Aaron Semmel, Executive Producer/CEO, BoomBoomBooya, LLC
Andrew David James, Actor/Fight Choreographer, andrewdavidjames.com
Cirina Catania, Founder and Lead Creative, The Catania Group
James DeRuvo, Editor-in-Chief, DoddleNEWS
Male Voiceover: The Digital Production Buzz is brought to you by KeyPro Flow, media asset management software, designed to meet the needs of work groups at an affordable price.
Larry Jordan: Tonight on the Buzz, we are talking about budgets because creating a realistic budget is at the heart of any creative process. We start with executive producer, Aaron Semmel. He’s the founder of BoomBoomBooya, and producer of both feature films and syndicated television programs. Tonight he explains the budgeting process, the difference between film and TV budgets, and how different members of the financial team work together to create a movie.
Larry Jordan: Andrew David James is an actor, director and producer. While he’s done a number of film projects, his first love is theater. Tonight he talks about the differences in budgeting between theater and film as well as the challenges in working for lower budget non profits to find the money to produce a play.
Larry Jordan: Successful filmmaker Cirina Catania has spent her career creating projects for major studios and TV networks. Tonight she talks about the unique challenge of planning and revising a budget for a major studio project.
Larry Jordan: All this, plus James DeRuvo with our weekly doddleNEWS update. The Buzz starts now.
Announcer: Since the dawn of digital filmmaking, Authoritative: One show serves worldwide network of media professionals. Current: Uniting industry experts. Production: Filmmakers. Post-production: And content creators around the planet. Distribution: From the media capital of the world, in Los Angeles, California, the Digital Production Buzz goes live now.
Larry Jordan: Welcome to the Digital Production Buzz; the world’s longest running podcast for the creative content industry, covering media production, post-production and marketing around the world.
Larry Jordan: Hi, my name is Larry Jordan. Most of the time we talk about technology or filmmaking here on the Buzz. Tonight though, we decided to talk about budgets because without money, filmmaking tends to grind to a halt. While it’s true, you can make a movie for virtually nothing, most of the time I think all of us would prefer to get paid for our hard work. And that means looking at the story we want to tell, and figuring out what it will cost to tell it.
Larry Jordan: On tonight’s show we look at this from three different perspectives, executive producer Aaron Semmel sets the scene by examining the budgeting process and the team responsible for creating a budget for a feature film. Then, Andrew David James has spent most of his life in the theater. He compares budgeting and fund raising for theater to movie making and, as you’ll discover, there are significant differences in their approach and not just in the dollar amounts.
Larry Jordan: Finally, filmmaker Cirina Catania talks about creating budgets with an emphasis on network and cable channel programming. She’s been doing this for a long time, and I’m looking forward to her comments. As we were planning this program, we reached out to several software companies who create tools to help filmmakers budget their projects. While they were not able to participate in this show, we’re hoping to bring them on to talk about their products in the future.
Larry Jordan: Before we start though, I want to invite you to subscribe to our free weekly show newsletter at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Every issue, every week, provides quick links to the different segments on the show, plus articles of interest to filmmakers. Best of all, every issue is free, and comes out on Saturday.
Larry Jordan: Now it’s time for our doddleNEWS update with James DeRuvo. Hello James.
James DeRuvo: Hello Larry. Do you realize it’s only six weeks to NAB?
Larry Jordan: I actually do realize it’s only six weeks to NAB. We are doing some major planning right now for the Buzz to go to NAB and do our regular live coverage. We’re going to be doing almost 100 interviews at the show, and that takes a fair amount of planning, and you’re going to be joining us too.
James DeRuvo: Indeed. I’ll be there every day. As Mickey Mouse says, “Big doings.”
Larry Jordan: Well let’s take a look at the big doings for right now. What’s the news this week?
James DeRuvo: Well, there’s a lot of big doings going on for Panasonic this week, including they have announced the development of an 8K image sensor with a global shutter, and they’ve got a firmware update for the EVA1 cinema camera. The 8K image sensor has a global shutter and is capable of shooting 36 megapixels at 60 frames per second with high dynamic range. This global shutter images the entire image all at once, rather than every other line in a frame like traditional CMOS sensors, and so the promise is that you’re going to get no rolling shutter issues, no image distortion and they’re able to do this without sacrificing high dynamic range because they’ve developed a new split circuitry that devotes all the light imaging information to one side of the circuit and all the color depth to another side of the circuit. It’s very exciting.
James DeRuvo: The EVA1’s firmware update finally after promising last summer, they are going to give us external raw recording and All-I support with long GOP and time lapse as well a whole bunch of other new features that nobody expected.
Larry Jordan: Well that All-I frame recording means we’re going to get a much higher quality on each individual image. But what is a global shutter, and why is it important?
