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Leveraging Priorities; Every Budget has its Look, but not every Look has its Budget

Occasionally I'm confronted with the following scenario: an independent or student film is already half-finished, but now the budget's used up and the initiators are running out of steam / taking on jobs / otherwise reducing their future engagement on the production in question. But the film is really looking good and - yeah, it's half-finished! Here's what I tell them...

Occasionally I'm confronted with the following scenario:

an independent or student film is already half-finished, but now the budget's used up and the initiators are running out of steam / taking on jobs / otherwise reducing their future engagement on the production in question. But the film is really looking good and - yeah, it's half-finished!

Here's what I tell them...

make your film shorter.

This is, of course, not what they want to hear. Editing a film down to meet production realities reeks of artistic trimming. So we talk about the options, of which there are three.

One. Find more resources. Lacking budget increases, which are impressively rare, there's the hope that a team can find other artists willing to contribute their work for free. Where can I find more artists? I'm asked. You need to be aware of what you're offering in exchange for the desired services. If you're pitching a skilled artist, you need to be able to convince them that this film will rock their reel, get them networked or otherwise fulfill some need of theirs. The chances here are fairly slim, as most of the mney shots have been snatched already, the pipeline has been established, and there's no need for the juicy jobs of stylistic development or character design that most capable artist s are looking for. There's another option, and that is to train someone. You offer your knowledge and mentorship, and the 'intern' works off shots. This is actually a great model, and - with a pinch of supervision - can be worked into a functioning roject or even curriculum structure. The thing is, it takes a long time to get that person up to speed. For this reason, its a good idea to include interns in your projects from the beginning. There's more time at the start of a project, and you can take them along more easily. When the going gets towards crunch, you have extra resources who are already integrated in the project specifics and intentions. That's a potentially valuable starting point to balance out vacant personnel.

Two. Change the look. One of the greatest options for reducing work volume is making it easier by creating a look which has a lower level of detail. In other words, its stylized. A famous example of changing designs or looks for reasons of efficiency is Mickey Mouse's fourth finger which was sacrificed to production demands. Its also a good, visual metaphor for understanding that these decisions (generally) have to happen before production begins. Otherwise, Mickey would be growing and losing fingers from shot to shot. If the film's half-done, you're out this option.For this reason, vfx work consisting of invisibly compositing cg elements on live action plates should receive a helthy portion of respect. The look is determined by the real world, and the audience knows exactly and intimately how it looks and moves.

Three. Lessen the volume. Cutting a film down is hard work. I know this must be true because students will slave away for months modeling, rigging, simulating and rendering in order to avoid a week's worth of cutting. Yet it not only brings a production back into the realm of the feasible, it oftenincreases the experienced quality of the film. Less is more. But I've learned not to use this argument when discussing the doability of student projects... it reeks of artistic trimming and lost opportunity. But in terms of finding a way to bring a project across the finish line, less is not only more... its often the sole option.

Previous post on setting animation targets.

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