Circling The Perimiter When producing, you’re on the outside looking in. Organizing your staff should be your number one priority. Your first job is to hire a dynamic, confident line producer who will represent and oversee the day to day running of your set. Then you’ll be free to take meetings, visit the set, keep everyone on track, give advice when needed, and of course, pay the bills.

In preproduction and development of a film I’m at the centre of the action. There is little anyone can do to help me budget the film, other than suggest that we need a piece of special equipment or  how we can shoot a scene.

In the preproduction of the film The Sweet Life, line producer Brian Gunther, assistant director and production manager Glenys Eldred hired the crew, cast the roles, found locations for the shoots, and got all of the agreements that needed to be completed before production began signed.

Personal Experiences

All of my professional life I’ve avoided dealing with unions. I feel that they can be disruptive, leaving me with no room to maneuver when things do not go as planned. When they are involved I get embroiled in regulations that take up valuable time better spent on the film.

Consider the same about completion bond companies. They offer an insurance policy that guarantees your film will be finished on time, no matter what problems may occur. The initial cost of a completion bond is around 6% of the film’s budget, but half of that can be recouped providing nothing has gone wrong or delayed the making of the film. Completion bond companies require bookkeeping notes on a daily basis. If you fall behind on the delivery of your film, you had better watch out; they have been known to show up on set threatening to oversee production. In extreme cases completion bond companies have impounded the producer’s salary to make up for loses before investing their own money in the production’s rescue.

This happened to the film The Substitute, and it nearly happened to Wes Craven’s film The Swamp Thing. In that instance, the acidic water in the swamp was eating away at the latex suits the stuntmen were wearing. Every time the stuntmen came out of the swamp, their suits would be falling off. Consequently, production fell behind schedule. One day someone turned up on set that was not part of the usual crew. After a while, Wes finally asked this person who he was. He was told that the visitor was a representative from the bond company waiting for the film to fall even further behind. Fortunately the film did not fall further behind and finished on time. However, if a bond company takes control of a film they will complete it as cheaply as possible, with no regards to the director’s vision.

I am unsure if a completion bond company would get involved in a film with a budget under $2million, but it was not a consideration for the film The Sweet Life.

Casting advertisement was placed in Backstage, promoting The Sweet Life as a non union film. Despite this, still a number of applications from SAG members showed up. Three SAG actors for the film Street Trash were hired and stipulated in their contracts that they knew the film was a non SAG production, and that the film would pay all of their fines. The film was released and all three had to appear in a court of their peers. The only surprise was that one of the actors was fined twice the amount of the other two.

Dealing With The Unions

One of the ways any producer can trim their budget is to hire student PA’s from a college that has a tax exempt foundation. As a producer, you can talk to the college’s representative and agree to donate to the foundation. The foundation will then pay the student’s salary. This is not considered to be part of the budget and therefore does not have to be recouped further down the road. There is a lot of paperwork required by SAG for this process.

One last note, SAG often wanted ~50% of the total SAG actors’ salaries put into an Escrow account.