aren’t any “fresh” ratings on any films from these companies.* They just aren’t making good movies.

These producers claim that the markets like AFM are dead, foreign is dead, buyers aren’t doing presales anymore… and they are right. They aren’t buying their films anymore, because over the last five years the buyers have learned that these production companies don’t make good movies.

There is plenty of news from the markets regarding presales off of trailers and concepts — from filmmakers who have a track record of telling great stories and making great movies.

Even if your movie has a “star”, tons of (mediocre) visual effects, is a strong genre film and has all the bells and whistles one would want – you can check all the boxes, but it still won’t be as valuable in the marketplace as the exact same movie with a better story.


*The Saratov Approach is one exception to my comments. A great film made by talented filmmakers which did really well in the box office. Still, should’ve produced it for over $200k to qualify for the Utah Film Commission Tax Credit…

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