Don’t Make A Credit Card Movie

Making your first feature film. It’s a bug that gets up the butt of every new filmmaker at one time or another. It makes a lot of sense really – feature films are taken more seriously than shorts and they have the opportunity to make a profit, where shorts don’t. But one of the first mountains many filmmakers face is the challenge of finance. Where do you get the money to not just make your film, but pay your bills while you’re not working and out there making films.? Whatever you do, don’t whip out the credit cards.

The Costs Will Balloon Exponentially

Filmmaking is expensive. That’s a fact. But don’t double the price of filmmaking by charging purchases to a credit card. Now I stress this point because I’ve made a lot of dumb decisions financially and things you think about with your financial thinking cap on go out the window once you put your creative thinking cap on.

So say for instance, you use $20,000 worth of credit card debt to make a film. Now that’s a low budget production, but maybe, you think you can get the job done for that much plus favors. But let’s look at the brass, financial tacks.

Say for instance you have a couple credit cards and they average at a rate of 11%. If the lenders charge you a minimum payment of the interest plus 1% of the the balance (a generous, but responsible way to figure a minimum balance, you make that minimum $100 payment, and your grandkids will be paying for your first feature.) you’ll have to pay $383.33 every month. What lenders don’t tell you, is that if you only make the minimum payments, you’ll be paying this bill for 394 months. That’s 32 years. And when you’re old and grey, your $20,000 film will have cost you about $3,800. And the other $17,903.17 wouldn’t have made your film any better… it just would have gone to the bank.

Now if you started saving $384 every month, you’d have that twenty grand in about five years. That’s just putting money under your mattress, because even if you put it into a account that returned 1%, you’d be doing a smidgen better. But to be clear, spending twenty thousand dollars on a twenty thousand dollar film is better than spending thirty eight thousand dollars on a twenty thousand dollar film, right? No matter how creative you are, this is just true. The only difference between the two films is, you can spend a lot more money making a film today than if you save some cash and do it tomorrow.

And don’t miss a payment. Missing a payment can jack your interest rate up to 19-24% interest! So while you were, ‘smart’ and you’ve budgeted to make this payment, you didn’t plan to get pregnant down the road, did you? You didn’t plan to get injured and miss work, did you? You didn’t plan to lose your job, did you? The banks kind of don’t care. They just want that money back, just as bad as you wanted it in the first place. It’s really a vicious cycle.

“But I’m Going to Get Paid From a Distributor”

OK, you think you’re going to get paid out by a distributor when your film’s done. Let’s do the math here. You’re going to pay that $384 every month for 36 months, which means you’re still paying an extra $5,600 that you didn’t have to. This is much better than seventeen thousand, but a distributor will generally only give you 10-25% of what your film is, ‘worth,’ as a distribution advance. Now if you knock it out the park, and make a film for $20k that looks like it’s worth $100k, you may only get $10k as an advance. So at this point, you still owe $2,000 to the credit cards! Yeah, you’ve paid $13,824 (rounding up to $383 per month) and as they get the film into Wal-mart, on to cable and pay-per view, as a profit is made, you’ll get a little residual check that may or may not be $384 per month. Can you refi the debt, roll it into another card, blah, blah, blah? Sure, but if you’re going to be that savvy with your money, JUST SAVE THE MONEY IN THE FIRST PLACE.

There is No Shame in the Game

There’s no shame in being broke and unable to shoot a feature. There’s definitely no shame in being financially responsible and choosing not to shoot a feature until you’re ready. Don’t borrow money from the Russians. Don’t sell your mother’s TV. Bide your time and be creative. Biding your time doesn’t mean sitting on your thumb. You have more image quality in your cellphone than Hitchcock had at his disposal. Go shoot something. Go shoot something fun,  something you want to shoot. So what if you don’t have a camera. Without the practice honing your storytelling skills, you’re going to blow that twenty grand anyway. If you can’t tell a good, visual story, any budget you have will look ten times cheaper instead of five times more expensive.

And if you’re under all of that debt, how are you going to make your next one? You’ll probably try to figure out how to make some no budget films, and realize, hey, I should have done this from the beginning.

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