by David Barrow
Creative people don’t like making estimates. What they really want is for someone to tell them to go out and produce the most amazing thing possible and then charge what’s fair. Of course, clients rarely make that kind of commitment, and who can blame them. Give a filmmaker an inch, and they’ll take a helicopter shot and two car crashes. Throw in some underwater work for good measure.
The downside of accuracy
On the other hand, an estimate is just that—an educated guess about the final cost to the client. And it’s possible for any production company to supply a relatively accurate estimate for any project, provided they follow these guidelines:
- Give the client only what they asked for
- Always follow your interpretation of what the client asked for, not what the client may later think they asked for
- Don’t take creative risks
- If doing something to improve the production costs a dime more than the estimate allows, don’t do it
- Settle for the first take whenever possible
- Add twenty percent to the estimate for unknowns
Problem is, creative people dislike that kind of work even more than they dislike creating estimates. They entered their profession precisely because they enjoy taking creative risks, exceeding expectations, and making the most of resources to create something extraordinary.
In fact, if you put too tight a leash on your creative partners, you cheat yourself. By nature, they want to over deliver. You don’t want to kill that impulse by telling them, implicitly, that you want only what you ordered, nothing more.
Bridge the gap
The way to bridge this gap between complete open-endedness and inspiration-killing constraints is to realize that the development phase of your project includes budget development. When a client comes to us initially for a quote, we can only “hip shoot” the final cost, and we tell them that. That number is a starting point that can go up or down, depending on the details that emerge in development. It can tell the client if their expectations for the cost of their project are completely out of line. It can open up a discussion of options that can increase or decrease the cost of the project.
As the concept and the script for the project are developed, costs can be much more accurately predicted. Options are added or eliminated. Techniques are considered or dismissed. But the one thing you can nearly always depend on is that a truly creative company will want to make the most of what they have to work with. Again, it’s in their nature.
In the final analysis, you don’t have to accept every bell or whistle that’s offered, but neither do you have to say that a bell here or whistle there is out of the question. Work with your creative partners. You might pay a little more than anticipated, or even a little less. Either way, by keeping an open mind, you’re likely to get more than you bargained for.