How did I pare the budget down to $183,000? How might you do this? One way could be to shorten your mini-contingencies to 5 percent each but retain the 10 percent overall contingency at the end. But I think that may be putting you in harm's way. Another approach, which I implemented in this instance, and it's something anyone can do, is to get student PAs from a college that has a tax-exempt foundation (most do). Speak with the representative at the college's foundation office, arrange a deal whereby any of the students working on the production will be compensated through the foundation, then secure a donation to the foundation of the amount needed to pay however many students you hire. Our production assistants got $50 a day. For twenty-five shooting days, plus one week (five days) of preproduction, that's $1,500 per student. I arranged for a $5,000 donation to the Visual Arts Foundation at the School of Visual Arts, who paid my student workers accordingly. This was no longer considered part of our budget, since I didn't have to put this money in our account and later account for it. There were no points in the film given out for it, and no one needed to recoup it down the road.
SAG did require that a lot of paper work be filled out. My production manager had done this before, so she handled it under my supervision. I kept copies of everything before turning the work in, and sure enough, as I'd been warned, a few things were misplaced by SAG and I had to bring them copies. SAG sounds like a vast, well-staffed organization, and on some level it probably is, but in a department such as low-budget contracts, and in the paper chain all of our forms have to follow throughout the arcanum of the union, things disappear with some regularity. Paradoxically, this erratic behavior on the part of such a megalithic entity was reassuring to me. It made me feel more equal to dealing with them. I found I was allowed to bring things in later than their instructions indicated, and as long as I stayed in touch with them, and didn't let it slide too long, they were more than willing to work with me. Certainly, in all discussions we had, they would reiterate company policy, including warnings of what would happen if I went over budget, in a kind of robotic way. But in such dialogues, I felt my role was to remain cool and acknowledge everything politely, not to be argumentative. During production, when slight alterations in the rules became necessary, I found these same people, on a personal, case-by-case basis, to be more human and tolerant.
There were certain prerequisites for entering into a relationship with SAG. There had to be a copyright notice for the screenplay, which I hadn't anticipated, and time was short, so I hired the Federal Research Corporation in Washington, D.C. (202-783-2700), to rush the procedure through for me, which cost under two hundred dollars. They faxed me the copyright notice for SAG's files, and later mailed me the original.
SAG wanted either 40 percent of the total SAG actors' salaries, or the entire first week's SAG actors' salaries, put into escrow, which meant giving them a certified check for the amount. I was still raising money, and several thousand dollars was a formidable chunk to be tying up for the entire production. But there was no way around it. After the production, when they received their final paperwork and approved it, the money was promptly returned, and I felt like I'd invested in a Christmas Club at the bank. No interest, but my savings were returned just when I needed them.
We dealt with SAG East, at 1515 Broadway, where Nickelodeon and Paramount Pictures also reside. The Times Square area was someplace I occasionally found myself during the five weeks of shooting and afterward, and at such times I made it my business to drop in on my SAG representative even when nothing was due, to show pictures of the production, and discuss how we were doing. Personalizing business relationships is important. When a situation arises where they don't have to bend the rules, but doing so would get you out of a tight spot, if there is already a relationship, it might make them more amenable. It might not, but it's worth the time and legwork to establish the possibility. I drop in on, or call, all the equipment rental houses, the owners of locations, the investors, et cetera. I see it as part of my job, but I also enjoy it, which is one of the reasons I'm meant to be doing my job.
SAG had a minimum salary of one hundred dollars a day in their limited-exhibition contract. The remainder of what their members' regular salaries should have normally been was to be made up in a first position ahead of the investors if money was earned in distribution. I balked at their receiving money ahead of the film's backers, but it was that or nothing. And the total deferred sum wasn't too painful. Under twenty thousand dollars. In all dealings other than SAG, however, I endeavored to place any deferments behind the investors' recoupment position.
SAG never visited our set. They never called their actors to see how they were being treated. However, one of the SAG actors we used wrote the union a letter praising us for our kindness and consideration, and my SAG rep produced this letter from her file to show me. So, in terms of poor public relations, the things you do by two and two come back to haunt you one by one, and, conversely, the effort you expend to keep everyone happy can occasionally come back and be supportive when you least expect it.
As for the digital-video wrinkles in our production, you will find our editor, Gary Cooper, discussed at more length in the final chapters of this book, when we get to postproduction, though the editor ideally gets involved in preproduction, and has input into the script breakdown, the storyboarding, and even the way sound is recorded on set.
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