Also know, this series is intended to shed light on the process of making a film, not on the quality of the film itself.
In Part 1 of this series, I detailed how I narrowed in on the idea to form Wait, and the years-long process it took me to finally sit down and write the damn thing. Part 2 of this series was intended to focus on the overall pre-production of Wait. The first chapter of that post was going to detail how I gathered the money to make my film. But as I started writing, I realized the post needed to stand on its own. So, while I do touch on pre-production below, my full pre-production post will come in a few days. This post is dedicated to following the money.
Money is what makes films. It’s sad but true. All the artistic passion in the world won’t generate a feature film, unless you have a few bucks to stretch. There is no clear path to acquiring money to fund a feature film. You can crowd fund, ask your friends and family, take out a loan, use an inheritance, play the lottery. Everyone has a different way of procuring money for their films, but I can only safely talk about my personal experience.
When I made my short film, Earrings, in 2012, I used my own money. I literally saved my pennies for a year and a half, and used a week of vacation days from my day job to fly from Virginia to Los Angeles to film the movie. The total budget of Earrings was $5,000. That included lens rentals, salaries, film gear, meals, transportation, and lodging. I already owned my camera (which meant I didn’t have to rent it for a high daily rate), and we stole every location we shot in (which is illegal, but saved me thousands of dollars).
|A still from my short film, Earrings (2012)|
The acquaintance and I talked about budget early, and I felt that to do Wait right, I needed $40,000. The acquaintance brought on a business partner (who was also new to the film game), and together, the three of us agreed to split the production budget three ways, each putting up $15,000 of our own money, for a total budget of $45,000. I put Wait into pre-production (the nuts and bolts of which I’ll discuss in my next post), and in August 2013, I moved to Los Angeles to officially start my feature filmmaking career. In late September 2013, the business partner dropped out. I met with them once and quickly realized they were not ready to make movies. Their demands were laughable (major script changes, casting their friends in key roles, adding gratuitous nudity), so we parted ways. Without missing a beat, the acquaintance offered to take up the business partner’s share of the budget. Now we were splitting the cost of the film with $15,000 of my own money, and $30,000 of the acquaintance’s money.
Stop or Finish
The first day of filming on Wait was Monday November 11, 2013, nearly 10 months to the day that I finished the first draft of the script. By this point, I had footed every bill for pre-production and production. No money had come in from the acquaintance. I was anxious. Thanksgiving 2013 rolled around, and I met with the acquaintance, who tearfully informed me that they had lost all of their money — every red cent. They were being evicted from their apartment and would soon be auctioning their possessions. They told me they didn’t have enough money to pay for the meal we were sharing, let alone enough to help finance a feature film. We were halfway through the filming of Wait, and I had virtually no money to finish the film.
I’ll spare the full details of my emotional state at the time, but needless to say, I was scared, furious, and lost. I deduced that I had two options: One, stop filming and lose thousands of dollars on locations and film gear that I already paid for (not to mention, have less than half of a movie in the can), or Two, find the money, and finish the fuckin’ thing. I went with option Two, and I’m still in debt because of it. This was four years ago, and I’m just now seeing the finish line of clearing my debt.
|Nathan Stayton in Wait. This was the last scene we shot before I was told the money had given out.|
This post is not meant to scare. It is simply in accurate representation of my burdensome financial experience of making Wait. If you want to make movies, then you have to make movies. Money is the biggest obstacle, but sadly, it is just one obstacle of many. In being fully transparent, my hope is that filmmakers become aware of what they are getting themselves into when making a microbudget feature film. There is no clear-cut way to finance any film. Just know that it isn’t going to be easy. As I mentioned in Part 1, when you set out to make a movie, you have to be in love with it, because it will stick with you for literal years. On Friday, my post will dive fully into pre-production, thereby explaining where most of that $45,000 went.
Main Takeaways from Part 2: The Money
—There is no one clear way to finance a microbudget feature. Explore all options tirelessly.
—Financing your film yourself will present a massive, years-long burden. Know that and be ready for it.
—If you go the credit card/loan route, for the love of God, find something with low interest rates.
Primary Costs for Part 2: Money
—It doesn’t cost much to find money, but it sure as hell isn’t easy
Emotions to Expect for Part 2: The Money
—Panic that you’ll never find the money
—Excitement when you find the money
—Panic when you have to spend the money
—Dread when you have to pay the money back
How I Made a Microbudget Feature Film