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April 7 at 8:15am

BondIt: The Difficulties & Realities of Producing Films at $1M & Below

By Ted Hope

By Luke Taylor & Matthew Helderman
 
UploadAs every facet of the film industry has experienced, the digital era has drastically shifted the economics of how films are produced, marketed, and distributed. Camera technology has reached a level that provides filmmakers at any stage of their career the ability to produce content with the potential of landing a fruitful distribution deal as the world has witnessed with films such as Beast of The Southern Wild, Like Crazy, Another Earth, and Martha Marcy May Marlene – all produced at 1M or under and distributed theatrically through studios. 
  
The financial ease of production that has developed over the past decade has increased the volume of films produced on an annual basis from 2,000-8,000 – creating a financial ripple effect in the production industry as labor rates, rental rates, and talent salaries continue to decline.
  
Although the shift has increased exposure for filmmakers and the possibility of making films at early stage – the realities of producing at these low levels proves very challenging, every cost counts and not a dime can be spared. Producers struggle with the extremely intensive demands that are required to bring a film in under 1M – wearing multiple hats and negotiating every rate to meet their budget requirements. It’s not uncommon for a producer to be the line producer, production manager, locations manager, and transportation department. At the end of the day – the film needs to get done, and producers will work absurd hours to bring the film in on budget. 
  
As this “new era” of filmmaking economics has replaced the traditional model – tension has risen between producers and the unions that protect their working members as they struggle to match the evolving landscape. To cope with the change – SAG, IATSE, and DGA have implemented tiered stages that lower the scale rate given the bottom line budget of the film – aiding the situation, but certainly not resolving. Films produced for 1M and under attempt to (and often successfully) avoid unions all together. The cost of fringe benefits, scale rates, overtime costs, production penalties for scheduling inefficiencies, payroll, and various other union-related expenses grossly exceed what these productions can afford. The simple fact is – union crew are willing to work non-union, because that is where all of the work is. It’s a matter of survival.
  
However, regardless of budget size, all producers have the same end goal – sell the movie and make money. How do you recoup your investment? Internationally bankable cast.
  
Nearly every film produced files as a SAG production because often the only way producers are able to secure their 200k-1M is if they secure bankable cast with foreign sales projections that prove lucrative. Securing these higher-caliber cast members may prove lucrative on the backend, though it instantly cuts the legs off of the production budget – making the film nearly impossible to come in on budget and forcing producers to achieve miracles just to get through their meager 15 day schedule.
  
The tension between unions and producers escalates further during the final week or so before heading into production when they approve their workers for use pending one final requirement- a security deposit.
  
Producers and production companies are required by all unions to front very high security deposits in the amount of their payroll running through each union. These deposits essentially serve as an insurance purpose for the workers as it guarantees their contracted payment if production defaults. The deposits are held until production fully wraps, files all of their production paperwork filed correctly, and passes through every department at the union. Unfortunately, due to union backup and strict protocol, this takes months — crippling the film’s financials. The lack of liquidity creates production cash flow issues, post-production delays, and forces producers to chase down union representative for months in an effort to get their money returned under harsh deadlines. 
  
From a producer’s perspective – it’s a slap in the face and yet another roadblock thrown up from the film unions in an attempt to dissuade producing low budget content. From the union’s perspective – it’s a legal and protective measure to ensure professionalism and proper working conditions. Both sides have validity. 
  
In an effort to ease tension, create efficiency, and provide stability for each side during this evolving “new era” – a solution has been introduced to the market – BondIt. BondIt is a financial tool that provides low budget production’s with the liquidity they desperately need and provides unions with the financial surety they desperately need. 
  
BondIt covers the deposits fully – relieving the financial burden of losing massive chunks of cash shortly before production. The union still receives the full amount, protecting their working members. Once production wraps – BondIt works directly with the union, tracking the production paperwork and ensuring delivery of all necessary items. Producers no longer need to spend time and money – and more importantly, tension has been eased and both parties are happy.
  
As the world has witnessed in other industries – particularly the music industry – it is a futile and fruitless endeavor to work against shifting economics due to technological advancements. Adapting to changing models will always prevail and creating harmonious solutions are never impossible. 
  
Film budgets may be shrinking, but film production continues to rise. The industry is segmented and in a state flux – it is a balancing act that needs constant attention in order to thrive. 
  
Close the gap. Find solutions. 
  
Buffalo8-CircleLogo-Medium-SCREENBondIt was founded by independent film producers Matthew Helderman & Luke Taylor of Beverly Hills based Buffalo 8 Productions. Having produced 30+ feature films, the team recognized a dilemma in the production process — union deposits — and launched BondIt to resolve the situation to assist producers & union representatives alike.


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