James DeRuvo: A shutter in a video camera can only do a certain section of the image at a time, usually if it’s interlaced it’s every other line, or it’s just part of the image. Whereas the global shutter blasts all the information on a particular frame all at once, so you get everything.
Larry Jordan: So a global shutter’s much more like a piece of film, where the entire film frame is exposed at the same instant?
James DeRuvo: Right, and the benefit is if you’ve ever seen a video of like someone sticks their video camera out the window of an airplane and you see how the propellers have gotten bent and they’re kind of weird, and they’re not even attached to the engine? That’s due to rolling shutter. A global shutter eliminates that. You get this more natural look of like what you see coming into your eye, and that’s going to be a huge benefit for shooting mostly motion and action scenes.
Larry Jordan: Cool, well that’s Panasonic. What else do we have for news this week?
James DeRuvo: Samsung is shipping a massive 30 terabyte SSD. It’s 30.72 terabyte. The 1643 SSD is the latest in Samsung’s ongoing efforts to push the SSD technology. It’s got 16 stacked layers of 512 gigabyte V-NAND chips, and it can fit nearly two years of nonstop playing video on a single 30 terabyte drive. It’s got read write speeds of 2100 megabytes per second for read speeds. 1700 megabytes per second for write speeds. That’s nearly 1,000 times faster than a typical spinning hard drive.
Larry Jordan: Just to share with you, I was checking with Samsung, they have not announced pricing for this unit. But the 15 terabyte version is $12,000, so we’re probably not going to be buying more than one of these in our budget for this week. Who do you think they’re designed for?
James DeRuvo: Well, they’re not only massive, but they’re incredibly fast. The usual design for enterprise storage solutions where you have access to major databases and you need to handle a lot of data, all at once, and with some speed. So it doesn’t take a computer scientist to see that with a read write speed of 2100 megabytes per second, and 1700 megabytes per second, that this is the kind of ideal solution that post production work houses could use for ingesting and accessing of ultra high definition video, and the heavy lifting of visual effects. It’s tailor made for the 8K waters we’re currently starting to dip our collective toes in.
Larry Jordan: I’m looking forward to it. I hope what it starts to do is to significantly drive down SSD prices. So what’s our third story this week?
James DeRuvo: Well our third story has to do with Bitcoin. It seems you can’t do a news story anywhere unless you get a Bitcoin story in there. For the film industry, Bitcoin’s biggest contribution may be the underlying blockchain technology that was designed to verify the transaction history of who owns that crypto currency. The underlying blockchain to Bitcoin could be used to streamline accounting where you could automatically trigger payments to cast and crew, provide proof of ownership of intellectual property, and even manage content distribution in the video and on demand platforms.
Larry Jordan: Well it seems to me that there’s still a lot of buyer beware associated with this crypto currency. What’s your opinion?
James DeRuvo: Well I’m not a fan of crypto because it’s just too volatile, and it’s not backed by the FDIC. But regardless to the actual Bitcoin itself, the underlying technology of the blockchain, that’s another story. I know dozens of friends who have had to deal with unscrupulous producers who promise a payment that never really materialized, and we all know about the infamous net profit participation clause in a contract. With the blockchain, these painful rites of passage for filmmakers could be turned into actual payment for services due. And it’s going to revolutionize the way Hollywood does its accounting, if they employ it.
Larry Jordan: Look forward to seeing that. What other stories are you following this week?
James DeRuvo: Other stories that we’re following include a group of former Lexar executives team up to launch a media company to fill the void left by Micron killing the Lexar brand. We review Transcriptive, for transcribing your audio and post production, and there’s more tutorials for Adobe Premiere Pro.
Larry Jordan: Where can people go on the web to get all of this information?
James DeRuvo: All these stories and more can be found at doddlenews.com.
Larry Jordan: James DeRuvo is the Editor in Chief of doddleNEWS and joins us every week and James, as always, thanks much, we’ll talk to you next Thursday.
James DeRuvo: See you next Thursday.
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Larry Jordan: Aaron Semmel is a television and feature film producer with more than 20 years experience in producing all forms of television, from unscripted reality shows to scripted episodic, to long form miniseries. Hello Aaron, welcome.
Aaron Semmel: Hello Larry, thank you for having me, I’m excited.
Larry Jordan: I’m looking forward to our chat because for the first time, we’re really focusing on budgeting which is something we haven’t talked about a lot. But before we get to that, your title is Executive Producer. How would you describe what an executive producer does?
