We’ve been following the work of indie filmmaker David Newhoff on gone Elvis, a short film about a returning Iraq war veteran who ends up homeless, living in her car. David’s production notebook chronicles the ups and downs, and unexpected challenges of the four-day shoot. In this installment, we talked with David about financing an independent film project, the budget and where the money is spent.
Copyright Alliance: Since gone Elvis is the product of guerrilla filmmaking – shot with a tiny budget, favors from friends and local businesses, with a small company that moves quickly and efficiently – one might not realize the variety of costs involved, and the local businesses impacted.
David: Despite the fact that low numbers get tossed around all the time regarding indie movie making – “he made a whole feature from loose change he found in his pockets” -- a lot of that is hype. There are things you can get cheap or free, but some stuff is going to cost cash on the barrel, even if one pretends it’s not part of production costs. And the stuff you get free will be paid at some point if the film makes money -- at least it should be.
Copyright Alliance: You funded gone Elvis through a Kickstarter campaign, but that only reflects a part of the production budget. What other factors came into play that enabled you to shoot the film?
David: gone Elvis is being funded by a combination of donations and deferments, deferments to be paid if the film ever makes money. The deferred feesinclude the major costs of any production, namely labor and talent, and sometimes equipment charges. The actors and crew who worked on my film gave me their time and expertise for free knowing that the likelihood of a short making a profit is low but still trusting me to pay them retroactively if it does. All the equipment for the film was also provided as a deferment by a long-time colleague and friend who owns a rental company. The equipment rental fees alone would have doubled the amount of our Kickstarter campaign.
Our Kickstarter donations were raised exclusively to cover all those costs that cannot be begged or borrowed. Even for a short film like gone Elvis, there are many things you just have to pay for, like props, wardrobe, transportation, lodging, meals, and insurance. Setting a goal of $8,750 in a 39-day campaign, we raised $10,215 from 155 backers with a few days to spare. Kickstarter and Amazon combined get about 8 percent of that money right off the top, leaving us with a little over $9,000 to make the film.
Copyright Alliance: You mention the numerous costs that are unavoidable in any production - large or small. Give us a sense of how those costs impact your budget.
David: Insurance is a big cost; and any time you see a film in production for a “few thousand bucks,” you can bet they don’t have insurance. For gone Elvis, working with nearly $300,000 worth of gear and shooting at private and public locations, insurance was an absolute necessity; and it cost nearly 20 percent of our budget.
After insurance, transportation was probably our next biggest expense. Especially with gas prices where they are, location scouting, traveling for rehearsals, meetings, equipment pick-up and return, traveling around for the shoot itself, then bringing everyone together and getting them home cost somewhere between 15-20 percent of our budget.
About 12 percent went to lodging. Although we shot in Upstate New York, the best composition of crew and cast that I could put together via my relationships involved several people from New York City, including our lead actress on whom just about everything depended.
Another 35-40 percent went to props, wardrobe, and meals. We weren’t a large crew, and we ate on an informal schedule; so meals weren’t as big an expense as they can be on many shoots. Also, one of the great things about shooting in regions far from big cities is that you rarely need permits; so we had no costs there.
About 10 percent is still in the coffers and is destined for festival entry fees and, of course, the cost of fulfilling our rewards to our Kickstarter backers. Odds are, we won’t have quite enough, so the rest will come out of my pocket.
So, without paying any fees for labor, equipment, or locations, my 30-minute short cost a little more than $8,000 to get in the can. And that was a four-day shoot with a very small cast and crew. If gone Elvis makes money and I want to repay those who worked on it, I’ll have about a $30,000 check to write. So, the next time you hear “feature film made for $5,000,” take it with a healthy dollop of salt -- and tequila!
*Read all the Copyright Alliance posts on gone Elvis as we follow the project from its inception to its release: