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DIFF: Talking Budgets Big and Small


by Stephen Becker 13 Apr 2010

Monday afternoon, the Dallas International Film Festival held the first of its Industry Speakeasies on the Central 214 patio at the Hotel Palomar. The idea is to get together people involved in various aspects of the film and television biz to talk about a particular issue. Monday’s topic was billed as “The new film revival […]

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Monday afternoon, the Dallas International Film Festival held the first of its Industry Speakeasies on the Central 214 patio at the Hotel Palomar. The idea is to get together people involved in various aspects of the film and television biz to talk about a particular issue.

Monday’s topic was billed as “The new film revival in Dallas: Why are so many projects shooting here and what you can do to be next?” In the hour that I sat in on the discussion, I don’t recall that first question ever being pondered (which was kinda the reason I went). But the second, more practical part led to plenty of tip swapping among those in attendance.

Anytime you get more than two indie filmmakers in a room together, it takes less than a minute for the topic to turn to one of two things: budget and distribution. And Monday was no exception. But what made the discussion interesting was hearing how filmmakers at different budgetary levels fight the same problems.

First, the low budgets:

Justin Hilliard is a Dallas director working on the follow-up to his film The Other Side of Paradise, which played last year’s festival. And he’s doing everything short of opening a lemonade stand to finance it – including raffling off the car used in TOSOP.

“I’m going to do whatever I can to make money back for our investors even during pre-production,” Hilliard says.

Clay Liford is in a similar boat. His Earthling is playing this year’s festival (Wednesday, 4:15, Angelika). It’s an artsy sci-fi movie that’s sort of hard to sum up in one sentence – which can make pitching it difficult. But that didn’t stop Liford from being practical when considering its budget.

“You can tell any story you want to tell,” he said. “You just have to make sure that your budget is proportional to the number of people who will realistically pay to see it.”

Sounds reasonable enough, but when your movie is your baby, it can be easy for spending to get out of control. Which is not a problem that only small-budget filmmakers face.

Reel F/X CEO Ed Jones deals with budgets that dwarf what indie filmmakers have to work with. But he’s still got to turn that big pile of money into an even bigger pile at the end of the day. One of his solutions is telling the same story across multiple platforms.

“From a storytelling point of view, no matter what medium you’re in or how much money you have, with transmedia, you have the ability to get that story out,” he said.

And monetize it. For Reel F/X, that means coming up with all of those online applications, books, merchandising, etc. that support its films.

So does that mean we could see the novelization of Earthling? Or The Other Side of Paradise lunchboxes? There’s probably as good a chance of that happening as there is seeing Jones holding a carwash to fund the next Reel F/X project.

But if there was a common thread running through Monday’s discussion, it was: If you don’t know how to budget your current film, you probably won’t be making another one.

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