Aaron Semmel: I often talk about my friends that I grew up with back in Chicago. I’m from Chicago, I live in Los Angeles now. People often ask me what exactly I do. In their heads they really imagine me working an hour a day and then hanging out with movie stars the rest of the time. It’s not exactly like that. I try to tell them the easiest and best way to describe what a producer does, I often say, is anything and everything to get the project done is what a producer does. What an executive producer does and a mantra I live by is dodge bullets and make miracles, that what we do. My job really entails creating or acquiring, for lack of a better term, intellectual property. Whether that be a concept for a television show, a script for a scripted show, an outline for a miniseries, I really create or develop these concepts and then I work with my relationships with buyers such as networks or distributions to partner to finance these dreams and concepts, and then we go out and produce them. I often oversee a lot of the actual production. I work very closely on the creative with the directors and the writers, and the actors usually, if there are some. On the unscripted side I work very closely with what we call the talent, and then hand it off to the distributor or buyer for said release. In those ways, as an executive producer we do try to oversee and have our hands in as much of that as we can, but more often than not, that’s more of a process that’s handled by the distributor or network, and we are just lucky to be told what’s going on.
Larry Jordan: Would you think of yourself more working with the content, or the money side?
Aaron Semmel: Oh that’s why I love what I do. What I do is I believe the perfect blend of both. I get the privilege to be part of that concept creative, overall vision of the project, but then a lot of what I have to do is go find that money and deal with the money. I particularly enjoy the creative side more, but the deal side of the financial stuff is very fun for me. I have a lot of fun with that, because you can get creative with it. When it comes down to actual numbers, often there’s an accountant involved and a line producer. Those are people I work with to inform me hopefully that everything’s going good.
Larry Jordan: Well it sounds like the executive producer makes the deals, and once the deals are done, the line producer figures out how to allocate the money?
Aaron Semmel: Yes. There’s often other producers between the executive producer and the line producer, but yes. And a lot of times line producers are given credits like producer, because the line producer watches the budget, and makes sure that everything’s being adhered to as far as the numbers in the budget. The producers are the guys that are making that happen, they’re taking that money and actually making that happen. So we all work very closely together. Again, it’s what attracted me to this business. The group, the team. I grew up in a very communal environment and the team, the aspect of having people you could count on and work with, who help you succeed, is very important to me.
Larry Jordan: Well tonight we’re talking about budgeting. How would you describe the role of the executive producer in the budgeting process, compared to say a line producer?
Aaron Semmel: Ah, that’s an interesting question. Because again, there’s so many different types of producers, people often get confused. More often than not a line producer is a work horse, a guy an executive producer would hire to oversee the budget. The budget is created by that line producer working with the director, often a production accountant, a supervising producer, the executive producer, all these people weigh in in these early stages of the budget as the line producer and the production accountant put it together. Then the executive producer often steps away where they fine tune that. Usually to the specifications of the executive producer.
Aaron Semmel: We have a term that we say back into a number. We say we’re going to have to back into this number. So if, let’s say, we’re working on a project and just to make up numbers, a $10 million movie is what I, as the executive producer was able to raise and acquire and what we’re moving forward with to make this, then I would tell the line producers and director and production accountant, we’re going to back into this $10 million budget. Then they go and create the budget for us.
Larry Jordan: When you’re creating a budget, do you come up with the basic number, and they have to figure out how to get to it, or do you get down into the minutiae of what you want to do?
Aaron Semmel: There’s two parts of a budget. There’s what’s called the above the line and the below the line. These two parts of the budget basically break down the creative from the actual production of the project. The creative being the directors, producers, actors, writers. They’re in what’s called the above the line and the below the line is the production elements and the actual crew people. So the above the line is often the area that the executive producers play in more often than not, because that involves the actors and the money and the producers and it’s more often than not a big ticket part of the budget. The line producer oversees much more of the below the line budget. They’re like the boss, the controller, the foreman of the budget on set to make sure everything’s going right on set.
Larry Jordan: Clearly the story that you want to tell affects the budget. But how do you decide where to spend money, for example, two characters talking about a moving bus does not cost the same as two characters talking on a moving bus?
Aaron Semmel: That is true. Yes, that’s another part of this business that I do love. The film business is an art form unlike any other art form, I truly believe this. It takes hundreds if not thousands of people to create our art. Most other forms of art form are somewhat singular. A singular artist has a vision and makes something happen. In our form it’s such a collaborative, massive endeavor that incorporates so many people. It’s so important for us to work hard on these budgets and maintaining these budgets and creating these things, and then the creative element is the dream aspect of it, and of course in the creative side we want to give as much rein and freedom to creativity as we can, but at the end of the day there’s only so many dollar bills in daddy’s wallet. So we have to make sure that that creativity can get honed in to a level.
