Isn’t it funny how we all want to be taken seriously as movie makers, and yet we won’t do the same for others in our field? The answer is no, it’s not funny. it’s actually a bit hypocritical, and you should feel bad. Sorry to get tough with you, but this is something most indie filmmakers overlook for far longer than they should. Your cast and crew are essential to the success and, more importantly, realization of your film. So it’s not too far fetched to say that they should be compensated for their participation. Aside from this obvious fact, you may be happy to hear that there are actual benefits to paying your actors and crew. I took the liberty of listing them for you.
Who would you rather have in front of the camera? Your best buddy Ralph, who thinks he’s an actor because he makes his senile grandmother laugh with his impressions of a trained seal at family gatherings. Or an actual trained actor, who has performed roles similar to the character you need him to embody? It may be more comfortable to skimp out with your talent, but you’ll rarely achieve the same level of quality in your production than if you hire a more experienced person. Sure, you may have that one sound mixer friend that may throw you a bone and do his share of the work pro bono. But I promise you that in most cases that still won’t get you the best results. The reason being….
You remember when you were writing your script and that English Major friend of yours that was revising it told you that you needed to have steaks in your story? And then you added a scene where your main character goes to the supermarket and buys three pounds of tenderloin and a rack of ribs for good measure. Well she was actually talking about stakes. Why should your main character stop the bad guys from shooting up a deserted building? She wouldn’t. But if that deserted building were replaced with a hospital full of newborn babies? Now you care. That’s the power of having stakes, people are bound to try harder when there is a reason for them to try hard. Money has proven to be an excellent motivator for a very long time. So it’s safe to assume that people, experienced or not, will be more willing to do their best if they see some sort of compensation. Plus they will be less likely to bail out on you if they know it means saying goodbye to a paycheck.
If you end up spending a few thousand dollars making a short film, you will definitely want work your butt off to make it the best it can be. Unless you have money to burn, in which case, donations are accepted. Not only that, but you will probably also work a little harder on finding ways to earn that money back. The thing about being an indie filmmaker is, most of us only want to focus on the creative side of making films. But there is an equally important aspect that we neglect, and that is the business aspect. If you, like me, want to start making money off your films at some point; you need to start learning about selling your product on your own. Spending money to make money is one of many steps on that path.
An actor friend of mine, who I believe is definitely on his way to stardom, recently shared some exciting news with me. While we stood in my kitchen drinking beers, he proudly announced that the past three projects he had participated in had all been paying projects. One of them being my own. He is one of the few people who I can honestly say is in the industry for sheer love of it. But I couldn’t help but to share his enthusiasm about being compensated for his contribution. We all have a long way to go until we can consider ourselves professionals. But we absolutely have to start treating each other as such before others can see us in that light. Remuneration is just a small way of acknowledging the time and effort your cast and crew have spent honing their craft.
There are definitely scenarios when looking for free help is a better option. I definitely think if you’re just getting started you should opt for a cheaper approach to flmmaking. My argument is that if you plan on seriously pursuing as a career, you should get used to spending money sooner rather than later. Also, just because you pay someone it doesn’t mean it has to be out of your own pocket. But you will more than likely have to self fund a few projects (and proven you can turn a profit) before you can approach an investor. Would you guys agree? Have any of you been able to shoot a quality project with no budget? Leave your answer in the comments below!