In the world of indie filmmaking, the devil often lies hidden in the fine-print details.
And they can be costly ones.
That became readily apparent when Sacramento-born film director Darrell Lewis set out to shoot scenes in downtown Sacramento for a 10-minute film to be called "In So Many Words."
The film will explore themes of a man and a woman "in a monochromatic world as they strive for independence, love and acceptance," according to its website.
The plan was to work for two days last weekend, shooting at a private residence on Saturday and shooting downtown on H Street on Sunday, with 10 extras, two acting leads and a three-person crew.
Lewis, 34, wanted to do it right. Filming at a private residence doesn't require any permits, but he knew he needed proper clearance for the shoot on H Street, and he set out to get it. He expected it to be a fairly inexpensive part of the $1,700 budget for the film.
He discovered otherwise. Permitting for the downtown shoot as laid out by his storyboard and script would have cost two-thirds of the budget of the entire film.
"We dreamed big and didn't realize what certain things were going to cost," said Lewis. "We had storyboards and we found locations that worked really well, but we realized we'd have to get multiple permits."
The Sacramento Film Commission requires, at absolute minimum, a $100 application fee and liability insurance for any production shooting on city streets.
The filmmakers found a firm in New York state that would provide the insurance for $350.
The commission also requires that security, selected from a list of firms approved by the Sacramento Police Department, be present at the shoot. Lewis and "In So Many Words" producer Kaira she goes by the single name found one that would work for as low as $15 an hour. The shoot was estimated to take four hours, if not more.
So far, permit costs were up to $510 30 percent of the film's total budget.
But Lewis found that if he wanted to stick to his script there would be more charges.
The plan was to have actors walk down the middle of H Street. But that, it turned out, would have required street closure and the presence of a police cruiser and a reserve police officer, at minimum cost of $307. The script was rewritten to have actors and crew stay on the sidewalk.
Then, Lewis wanted to shoot the sidewalk scene free of parked cars. That would have required purchasing "no parking" signs for another $300. Lewis and Kaira decided parked cars would be fine.
Without script changes, permit costs would have run more than $1,100.
"Originally our director was looking at a total budget of $900 for the cost of the whole film," said Kaira. "I told him there would be more costs. Anything over budget will be coming out of his pocket."
So far the film has managed to raise $1,600 on Kickstarter a website that helps creative projects get funding. Most of the crew members are working for free. Producer Kaira has even used the barter system having the crew make videos for people in exchange for needed services or items.
"I have been trying to let people know that we're not this professional company so I ask them to consider our expenses," said Kaira.
That was a factor that Sacramento Film Commissioner Lucy Steffens took into account when she was approached about the shoot. "We want to work with young filmmakers and we want to encourage filming in the city," she said.
However, certain realities must be dealt with no matter how small a film's budget and many young filmmakers do not anticipate that, she said.
"I get calls like, 'There are only five people in the film,' " said Steffens. "I tell them that's fine, but you still need a permit."
At present, shooting without a permit on city streets is considered by the Sacramento Police Department to be an infraction, and comes with a fine, said Andrew Petit, spokesman for the department. In Los Angeles, shooting on city streets is considered a misdemeanor.
From July 2011 to June 2012, the Sacramento commission issued 62 permits for shoots on city streets.
Larger cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles require a permit for each day of filming. But Sacramento only requires one permit application for the run of a production. In Sacramento, the bulk of permits issued by the commission are for reality shows, such as "Housewives of Beverly Hills," or a recent shoot of Animal Planet's "My Extreme Animal Phobia."
Some filmmakers find the costs so onerous they go the "guerrilla filmmaking" route, shooting on city streets with small crews and without permits.
"I found permitting an arduous process, so we just ended up stealing the shot," said filmmaker Alan Wilson, who shot several scenes of his 14-minute student film "All Good Things" in Sacramento and the Bay Area without any permits.
"We started looking at the numbers and decided we just could not afford to pay $350 for a 30-second segment of film," Wilson said.
He believes the permit system is not ideal for small-budget productions.
"The commission needs to make the permit process more simple because you have to jump through a lot of hoops," he said. "Maybe there should also be a sliding scale, or even the chance to get some things at no cost."
Steffens said she feels the commission is more than user-friendly to the low-budget or student filmmaker, especially given that the commission waives the $100 permit application fee to student productions. A letter from the class teacher is required to get the waiver.
"But they will always need to get liability coverage," Steffens said.
For director Lewis, securing permits was an eye-opening experience.
"One of the biggest things I learned is to do as much research as possible and get on things faster and start planning out the permit three months in advance," he said. "It's been a steep learning curve."