Aaron Semmel: There’s a lot of times where scripts, projects, even films after being shot, are completely changed just to deal with financial situations. Like you just said, the bus is a good example, but even on a production basis, sometimes you take a scene indoor from outdoor. You have an interaction in a garage as opposed to an interaction outside the court room, because then you’ve got more extras to deal with and more hassles. So it’s a fun game of picking and choosing and walking that line of keeping the integrity of the creative but at the same time doing it for a price.
Larry Jordan: How do you know what something costs, when you haven’t created it yet?
Aaron Semmel: Well we try to guess the best we can. A lot of times in Hollywood, we’re not exactly correct. I mean, there’s a lot of times that people go way over budget. You know, the superstars are the ones that come in under budget, under schedule, so it’s hard. We really just do our best and again, it’s a collaborative effort so what I do as an executive producer really is try to surround myself with the people who I can trust to help me through this. The director on set truly becomes the captain of the boat, I believe that, but the executive producer has that job over the entire project. So it’s very important to fill your crew with the people you trust so executive producers often work with the directors to pick and choose our crew because again, the director we want to creatively give them everything we can, but at the same time we have people we trust that we’ve worked with in the past who have delivered for us. So it’s a bit of give and take there you know?
Larry Jordan: What’s the difference between building a budget for film and building a budget for TV?
Aaron Semmel: Two major differences I feel. First of all for a television series, you’re already working in tandem with a distribution partner, the network so to say. It’s very rare that people go and make independent television series, that’s a very rare thing in our business in TV. So more often than not, when you’re moving forward with a project, you already have that distribution partnership and nowadays, the networks like to own everything so they’ll buy the show straight out at a per episode price so to say, and producers in production companies nowadays are more often paid fees, almost like a commission, for making the show for the network. And those fees are what we negotiate for and what we push up in the success of the show.
Aaron Semmel: While you’re making a film, you’re constantly chasing money in the film world. You’re constantly trying to find your next dollar. Even when you’re in a situation that you have a financing partner or a distribution partner in place, you’re still constantly chasing dollars, and creating situations to save yourself money, whether it’s tax incentives, with a partnership with a film friendly state, or it’s through deals you’re making creatively with your talent or whether it’s brand integration that you’re working in, through marketing partnerships. In the feature film world, you’re always chasing that dollar. In the TV world, you are told what your dollar amount will be at the beginning, and you back into that, and your show works off of that number. So that’s a major difference in it.
Aaron Semmel: The second big difference is both budgets flux, but more often than not, because of the first reason in the difference of the budgets, television budgets are much more fixed, and you have to adhere to them much more. Film budgets are very determined on how much money can you get? You look at a script. People might want to make that for $20 million, but if you can only raise $5 million, is that what you go and make this movie for? In the TV world you don’t really go at it and say “I’m going to make a TV show for $500,000 an episode. Oh you know what? I think I can make it for $100,000.” It doesn’t really work like that. It’s a much closer margin on the TV side.
Larry Jordan: Does it ever make sense to come in under budget?
Aaron Semmel: Always. On both sides, that’s the dream. That’s a dream come true. Larry, if you could do that, I’d hire you in a moment. You can leave all this podcast behind.
Larry Jordan: Tempting. I’ll have my resume on your desk in the morning.
Aaron Semmel: That’s the dream.
Larry Jordan: You’ve mentioned that there are different budgets for different parts of production. What do you do if something starts running over budget, besides screaming and yelling?
Aaron Semmel: Well again that’s where the producers from the supervising and line producers, all the way up to the executive producers, have to get creative with what we call dodging bullets and making miracles. We have to figure out ways to make things happen. I was a co producer on Hatfields & McCoys, the miniseries that aired on History Channel several years ago that involved Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton. Let me just use one example in that to show you some of the trials and tribulations that arise while you’re making movies. This was a television budget, which are much more fixed, more rigid, very hard to flux and deal with. Well, we’re shooting Hatfields & McCoys in Romania of all places, which was very interesting, we were shooting a battle sequence, and that sequence was a two day shoot. That two day shoot started on a Monday, we shot all day, we stopped, it was a beautiful 60 degrees sunny blue sky, white puffy cloud day, and somehow that night winter came. This is what happens in eastern Europe. Winter comes, that’s why they say in Game of Thrones, “Winter is coming.” It was like that, it was overnight snow storm. So the next day we woke up and this whole battlefield we were going to film on is completely covered with snow.
