Cheap, Fast and Good, the Production dilemma

Battlefield_earth_posterYou may have heard this saying: Cheap, Fast and Good, Pick Two.  The saying is sometimes referred to as the production triangle or the production dilemma. I used the poster for Battlefield Earth as an example of none of the above…The film took several years to make, cost over $78 million, and is widely regarded as one of the worst films of all time.

Normally, however, you can pick two of the three.

Here’s the idea. I want to make an album (or a film, or a website, or a graphic novel, or whatever you do). If I am producing the work on the cheap, and I want it to be good, it will not be fast. If I have $78 million, I can typically get something made pretty fast and extremely good, but not cheap. If the project needs to be fast and cheap, it won’t be good. There is no way around this.

I have told my students many times that really you only have two of the three available to you. Why? Because one of your picks should be quality or Good. The project you are lending your name to has to be good because in the business all you really have is your name. If you get to be known as the person who is always cheap and fast, you will also be known as the person who does shoddy work. It has also been my experience that once you set your price low, it is really hard to start being the expensive option. In other words, you’re name will be equated with being the cheap one, though probably not good.

Fast, It’s not possible to do a project good (our new must-have choice number one) and fast and cheap. Therefore, something has got to go. If your client (or yourself) wants the project good and fast, don’t quote a low rate. It can’t be done cheaply and you will eventually get burned financially. (Take my word for it).


MV5BMTk0NjY0Mzg5MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzM1OTM2MQ@@._V1_SX640_SY720_Cheap’s not possible to do a project both good and cheap without it taking a long time. The movie Good Will Hunting, which won Matt Damon and Ben Affleck an Oscar and put both on the map was originally bought by Harvey Weinstein of Miramax. Weinstein bought the script because he saw the potential of the story. He then had Damon and Affleck spend 3 years writing and re-writing the script until it was perfect. (In other words extreme pre-production). Once the script had been perfected the pair along with Weinstein could get major Hollywood stars such as Robin Williams, Minnie Driver, and Stellan Skarsgard to act in the film and sign on Gus Van Sant to direct the picture. The film cost $10 million to make and grossed $225 million. The film was nominated for 9 academy awards and won two for Best Supporting Actor for Williams and Best Original Screenplay for Affleck and Damon.



Here’s a recent music example of relatively cheap yet great and fast. Adele’s 21 took the singer 3 years to write and documents her feelings of heartbreak, anger, and revenge after a break up. In other words, it took a long time to write the songs for this record! The good news is that 21 went on to become the biggest selling record of both 2011 and 2012 and has made Adele and her crew nearly $30 million!

The take away from both examples is that whether it’s writing a script and doing pre-production on your storyboards, etc, before you pick up a camera to make your film. Or maybe it’s writing and re-writing your music, rehearsing the tunes to perfection, and auditioning the songs in front of an audience until everything is perfect. Only then do you start filming or recording the project. (Extreme pre-production).

As a creative artist and producer this gives me hope. Other than the time I have to put in to make any production the best I can make it,  there has never been a cheaper time to film or record music. I think my digital artist friends who illustrate, write, etc would say the same thing. So I choose cheap (unfortunately I have to) and good. The one that has to go is fast.

What do you think? Can you give me an example of cheap, fast and good? I’d love to hear from you.