This week's retro wednesday post comes from 5 years ago! I was a lot wordier back then.
This is a post all about dealing with money as a producer. If you are about to venture into a project, here are some tips from my former self:
July 25, 2008
It's my money and I'll spend if I want to
So, I thought I'd take a little bit of time today to talk about the title "Producer" and some of the misconceptions there are about producers. First and foremost contrary to popular belief, producers do not always have boat loads of money. There are a fewexceptions to the rule, but for the most part, there are very few full time producers. If you are producing on the independent level, you most likely have another job. Also, a producer is not always the person putting up the money for the show. Most of the time in fact, that money is raised.
Many first time producers feel that they are responsible for the entire financial burden of a production, and often end up spending money they do not have. If someone asks you to be a producer on their show, you really need to take the time to find out what they are asking for. Some people are really looking for someone to manage their show, while others are solely coming to you for finances. It's important to iron out this idea before you end up saying yes to being a producer and then being asked to pay for everything and have no say in the production. Technically, that makes you an investor. In any case, remember one thing:
Your money is YOUR MONEY. If you are the one raising money for a show or putting up your own personal money, don't let any one tell you how to spend it. I have seen many producers end up in over their heads because they let someone else dictate how the money would be spent. I had this problem when I first started producing. I spent in places I shouldn't have and the show ultimately did not look any different. So here are a few simple rules for managing money when producing a show:
1. What do you NEED- I once had a theatre professor who stressed that to do a show all you needed was actors and an audience. He also told me that if you say you need an item on stage like a door, someone has to install that door and make sure it opens and shuts properly, is level etc. One thing always leads to a bunch of other things. So, if that door is never actually used or if you can get away with an entrance happening from off stage and a door being mimed, you can save money. As a producer, be scrupulous about what you NEED. You'll have directors and designers telling you they NEED intelligent lighting instruments and a chandelier, but it's ultimately your call. You know what you have to spend and sometimes you have to be the person who says "NO"
2. Careful with comps- It'd be great if we could let every member of your lead's 41 person family into the show for free, but the fact of the matter is, that means you'd sell less than ten actual seats in the show and end up having a full house and only having the money from 1/4 of a house. Comps are nice, but if you don't limit them, your show will not make money and you may have to turn away paying customers because those seats are already filled. You need to be strategic with comps. Offer them to industry people, bloggers, and people who will hype your show. Do you have to ask your best friend's Grandmother to pay? Even I'm not that cheap, but I also think if someone's girlfriend is at the show for the 16th time and is expecting a comp, you have to be realistic. For a revolutionary new way of thinking about comps check out this posting by Ken Davenport.
3. Know your limits- If you have a budget, then stick to it! It's very tempting to say that you'll make that extra $50 you spent on the batman mask back in ticket sales, in reality, you should NEVER bank on ticket sales. If you don't have the money, again refer to number 1. Do you absolutely NEED that item? If the answer is no, put your credit card back in your wallet.
4. Nothing is FREE- Remember no matter what you're told, there are expenses attached to everything. Someone may offer you free rehearsal space, but you're probably going to have to have that space covered under your insurance, which will cost money. You may get costume items donated to you, but that doesn't mean the donor will also pay the dry cleaning bill. You may even find a designer who will work for a really low fee, but that doesn't mean that they will foot the bill for all of the supplies they need to do the job.
My point? In everything you say "yes" to, there is money involved and you have to be aware of each and every purchase you make because there are almost always other purchases that will come from that first one. Imagine all of the expenditures for your show and add a "batteries not included" tag to it and you should be fine.
Remember, spend wisely and you'll live to spend another day.