Aaron Semmel: So one way a lot of people in our business solve problems is basically they throw money at it, they really do. They pull a dump truck up and dump it, and say “Fix it.” That’s a very expensive way to fix it and again if you come in under budget, you’re the hero, so you try to fix it as inexpensively as you can which means working quick on your feet. What we ended up doing is a very quick reschedule, filming other scenes that we could use to show time transition that were never planned to have snow in it. We never once planned to have snow in that ever really. So at the end of the day we felt like we got lucky we did, and we were able to use it to our advantage. Now we did have to work very hard for those time transitions that we got. We literally were out there in that field while they were filming other little scenes in the woods of people moving through the snow, we were in that field with rakes and brooms raking and brushing the snow trying to help it melt so that the next day we could definitely film there because again, that would start to get expensive. Everyone was, I’m not making this up. Leslie Greif, the executive producer of that miniseries was himself out there with a rake raking down the snow patches trying to get them in the sun to melt it down. So again, anything and everything to get the project done.
Larry Jordan: What advice would you give to a relatively new producer who’s facing their first significant budget? What advice would you give them?
Aaron Semmel: Facing your first budget, wow. I remember the first days as an assistant, working for producers, just coming to understand how budgets and this whole process works. And it’s mind boggling. Everybody thinks that these are just such big dollar amounts that people must be getting rich. It’s just not true. These are big dollar amounts because what we do costs a lot of money. It really does. Like I said before, such a collaborative force. We create an army to go forge a battle against reality and what we win in that battle is a trophy through a lens, and that’s it. We get to create our own reality and that army costs a lot of money. So the best advice I could give is, be creative and pull in every favor you can. The more you can come in under that budget number the better and that is the truth. But my last bit of advice would be whatever money you could get, come in just one dollar under that, you’ll be a hero and you spent all the money you could, which is great.
Larry Jordan: Aaron for people that want to get a hold of you to hire you or throw money in your direction, how can they get a hold of you on the web?
Aaron Semmel: Oh if they want to do that they can find me anywhere. But the best way to find me honestly is just email me. Write to a producer, cut right to the chase, get direct, that’s my best advice. You can find me at my name @gmail. It’s firstname.lastname@example.org. Email me, and let’s talk.
Larry Jordan: And Aaron Semmel is the executive producer and founder of BoomBoomBooyah which is his production company, and Aaron, this has been a fun visit. Thank you so much for your time.
Aaron Semmel: Thank you Larry, this has been great. I’m happy to do it.
Larry Jordan: An actor, entertainer and fight choreographer, Andrew David James has toured throughout America and Europe, working in theater and film but he’s also a writer of children’s books, a playwright, and a producer. Hello Andrew, welcome back.
Andrew David James: Hi Larry, thanks for having me.
Larry Jordan: Tonight we’re talking about budgeting and since your experience is in theater, we’ll start there. What kind of budgets have you been involved with?
Andrew David James: Well, for theater it’s all guerilla financing so we work on a lot of different levels. Everything from short plays to extended runs to touring productions.
Larry Jordan: What do you mean by guerilla financing?
Andrew David James: Generally speaking you’re working under a 501C3 which is a non profit, so you have a season budget but you’re generally always searching for funding via season ticket sales, also angel donors, and all that sort of thing as well.
Larry Jordan: How does a theater budget differ from a film budget, aside perhaps for the number of zeroes involved?
Andrew David James: Which is very often the case. Although there are productions these days particularly with production values for theatrical productions that run as expensive as films. It’s interesting though, one of the differences that you have is generally you’re working within a season for a theater, whereas a film is a completely independent production. You’ll very often have to pull from one theater production in a season that may be more expensive, for instance a musical, where you’re hiring choreographers and bigger sets and bigger production values to support smaller shows that may not be making as much money. For instance, an avant garde play that appeals to a certain audience, you may need to put a ton of money into marketing, that you wouldn’t so much for an Oklahoma or a big time musical.
Andrew David James: I don’t know if you’re hitting this with any of your other people, but one of the things that I found interesting is I just recently was a B unit director on a fight scene, and I found it very interesting to realize that a theater budget, you have so much flexibility and so many options and it’s decided way ahead of time for film. For theater, you’re making it up as you go, you’re trying to re-adjust and that sort of thing, but for film, you’re really locked in and the people who made those decisions aren’t on set. So you don’t have a lot of flexibility and I found that to be an interesting thing as well.
Larry Jordan: Well you’ve mentioned twice now that you budget for a theater series, not an individual production. Why is that so important?
Andrew David James: You can certainly work both ways, but generally speaking, if you have a small theater, either a regional theater or a theater touring house, you look at your entire season and you budget your plays based on what shows you know people will come to see and what shows you put out there to reach new audiences. Hamilton of course is a great example of this in that it’s bringing new people into the theater all across the country, who may not have any legacy of going to theater shows. So you may put a Hamilton in your season to bring people in there, to get people in there, and you have to pay a lot of money to book that show. But you know it’ll sell tickets. Then you may bring something in that’s an unknown show, an original work or maybe a non-musical piece that you want to put out there because you want to appeal to other people who may not have seen Hamilton or who that may not be there cup of tea to diversify your audience a little bit.
