Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Film, Football, and Finance

It's inevitable. Potential film investors will at some point come by a set to see what moviemaking is all about. Of course, they don't show up the night before, when trucks are squeezing into place. They don't show up first thing in the morning when equipment is being staged, actors rehearsed, cable run, generators started, lights focused, sets dressed, props prepared, wardrobe, hair and makeup being done. Nope. They show up just before lunch, when the director is working on the last setup and trying to get the shot before going into grace.

And what do these visitors see? A lot of people sitting around doing nothing.

"What are all these people here for?" they ask. I actually had a director ask that question once, but he was reportedly on ecstasy at the time and couldn't figure out what shot he wanted.

The question reaches beyond films sets these days. Our world has become so overrun with MBA's, who are taught that cutting costs is equivalent to increasing revenue, that politicians and corporate execs are asking it, too.  And potentially screwing up as badly as the director on ecstasy.

I faced the question once by someone who knew nothing about film. Instead of trying to explain it in movie terms, I talked sports.

"Imagine if a business person who had never seen an NFL football game was suddenly in charge of a team. 'Why do we have two kickers?' this person asks."

'Well, one is for field goals, the other is a punter.'

'But that's all kicking, right? Why can't we run that department with just one of them? A field goal, that's just 3-points, right?  And we have more players on the sidelines than we do on the field. Why is that?'"

The film observer got the point, and to drive it home, I told him to watch what happens when they turn the world. (That's turning the camera around to look the other way, for you folks that don't know). I've had a chance to work with some of the best crews this business has to offer. I think you could sell tickets to watch them work.

Of course, that's the major leagues. Just like sports, if you're playing in the minors you make do with what you've got. Indie filmmakers achieve the same thing with less people, but it takes more time – and they don't have a multi-million dollar star with a 12 hour door-to-door contract waiting to work.

So if a film finance person, politician, or corporate executive asks, "can't we do that for less?" the answer may be, "Yes, but it'll cost you more."

Thanks for reading.