Saturday, June 16, 2012

Creative Buying 101 -- Costumes and Props and the Budget

As we go through the development of the Demonspawn web series, more issues arise that we have to make decisions about. These issues are in the category of line items that must be funded. The question is how we will fund them. For example, do we rent or buy costumes? Renting seems like a great option, especially for the flashback scenes to the distant past. After all, there are some cavernous warehouses filled with costumes from all eras that are surprisingly affordable when looking at an individual garment. But the rental fee per garment is not all that has to be shelled out. Some costume houses require a deposit of a couple times the total fee to hedge against damage or loss. And often, the selection in an actor's given size is not the greatest. And sometimes the condition of the garments is not the greatest (some are decades old and have been rented many, many times). When we shot TheGunslinger, this became a big issue. After a lot of Googling, we found a lot of sites that sold authentic western gear to reenactors. The prices were great and the quality was amazing. Most importantly of all, the actors really loved wearing the garments. That was a really important lesson we learned from that shoot was that costumes – even in the smallest production – are extremely important for an actor to get into character.

We have an advantage with this first story arc, because the flashback is to the Victorian era. Now, like many fads, Steampunk is annoying. Much of the design is random and silly and has drifted from the original style (Jon has followed it for decades). However, the proliferation of the style in pop culture has made for a great many high quality, affordable options for costumes. We can age them if we need to. Usually that means gently laundering them to make them look 'lived in.' The other advantage of buying costumes – no matter what era – is that we're making these shorts and webseries with something longer in mind. We may need to shoot new material. It is very risky to do that assuming that we could rent the exact same costumes. They may have been rented by another shoot, or they may have been retired. That sometimes happens when a costume is either too old to rent or it's discovered that it is insanely valuable. That happened with Scarlet O'Hara's picnic dress from Gone With the Wind. That was being rented with their Holloween costumes for the public! The only real issue for us is storage space. If this becomes the ongoing project we expect it to be, we'll need to rent a storage space so that they can be kept properly.

The modern clothes are really easy. And no, we don't buy a bunch of clothes from stores, clean them carefully and return them. I know this is common for indie films. I've been in a wardrobe room of a major horror film that was very carefully pressing and folding clothes to put back into bags. Each bag had a receipt. They would all be returned the next day. I make no judgment. It's just something I don't want to do. Our answer is simple – Thrift Stores! We are in the Entitlement Zone of greater Los Angeles. Folks here ditch clothes with each season. They already looked lived in, and they are hardly anywhere near dated. The only real risk is having one set of clothing for any given scene. If something gets stained, it would have to be laundered before another take could be filmed. But that is a risk with rentals as well. I'm not sure where actors pick up this skill, but most of those I've worked with are adept at not getting anything on their clothing. Some go through the effort of putting a trash bag over themselves (cutting holes in the bag for head and arms). Others are just good at keeping really clean. I've yet to have to launder costumes for anything that wasn't planned on set. But just to be sure, I always know where the nearest laundromat to any location is. I also have detergent, stain removers, fabric softener and rolls of quarters in my kit. The upshot is that we have a budget for costumes that is a small fraction of a typical shoot. It just takes more time and effort to gather everything together. Time and effort are the cheapest assets we have.

Props are more of a challenge. I hate renting props with a blinding passion. Binding passion, I tell you! First, the fees are huge for what is rented. For instance, a basic set of cookware can run $100 for the week. I can find one by a Food Network Star at Target for a tad more than that. Second, the deposits are even more huge AND most prop houses require a million dollar insurance rider no matter how small the item rented. Lastly, it is almost impossible to get those huge deposits back. We lost over 10 grand in prop rental deposits that were not returned due to 'damage.' We had photos of how we rented them matching how we returned them. Still, no deposits returned. I will never rent a prop again. Once more, I am grateful to the worlds of cosplay and role playing. Beyond that, there is Ebay. We found all the dishes and the very old fashioned coffeepot for The Gunslinger there. We even found this marvelous rain barrel. One of my partners uses it at barbecues as a stand for his grilling utensils. Again, we can find pretty much anything we need through these sources and pay a price that is very close to the rental fee but without the insurance rider and deposits. We can have very realistic props that the actors will enjoy working with even on a budget as small as this one.

As I said before, there is a lot more to share than I do here. Think of this as part one on this topic.

'Till next time.

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