Larry Jordan: It sounds like there’s a significant element of marketing in the production budgets you put together?
Andrew David James: Without any doubt, marketing has to be your first consideration when you’re building a season or financing a play.
Larry Jordan: What are some of the other more important light items that you need to put into a budget?
Andrew David James: It’s interesting with theater in reference to film and how you compare the two. Generally speaking, casting is going to be very difficult for a theater production because very often you only have a couple of equity contracts, so your level of paying your performers is set by a union, but you only have two, maybe three, sometimes five or seven of those contracts for a large show. So the rest you kind of have to understand how many performers you can pay, how many performers you’re going to beg to come in and donate their time, and then very often you’ll look at a director, a choreographer, very often a musical director, a set designer, a costume designer, and decide where you want to put your staff pay after marketing. Now the next thing you need to do is decide if you’re going to need to look at space rental, theater rental is generally speaking one of the most difficult. If you have a home theater, you don’t have to worry about monthly rent, but if you’re going to be touring a show, then your expenses are one of the top things you need to look at. What your weekend cost is going to be at a theater. If you need to do two shows on a Saturday or Sunday to cover your rental, and that sort of thing. Generally your first three big expenses.
Larry Jordan: Do you find yourself enjoying the budgeting process? Or is it just too painful for words, but has to be done?
Andrew David James: Well I would obviously make the joke that I know just enough about financing to never want to do it again. But the truth of the matter is that it’s a creative endeavor, particularly with theater. Maybe not quite so much with film or television, but with theater, you’re out there, you’re shaking hands and you’re trying to get people to fall in love with the art you’re going to create. For someone who maybe doesn’t have the time or the ability to go out there and keep acting all the time, it’s a really nice creative way to go out and support the arts, and if you’re good at it, you can work forever as a financier in theater.
Larry Jordan: Well that gets to the bigger question. Where does the money come from?
Andrew David James: Well that depends on how attached you are to prayer, and what you can get in from divine sources. Generally speaking, there’s a large pool of people who believe that live performance and live theater is something that we should be putting our money into, particularly with it being cut in schools so much, you’ll find a lot of people, generally of the older generation who had great experiences in the theater, who want to give their money to local and regional theaters. But they are few and far between when it comes to finding them in numbers. You’ll have one or two people, usually in a community, who support a local theater. They’re the big donors, sometimes 50,000 a year, sometimes more, given what the community might be. And the rest of it is generally speaking season ticket holders who have agreed to renew their subscriptions year after year, or private donors who have a specific attachment to a season or to a play or to a theater group.
Larry Jordan: If you were to give advice to a producer who’s starting out and creating their first budget, what advice would you give them?
Andrew David James: Generally speaking when you speak with other producers who are developing their own way of financing shows, you want to talk about pitfalls that they might hit. Each theater is going to have its own path, but one of my favorite things to tell young people is, when you start financing a show, you want to have an emergency budget because there’s no way to fully plan for everything. So you’re going to have a lot of things that you don’t expect. Generally speaking, my marketing budget is my biggest, and then my theater rental space and then my staff pay. I then put in a significant amount, usually about a quarter of the marketing budget, as an emergency fund, for things that pop up for instance, having to hire an understudy when a cast member gets sick or having to hire someone for a vocal coach when you realize that that’s needed for a production. And the emergency budget is generally speaking your catch all. That’ll save a young producer a lot of headaches if he’s not bumping up right against his maximum budget all the time.
Larry Jordan: For people who want to keep track of what you’re doing and the plays you’re putting on, where can they go on the web?
Andrew David James: The easiest way to find me is andrewdavidjames.com. You can also find me on all the social media.
Larry Jordan: That’s all one word, andrewdavidjames.com and Andrew David James himself is the voice you’ve been listening to. Andrew, thanks for joining us today.
Andrew David James: Thank you Larry, I appreciate it.
Larry Jordan: Here’s another website I want to introduce you to. doddlenews.com. doddleNEWS gives you a portal into the broadcast, video and film industries. It’s a leading online resource, presenting news, reviews and products for the film and video industry. doddleNEWS also offers a resource guide and crew management platforms specifically designed for production. These digital call sheets, along with their app, directory and premium listings, provide in depth organizational tools for busy production professionals. doddleNEWS is a part of the Thalo Arts Community, a worldwide community of artists, film makers and story tellers. From photography to film making, performing arts to fine arts, and everything in between, Thalo is filled with resources you need to succeed. Whether you want the latest industry news, need to network with other creative professionals or require state of the art online tools to manage your next project, there’s only one place to go. doddlenews.com.
