Moving Into Films: Part 5


Learning the Numbers

Five million dollars!!!! There was no way to for me to pull this off! It looked like I a needed five million dollars to the film. As far as I could see, Bad Blood was dead. Five million f----- dollars! And this was the low budget version! When you make your living as a painter –as I do, you live by faith. You have no idea where your next paycheck is coming from, how long it will take to come, or how much it will be. If you are a person who needs financial and emotional security, do not become a painter. This is a job for the strong and the self-confident. Now what?

Regrettably, I was flat broke. I took a week off to think things over. Fortunately I was busy with a painting commission, which meant that I had a lot of time to do some serious analytical thinking. In case you are wondering what goes through my mind with I am painting, the answer is: absolutely nothing. The act of painting is almost unconscious, automatic and quite boring. I do all the thinking and planning in pre-production, not during the execution. Therefore, unless I am listening to an audio book, I take the time to do brainstorming.

I began to do tabulations in my head and came out with the conclusion that I needed to learn a lot more about film budgeting and financing to make some sense about movie cost figures. I hate dealing with numbers. My family, who never thought much of painting as a profession, hinted many times about learning accounting or some sort of business skill. So, to make them happy, I studied bookkeeping as my high school specialization and gave them the diploma as a gift.

A note of interest: In Puerto Rico high school is a four-year period where students choose between general education or a business concentration program –as I did. The business program required learning how to type, a skill that kept the macho guys away in droves. But the ratio of girls to boys in typing class was 10 to 1. Hey, I was sold –and even found time to learn how to type 75 words per minute! Back then I could have never imagined how useful this skill was going to be in my life (I’m referring to the typing).

Mastering other productive skills did not come so easy. To this day, other than geometry, I hate math! But I wanted to do my movie and there was no way around it. Business is about numbers and I needed to do the figures. So I collected every book on film budgeting and film investment I could find –which, to my delight, were many—and I began to read. I also bought Ralph S. Singleton’s books on film scheduling and film budgeting and slowly digested his wisdom. After a while I felt sufficiently confident and knowledgeable to do a production budget for Bad Blood. By doing so, I could have a better understanding of how much money and how much time I would really need to produce the movie.

I soon discovered that, in spite of my reservations, I was pretty good at doing the math (I never said I can’t do it, only that I hate doing it). What I learned was invaluable. Now I knew how much time it would take to shoot the movie, how much time I would need for pre-production and postproduction, how much everything was going to cost and what kind of crew I needed to get it done. But I also discovered that the budget I would need to produce Bad Blood was still in the seven figures and this was unacceptable. I needed to find a way to reduce the budget and still get my film done. Now all I had to do was think harder.

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