FAST-CHEAP-GOOD

I received the above video in my inbox the other day and on the whole I was very impressed with it.  Obviously, the filmmaker, Dan Blank, is extremely talented and well versed in both production and post-production.  His video is well conceived and executed – and the effects work is really nice to boot!  You can see how everything came together for Dan in his extremely well put together making of video below.  For those of you who have never seen how plates are shot or how green screen is composited, Dan’s video is extremely enlightening.

However, one thing that really caught my attention was how Dan told me that he produced this entire video for around $2,000.00.  And I don’t doubt that he did – Dan pointed out that he spent countless of his own hours and was fortunate enough to have much of his crew volunteer their time.  Not to mention – as evidenced in the above video – he was smart about the way he executed things and gave everything some definite forethought.

So while it’s not my intention to make an example out of Dan – he did a killer job – I must use this opportunity to raise my concerns over something that I have noticed in this industry (and to be very fair -  something that I myself have been guilty of myself in the past!  See below… also pls note I asked Dan if it was OK to use him as an example in this discussion and he was gracious enough to oblige.)

As a filmmaker its enticing to talk about the low costs you had that yielded a knock-out video.  After all, planning and executing a piece of outstanding visual media is HARD and can be EXPENSIVE – especially when everyone is getting paid their standard rates – and I mean EVERYONE on the crew, cast, post etc.  So when you produce something that looks like a sparkling piece of Hollywood glitter for about 1/1000th of the price, its easy to say – hey look what I accomplished for only X dollars.  It’s important for me to say that I don’t want to come off as a a hypocrite.   I’ve been guilty of this too in the past – I did it with Reverie way back in 2008.  I wouldn’t have been able to produce that with no planning over one weekend if I hadn’t pulled a few key favors – and if my crew hadn’t been comprised of good friends/colleagues.  Most importantly – I wasn’t shy about saying that shooting “Reverie”  - “only”- cost me $5,000.  ($2,000 for the helicopter, $1,000 for each model, and $1,000 for the editor…)

I guess that I’m suggesting that we as filmmakers be more responsible about this in general – myself included – because I hear these claims more and more often these days as the cost of technology drops.   And perhaps my main point is:  I’m not concerned with what we say to one another – but what we communicate to producers / clients out there when we make these claims.  When they hear of these low numbers – they come to expect us to do the same for them… and the fact the we produced these things “on our own” and “with friends” all too often gets lost.

As we all know, shooting films/commercials/shorts/viral videos with a paid crew, with the correct permits, security, location releases, and cast is entirely different than doing the same exact film while pulling those favors in (and can be done at a fraction of the price of course…)   If you are able to pull it off with stunning results –  you deserve to be compensated for your talents and efforts – and so does everyone working with you when you do it for a client.

Dan Blank has proven with the above videos that he is a talented filmmaker.  But to say that he made that video for $2,000.00 is to undersell himself.  IMHO – that $2,000.00 should barely cover his fee.  Likewise, there are hundreds of filmmakers out there who can do inspiring things with a camera and are getting paid little to nothing for their talent – all because we have the weakness of spouting off about what we can achieve for less.  Moreover, these budget myths that we create only encourage producers to try and squeeze more out of every dollar.  When they hear that I shot “Reverie” for $5,000 on my own w/ friends – they have a harder time understanding why the exact same production will cost significantly more when everyone involved is paid – from the cops, to the PAs, the locations permits/clearances …. all the way to the rental house (not to mention the proper insurance for hanging your talent out the side of a helicopter!)…

Instead we should make producer’s privy to this little rule that I swear by:

There are three attributes every producer wants out of a production…

FAST-CHEAP-GOOD

…but at any one time you can only have two in my opinion.  So if a Producer wants a production to be FAST and CHEAP – it probably ain’t gonna be GOOD.  Of course we all strive to make GOOD content – and so if we have a smaller budget, we likely will need more time to pull it off well.   If we have to do it fast – we likely will have to through more resources at it – and of course money.  I always spend more money on big productions to make sure I have backups in case something unpredictable happens – i.e. lights and 12X12s or even 20X20s in case a storm rolls in…

In Dan’s case — he made something GOOD for CHEAP.  But I can imagine the countless hours he spent editing and working on the visual effects – so needless to say – it wasn’t FAST.   Most commercials wants things FAST and GOOD – because their time and the talent’s time is very valuable (and so is yours!) which is why commercials are historically relatively expensive to pull off.

Closing comments: Value yourselves as  filmmakers.  Don’t sell yourself short.  Your skills are in high demand, and they are worthy of appropriate compensation. (Special Thanks to Dan Blank for letting me make an example of him!)

And now I leave you with this – so we can end on a lighter note…