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December 6, 2012

The creativity of writing a budget

A yellow flower, common in gardens in Aberystwyth, processed in photography so the colors stand out.

Simple solutions come when you look at things differently.

Creative accounting is wrong, but it’s not wrong to be creative when accounting.

We were putting together some numbers for a project, and the budget started looking, well, bloated.  We hoped to keep total costs down below a certain threshold.  But, the budget for our project was starting to balloon to one and a half times the maximum I hoped it would be, and I hadn’t even finished costing the marketing yet.

However, we weren’t about the abandon this project.  So we had multiple choices.

  1.  Do without some of the things we thought we needed, or cut corners.
  2.  Or, Look at new financing avenues, and perhaps alter the project to appeal to a wider customer base.
  3.  Or, Try to do things quicker to cut rental and salary costs.
  4.  Or, Get creative.

Option Four may look like the worst option to most people.  They may think of Enron and Facebook and other big companies that have fudged numbers or “forgotten” a thing or two.  However, I am a creative, and to me getting creative means changing things, while keeping the math real.

When I wrote the script to the film (this project is a film, but the principle could apply elsewhere), I knew why each line needed to be in there.

Then, when we storyboarded the film, we discussed how to best create each shot visually.  Now that we are budgeting the same film, some of the things which seemed simple at the storyboard stage actually ended up being more expensive than we anticipated.

So, I looked at the budget for adding in a photograph, and how much I allocated.  I discussed the anticipated costs with the storyboard artist, and she asked “does it have to cost that much?”  So, we ended up with the question “does it have to be a photograph at all?”

Finally, we came up with a solution which would not only cost less than our original plans, but also enhance the story – visually – while bringing out character and being even more entertaining than our original storyboard.  Rather than cutting corners, we’ve actually found a way to improve what seemed like the perfect prop, while spending less money.

What helps here is being on the ground, knowing your trade and industry.

Then there was another question I had in the budget, something that didn’t seem to fit.

So, instead of speculating and waiting all day for quotes from people, we just got out the camera and tried a few things out, to see how they’d work with available resources.  Taking notes along the way, I saw where the money needed to be spent, and where we could do without.

We also found a place or two where we may need more preparation time.

The storyboard and screenplay can tell you most of this, but they don’t tell you how something will sound, or how much glare a certain lens and filter set up will give you with natural light in a particular building.

Experience teaches a thing or two, and so does research, but sometimes it’s fun to experiment with new ideas, and it’s fun for the customer to try out something new as well.  Creatively.