Larry Jordan: Cirina Catania is a successful writer, director, journalist, tech evangelist, and filmmaker. She’s also a former senior marketing executive at MGM UA, and United Artists, and is one of the original co-founders of the Sundance Film Festival. Hello Cirina, welcome back.
Cirina Catania: Well hi Larry.
Larry Jordan: Tonight we’re talking about budgeting and Cirina, you were just speaking at the Hollywood Press Association Conference about budgeting. What did you discuss?
Cirina Catania: We were talking about the best and how to make sure that you get what you need from the studio and the network and how to communicate with everyone.
Larry Jordan: I’ve heard that a lot from all of our people, that communication is critical. As a filmmaker who creates programming for network clients, how do you go about putting a budget together?
Cirina Catania: Well, that’s interesting. When I was at the studio I used to do three different budgets. I would do one budget when we greenlit a film. And then we would do another budget when we started production because by that time, you knew what kind of cameras you were going to use, how many crew you were going to have, and the post work flow would be established. Then we would do a third budget right before we went into distribution because by that time you knew how many theaters you were going to have, and what your chances of success would be for the film. So it’s a matter of communicating with all of the keys in every department, and hopefully having an amazing line producer.
Larry Jordan: Well does your budget evolve? Does the number change, or just simply the allocation of what line gets what amount?
Cirina Catania: Sometimes the numbers change. In the beginning you have to really establish a contingency and then sometimes you use that contingency as you get further along, but the object of the exercise is never to go over budget.
Larry Jordan: Yes, Aaron made that really clear. He said if you go under budget you’re a hero, and if you go over budget they take you out back and flog you.
Cirina Catania: That’s right.
Larry Jordan: When you are pitching an idea, are you pitching a budget to go with it?
Cirina Catania: Very rarely. No. Well it depends on what it is. If you’re dealing with a major studio or a TV network, it’s the story first. First it’s the story, then it’s who’s going to be involved with this, and then once you get to talk money, you’ve pretty much got the deal, so you’re working out the details at that point.
Larry Jordan: So you leave the budget behind, once you’ve got them convinced the story is a good one, then you’ll figure out how to pay for it?
Cirina Catania: Yes.
Larry Jordan: Does the network give you a dollar amount and you need to figure out how to fit the show into it, what Aaron calls backing into it? Or is there more give and take?
Cirina Catania: Yes, a lot of times especially for network television, you don’t have a budget anywhere from 350 to 500,000 an hour to three million an hour depending on what it is. If it’s a reality show, it’s a lot less money than an episodic TV series would be. It just depends, but yes there are acceptable budget levels for every kind of show and you have to fit within that.
Larry Jordan: Earlier tonight, Aaron Semmel said that film budgets are much more flexible while TV budgets tend to get locked down early. Would you agree with that?
Cirina Catania: I would totally agree with that. I think there’s a lot of play in scripted films that you don’t have in the television network because they’re committing to a series for example. It’s more common to have a certain number like anywhere from ten to 20 episodes, and the television network knows what they’re allowed to spend on that, and they know how much they’re going to make on advertising and what the profit’s going to be. Whereas on a film, sometimes you’ll back into a distribution deal, so it’s a matter of budgeting the script. Breaking down the script and figuring out what you need for every element in the script and figuring out about what you think you need to make that movie at certain levels, and the above the line is always the last to be figured out.
Larry Jordan: Well I’ll ask you the same question I asked Aaron. How can you figure out what something costs when you haven’t invented it yet?
Cirina Catania: Because you’re dealing from a script. There’s really no way most of the time that you’re going to get a commitment to have something produced based on a one liner or a short synopsis. The first thing they’re … is the script. So once you have the script, then you know what it’s going to cost. I have a script that I wrote a couple of years ago, we had the budget breakdown done, and we know the way that it’s been written and where we want to shoot it, and the elements in the script, we’re not going to be able to do that particular film for less than $3 million…
Larry Jordan: If people throw…
Cirina Catania: But not less.
Larry Jordan: What kind of financial feedback does the studio expect from you, and how often do they expect to get an update on how the money’s being spent?
Cirina Catania: Well you’ve got the line producer who gets the budget approved by the studio and the executive producers and then you have a production manager and a crew underneath them, usually on the set with you. They’re managing the inflow and outflow on a daily basis, so most of the time they’re filing those reports weekly and sometimes daily.
Larry Jordan: As you’re getting ready to commit what seems to be large amounts of money, how do you know if you’ve done your budgeting correctly? How do you reassure yourself that you haven’t forgotten something?
Cirina Catania: Well that’s always the question, but that just comes with experience. And it comes with working with a really great line producer who understands how to break down a script and what the various unions are going to charge and what your residuals are going to be, and all of that. It really does take experience to do that right.
