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Film Budget Breakdown: Part 2 – Above the Line

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Now that we have completed our top sheet, it’s time to move on to the Above the Line portion of the budget.

As we update these accounts, the top sheet will be updated to reflect the new expense total for the above-the-line division.

Above the Line

The Above the Line section of our budget will focus primarily on the writer, director, producers, and other administrative personnel and their support staff. Most of these positions will be present throughout the entire filmmaking process, from development and pre-production to final delivery and distribution.

1100 – Development Costs

budget account 1100 - Development Costs

This account allows for the budgeting of all development costs. There are many categories here that also exist in other places throughout the budget. The difference between these is that here, they directly relate to the development phase.

All line items here are related to fees already paid or to be paid during the development of the project.

1200 – Story & Rights

budget account 1200 - Story & Rights

As the name describes, this category is about acquiring a story and its rights.

Story Rights Purchase 

This item is for the purchase of story rights, not the screenplay. This could be a short story (or film) a book or comic book, a video game, or even the rights to something more abstract, such as the rights to a person’s life story.

Even if your project is an original story not based on any preexisting material, you’ll still need to allocate at least $1 in order to legally transfer the story rights from yourself to the film. All distributors will require some form of reimbursement for the story rights.

Writers Fees

Some writers will require personal fees in addition to the story rights fee.

Story Consultant

A story consultant is not always necessary, but some projects might need a consultant to aid in the transformation of a story from one medium into the visual medium of film.

1300 – Screenplay & Treatment

budget account 1300 - Screenplay & Treatment

Now that we have the rights to our story taken care of, we need to turn our attention to the written screenplay (or script).


The writer of the screenplay and treatment could be the originator of the story, or perhaps it is a different person. Likewise, it’s not uncommon to find screenwriting teams or to have multiple writers work on a screenplay over the course of several months or years.


A treatment is a document that outlines the key points of the story. It’s used as a tool to help communicate the writer’s vision to potential investors and collaborators.


If additional research, beyond that which was done in the story phase, is required, this is where that research will be budgeted.

Travel & Living

If the screenwriter(s) are going to be relocated during the writing process. Or if they need to travel for other reasons, this item covers that expense.

Story Editor

The story editor is responsible for making sure that the screenplay adheres to the basic structure of a well-made film. This is an optional position, and on most smaller projects, this role is unfilled.


Often times, a writer will want to interview and work with a professional consultant who can offer detailed real-world information that would be hard to obtain otherwise. A few common examples are police officers, politicians, lawyers and legal experts, professors, and various industry professionals.

Script Timing

Script timing is the process of analyzing the screenplay and determining an estimated runtime. The general rule of thumb is that 1 page equals 1 minute of screen time. However, depending on the writer and their particular writing style, this can prove to be entirely unreliable. Having a detailed analysis performed will allow for a much more realistic estimate.

Script Clearance Report

A script clearance report is a document that is created after the screenplay has been completed. Its purpose is to list out any potential legal issues that could arise from the film’s content.

This report can be very expensive, sometimes costing as much as $15,000, so it’s important to be absolutely certain that your screenplay is complete and ready for this stage before moving forward.

1400 – Producers Unit

budget account 1400 - Producers Unit

This account is for all of the various producers’ fees. This ranges from the Executive Producer to the Associate Producers and their respective assistants.

Packaging Fee

The packaging fee is a one-time upfront fee that is paid for putting together the project. This is often paid to an agency that has “packaged” several of their clients together in order to get a project greenlit.

1500 – Director’s Unit

budget account 1500 - Director's Unit

As the name implies, this account is here to cover the director’s fee and a potential second unit director’s fees, and all of their supporting personnel such as:

  • Personal Assistants
  • Choreographer
  • Storyboard Artist
  • Technical Advisor

1600 – Talent

budget account 1600 - Talent

This account is for on-camera talent and the crew members who work with them.

Principal Roles

Principal roles is another way of saying your lead actors or stars. Most films will have at least 2-3 lead characters, and the rates you pay for each actor might be different. Thus we have added a few extra lines under this item to account for multiple entries.

Supporting Roles

This is a place for your actors who will be working on the production for several days but do not reach the level of a principal role.

Day Players

Day players are actors who deliver scripted lines of dialogue but only work 1-2 days.

Stunt Coordinator

The stunt coordinator is responsible for the safety of all cast and crew members during the execution of any stunts. They are veterans with years of experience and will know how to go about achieving any number of stunts and will aid in hiring qualified stunt players to perform the stunts needed.

Stunt Players

Stunt players are individuals with a very specific skill set who have been trained in performing stunts. A stunt player will fill the role of ambiguous characters in the film, meaning they are not replacing an actor in a role, but instead, they are performing the entire role themselves.

Stunt Doubles

Converse to the stunt players, the stunt doubles are trained performers who match the size and shape of the actor that they will replace when performing stunts. Famously, Brad Pitt’s character in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a stunt double for Leonardo DiCaprio’s character.

Stunt Equipment

The purchasing or renting of any equipment required to perform the stunts. This could be safety equipment such as harnesses or other items such as break-away props.

Casting Director

The casting director is responsible for holding auditions and finding actors to fill the roles in the film. They will often have a team of assistants who help with this process.

Casting Assistant

A casting assistant is someone who works directly under the casting director in order to help with the various tasks associated with finding actors for the film.

Casting Expenses

This is a catch-all category for any expenses associated with the casting process, such as:

  • Audition Tapes (SD cards)
  • Travel Expenses for Actors
  • Food and Beverage for Casting Sessions
  • Location Fees for Casting Sessions

Screen Tests

The screen tests are a series of tests that actors will do in order to test lighting, costume, hair, make-up, and other important aspects of the production. This is often done after an actor has already been cast in a role but before they begin filming.

Rehearsal Expenses

This is a catch-all category for any expenses associated with rehearsals, such as:

  • Food and Beverage for Rehearsals
  • Location Fees for Rehearsals

1700 – Above the Line Travel & Living

budget account 1700 - Above the Line Travel & Living

This account is for the travel and living expenses related directly to the above-the-line cast and crew.

We also have the more extensive account 3500 – Location Dept., which is the best place to put all of your living and travel expenses. But we keep this account here as an option for any travel and living expenses that are specific to the above-the-line portion of the budget.

Up Next: Part 3 – Production Expenses

In our next installment, we’ll be covering the first below-the-line portion of your film budget: production expenses. This account will cover all the expenses relating to principal photography, including crew, equipment, locations, and more.

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