Why Transparency On Set Will Save Your Film

Okay, picture this – you are producing your first feature film. It is an indie, low-budget horror film that you were able secure $110k for. Everyone is coming out for hugs and high fives and all your money is being spent on a lead actor, locations and post-production. The crew is comprised of your homies from film school, and there are favors you gotta pay back everywhere you look on set.

No one is getting paid what they are worth, but some are getting paid closer to ‘Scale’ than others. How Transparent should you be with your team?

I know a lot – A LOT – of producers that would argue keeping a lot of the truth surrounding your budget, allocation of funds and potential deals or debts should be kept secret at all costs. I’ve heard this on an indie all of us are friends making a film “Never ever share the budget under any circumstance”.

I completely disagree.

How do we build trust for one another as human beings. Through commitments and actions that come to fruition we generate a form of trust and reliability. It is the fabric onto which our entire society was built. I tell you I will do something, I do it, you trust that I can now do it.

Trust is vital

Building trust amongst a crew is vital to the success of a film. The bigger or a discount someone is giving you, the more you should be very honest and open with how your are spending their investment of time. This is what builds trust on a team.

I like to look at it this way. Let’s say you want to hire a cinematographer who’s normal rate is $8000/wk. You want to hire her for two weeks, so it should cost $16,000 in total… now for your $110k feature film it might be tough to put almost 15% of the budget into the DP. So you cut a deal – $5000. Which means that she is losing out on $11,000. But she really loves your film and you and the concept and all that. This still means that she has invested $11,000 in your film. The practical budget is now $121,000 and you have an $11,000 investor for a DP.

You now have more investors

Because that person in an investor, you should now treat them as such. They are trusting that you will use their investment to the best of your abilities, and you should keep them informed about how you decide to use it if they would like. What if they don’t agree with how you are spending it – well thats a tough but worthwhile conversation you should have. DO NOT try to keep this person in the dark by keeping information to yourself. If you have made certain promises to that person, no matter who they are – follow through on them.

This rule applies for any crew member working on your set – the moment you get a discount from someone, you now have someone who is investing their time an energy into your film. And you should treat them as such.

Honesty is always the best policy

Be honest with people, treat them like intelligent human beings and share with them whatever they want to know about how the movie is being made. They get to learn, you don’t have to feel like you are hiding things, or worse, lying to anyone. And everyone bonds over the mutual creation of something that was once just imaginary. Filmmaking is a beautiful, wonderful adventure – and as your producer it is your job that everyone walks away with more value in their life than when they started.

Lessons and Tips

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