Larry Jordan: In his interview, Aaron said that the holy grail of budgets is to come in under budget, even if you’re only under by a dollar. Would you agree?
Cirina Catania: Yes, absolutely. And I think it’s one of the reasons why we were able to keep our team at the studio for so long, because we never once in all the eight years we worked at that studio, we never once came in over budget.
Larry Jordan: So let’s say that you’re doing a presentation to a bunch of producers. Say at a trade show like HPA to pick a name out of a hat. What advice would you give a producer who was planning their first studio budget? What pitfalls do they need to avoid?
Cirina Catania: They need to make sure that all of their key department heads are experienced and understand what it’s going to take to shoot those scenes. If they’re trying to save money by hiring their friends or people who are not experienced, that’s very scary because you can take one scene and shoot it ten different ways. So you have to have a creative meeting of the minds, and you have to have people on that crew that are experienced enough to know, “We can get this done because this particular stunt person works at this rate, and can give us X amount of stunts.” It’s just every element of the script takes expertise.
Larry Jordan: So, aside from hiring people that have done this before, what other traps have you run into that you’ve learned from?
Cirina Catania: Well there are things like in the middle of working on Flipper we had a hurricane come through the islands. How do you predict that? Or other aspects for example on Rain Man, and I’m using old examples for a reason so that nobody gets in trouble, we had planned all along on doing a whole bunch of publicity with Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise, and as we got further into the production, they made the decision that no, they weren’t going to do that. So in the marketing and distribution aspects of it following production, we had to completely alter where we were spending our money. So things like that do happen. Life is messy Larry, and life on set can be messy, and you can’t always predict everything that’s going to happen. Somebody gets hurt, somebody gets sick, all of a sudden there’ll be weather problems or equipment breakdowns. We wanted to shoot a scene of Tombstone outdoors, and it was raining like crazy that day. The weather came in, so we had to real quick figure out what scenes we could shoot that wouldn’t throw our schedule off.
Larry Jordan: I’ve just spent the last few seconds recollecting, I can’t think of a single time that I’ve been in production where something didn’t go wrong. I mean, that’s just normal. In your stuff, when you’re working with a studio, do you have to worry about a marketing budget and how big a contingency budget do you put together?
Cirina Catania: Usually ten to 15 percent, and you have to at least build in publicity and promotion during production. If you’re at the studio, then you’re budgeting further down the pipeline. You’re budgeting all the way through to the first days of distribution, and then when the numbers start coming in, then you alter your distribution budget based on are you successful in certain markets? Do you want to maintain your co-op there, or do you want to pull from one area to boost it in another area where the film’s doing better?
Larry Jordan: Cirina, for people that want to hire you to produce their next project, where can they find you on the web?
Cirina Catania: They can go to Catania.us or find me on Instagram, Facebook.
Larry Jordan: Or all the popular social media sites. Cirina Catania is a writer, director, producer and the lead creative for the Catania Group and Cirina, as always, it’s a delight talking to you. Best wishes on your next project.
Cirina Catania: Thank you Larry, you too. Take care.
Larry Jordan: Bye bye.
Larry Jordan: You know, I was just thinking. The process of budgeting like filmmaking, is an arcane science. As I asked Aaron, how do you know how much something will cost, when it’s never been created before? Yet, without a solid budget, films would never get financed, and plays would never get produced. And that’s because the people that have the money understand numbers better than they understand scripts. It’s a very unusual person who understands both the world of finance, and the creative world of filmmaking. Generally the left and right sides of the brain don’t meet. Budgets are where they intersect. Whether you’re budgeting with a team of people, as Aaron described, or budgeting as a single individual, as are Andrew and Cirina, it’s essential that we reduce our creative ideas into numbers in order to get them funded.
Larry Jordan: There are two things I dislike about production. One is creating a budget, and the other is assembling a production schedule. And the reason is the same. Budgets and schedules force us to confront the tradeoffs necessary to create anything. In our mind, everything is possible, but then, the real world intervenes. Budgets are how we connect our dreams to the real world, so we can bring them to life. Just something I’m thinking about.
Larry Jordan: I want to thank our guests for this week, filmmaker Aaron Semmel, actor and producer Andrew David James, filmmaker Cirina Catania and James DeRuvo with doddleNEWS.
Larry Jordan: There’s a lot of history in our industry and it’s all posted to our website, at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Here you’ll find thousands of interviews, all online and all available to you today. Remember to sign up for our free weekly show newsletter that comes out every Saturday.
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Larry Jordan: Our producer is Debbie Price, my name is Larry Jordan, and thanks for listening to The Digital Production Buzz.
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