Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Another Day, Another Blog Post

So, here we arrive at that hour of the morning, where, inevitably, I say to myself, "Self, Self I sez, you haven't posted a blog entry today. What are you gonna write about? Huh? Huh? Huh?"

While repeating "Huh" over and over, Self also pokes me in a most annoying fashion until I either come up with something absolutely brilliant to post about or just start typing and noticing that whatever they say, there are words showing up on the screen. Words showing up on the screen indicates accomplishment. Yeah, I'll go with that.

Today, let's talk about film budgets.

You may or may not have heard the terms Above The Line and Below The Line. In film budgets there is a literal line that separates two general types of expenditure. Above The Line, you'll find things like the Producers' Fees, Story Rights, and the big one: Star Salaries. Its not unusual for the Stars Salaries to represent a highly disproportional percentage of the total budget.

Below The Line, you find everything else. The equipment you need to rent, the crew in every department, the caterers and the cost of meals, the sets you'll need to build, the cars you need to rent, the hotel rooms you'll need, gas and tolls...everything. In other words, the Below The Line budget is the amount of money you've got to actually make the movie.

The way I get work is that usually I'll get a call asking me if I'm available for a certain period of time. If I am, the next part of the conversation is where they'll tell me a little bit about the movie; what's it about, who's directing it, are there any stars attached? This is all information that I'll take into account before I decide whether or not its a job that interests me. At some point when I feel comfortable enough, I ask the Big Question? What's the budget?

For a long time, I was hesitant to ask the Big Question because it seemed...a little personal. Like, what business of mine is the budget. I got over that quick. Knowing the budget tells me a lot about what kind of job it will be. Will I have enough money to hire a good staff? Can I afford reasonable fees for the locations I'd be trying to find? Is there adequate money for all the behind-the-scenes unglamorous stuff that needs to happen every day? So, I no longer hesitate to ask the Big Question.

Furthermore, once I've asked the Big Question, I ask what part of that is Below The Line, because frankly, that's the only number that matters to me. Once, I was having this conversation, and after being told that the budget was in the "Ten Million Dollar range", I asked about the Below The Line. The producer's assistant I was speaking to said something unintelligible. I asked him to repeat himself. He mumbled, but this time I was able to decipher that the Below The Line on this Ten Million Dollar picture was less than Two Million.

I didn't take that job. (In hindsight, I don't have any recollection of that movie ever being completed or released.)

On another front, there's a blog called Life Below The Line that I like. Its written by a woman who works in the sound department for films and TV commercials. She's anonymous because, as she says, "you can't afford to piss people off when you need to eat." (I figured out who she is once, and I've worked with her, but since then I've forgotten who she is, so she's in no danger of me spilling the beans.) She doesn't post very often, but I usually enjoy her posts, so hey, go have a look.

I had one other thing I was going to talk about today, but I see I've met my bloggerly duty with enough words, so I'll save the other thing for another day. Woot, a stashed away post idea.


Shawn Powers said...

Write that idea down. They are fleeting, blog ideas are.

And cool insight into the film industry. Really. Most of us, I suspect, haven't the foggiest idea how things actually work.

Nathan said...

Write that idea down.

Damned straight! I added the new one to my list and promptly deleted the other four ideas that were already there because I bored myself just reading them.

Janiece said...

Very cool. I have no clue when it comes to the entertain biz. Reading your bits is like reading Star Magazine, without all the annoying celebrities and dog-faced babies.

And Nathan? I keep a list, too. How geeky are we?

Nathan said...

Oooh! Dog-faced babies is definitely going on the list.

MWT said...

Hey, nothing wrong with lists! I keep several.

The sad thing is, I almost never actually use them. They always sound great when I'm writing them down, but then when I go back to look ... not so much. Then a long while later I'll figure out how to incorporate one of them into a completely different post.

I'm definitely enjoying the film industry tidbits.

Random Michelle K said...

You all keep lists?

I just spout crap off the top of my head.

That explains a lot, doesn't it.

Nathan said...

Yes, I keep lists. Do I do anything with them? Well, I spout crap off the top of my head. Then when I decide I've got enough words, I stop and put the leftover idea on the list. Then, the next time I look at the list, I channel Caretaker Willie and say, "Its Crrrrrrrap!"

BTW, That "next lunatic idea" I was threatening? It was on the list. "Its Crrrrrrrap!"

I will come up with something else, though. That's a promise and a threat.

Anonymous said...

Oh, lists? I keep spreadsheets... prioritized, categorized & sorted. And sometimes when I'm feeling totally over-the-top I keep iCals or project plans.

Just plain handwritten lists on scratch paper are for lightweights. ;)

Great, fascinating post about the movie biz!

Nathan said...


Are we talking about lists for your actual real life with work and home and stuff you gotta do type things.

Or lists for your blog, in which case that's a little obsessive even by my standards. :)

Anonymous said...

Lists for my blog. Lists for my fiction projects. Packing lists. Grocery lists. Honey-do list. Budgets. Errand lists. Christmas wish lists. Vacation itinerary lists.

Really, if it's worth doing, it's worth listing. I'm just saying. :)

And don't even get me started on work -- 5,000 line project plans, multi-tabbed issue lists, and long, detailed contract management spreadsheets.

I probably should write my own blog post about obsessive compulsive listmaking.