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Producing

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Building a production budget is arguably the most important part of the filmmaking process. It creates the framework for the project, a rough outline for what will eventually be a film. But, it’s also one of the least fun parts of the process as well, probably just because it’s so damn difficult. There are an infinite amount of moving variables and unknowns — yet another reason building one is so important.

Micro-budget filmmaking is not for the faint of heart. You end up wearing multiple hats, taking on debt, asking friends to work for free, and toiling away on a project — likely for years — without seeing much (or any) monetary return on your investment. Not to mention it’s highly unlikely you’ll attach a star of any kind at this level, so getting press or festival attention for even a great film can be challenging.

A music supervisor isn’t necessarily a household title, partially because it tends to be a “high-end” job, reserved for agencies and in-house brands that not only see the value in music but also have the budget to pay someone to seek it out for them. Still, Alec Stern, music director for DDB Chicago and We Are Unlimited, thinks the heyday for music in film is right now, and not just for iconic ad agencies:

For the past year we’ve been traveling around the world making short films about filmmakers and musicians, capturing amazing creatives in their environments, digging into what exactly makes artists tick. We’ve gotten pretty good at telling other people’s stories. But one thing we haven’t done much of is tell our own. We haven’t made sales-y commercials about Musicbed. We haven’t put out slick promos announcing new features. And the reason for that is — at least for us — Musicbed is about so much more than just licensing music. It’s about creativity and artistry. It’s about creatives and artists. To talk about Musicbed and not talk about artists seems sacrilegious — close to impossible, actually.

Where Tim Pierce and Toby Crawford are tells you a lot about who they are. It’s not just that they live in Wanaka, New Zealand — population: >7,000 — it’s that they stayed in Wanaka, New Zealand, when most other production companies would have packed their bags for New York or London by now. But to leave their hometown (both Tim and Toby grew up and went to school in Wanaka) would be to commit the gravest Two Bearded Men sin imaginable: not being themselves.

It takes a lot of people to make a film, but only a handful of them get much credit. Director. Cinematographer. Editor, if he’s lucky. The end credits go on and on, but few people understand what all of these people even do. For example: the producer. It’s a nebulous, seemingly catchall term for someone who does the nitty-gritty work of putting a production together. But while the title might be ambiguous, it requires a very specific type of person. A mix of optimist and realist. A relentless self-starter. A serial entrepreneur. A person like Jens Jacob.

“Ignorance is bliss,” Isaac Testerman says. “Everything we did was taking the bull by the horns, not knowing if what we were doing was the best way to go about it. We were just doing things the best we could.” After making his first short film with zero filmmaking know-how, Isaac went on to cofound Delve, one of Facebook’s lead creative agencies. Now, seven years later, what Isaac and his team lack in formal training, they make up for with gusto and experience.

Carl Sprague is a busy guy. You can see it in our conversation with him below. But, more importantly, you can see it on his résumé. Since he began building theater sets at Harvard University (he says it was more rewarding than directing actors), Carl has worked in the art departments of more than 30 films, including Oscar winners like The Social Network, 12 Years a Slave, and The Grand Budapest Hotel. While his collaborators include Stephen Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson…

Making a film is one thing. Making money on a film is something else. And nobody knows this better than Mia Bruno, producer of marketing and distribution for Seed&Spark, a new crowdfunding, direct to consumer platform that’s currently disrupting the more traditional, entrenched distribution models. “Most filmmakers want the same thing,” Mia told us. “They want to pay back their investors, and they want to make their next film. So the question is how do you do that?”

On certain levels, developing a production budget is the same regardless of the type of film, whether you’re diving into a personal project or developing branded content for a client. We’ve already tackled a few notes on developing a production budget on the personal side, but after speaking with producers Sarah Schutzki (Feral Creative) and Zanah Thirus (BBDO Atlanta), we decided the commercial side deserved its own article.