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Film Budgeting

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Filmmaking requires money, whether you’re making a short film for your final project in film school or a blockbuster movie, filmmaking always costs something. Even if you already own a camera and all the equipment you’ll need for your film, and your cast and crew will be comprised of friends and family, the least you can do is provide your team with a hot meal (or two) and that food will cost something.

This is why budgeting is always one of the most important aspects of filmmaking. Without a solid budget in place, it’s impossible to know how much money you need to make your film, what resources you have available to you, and where you can cut costs. This could be the difference between a few hundred dollars or a few million dollars depending upon the scale of the project.

This post will take a birds-eye-view of the film budget and its journey throughout the production process.

What is a Film Budget?

A film budget is a document (a form) that itemizes all of the production costs associated with making a film. This can include everything from the cost of renting equipment to the salaries of cast and crew.

Creating a detailed budget is an essential part of filmmaking, as it allows you to plan your spending, make sure you have enough money to complete your project, and find ways to save money.

Budget – Script – Schedule

In The Budget Book for Film and Television by Robert J. Koster, he beautifully outlines how the budget, the script, and the schedule are intrinsically tied together. Essentially, any changes made to one will have an effect on the other two.

For example, if you add a new scene or character to the script, that will possibly require a new location, set, costume, etc, and those additions will need to be added to the budget and accounted for in the schedule.

Likewise, if you are over budget or your budget is too high from the beginning you’ll have to find a way to shorten the schedule and/or reduce the script.

Budget Structure

In most budgeting software such as Movie Magic Budgeting, there are four basic levels of the budget:

  1. Topsheet
  2. Account Level
  3. Detail Account Level
  4. Fourth level detail

When it comes to spreadsheet-based budget templates there are generally only two levels of the budget:

  1. Topsheet
  2. Account Level

Above-the-line vs Below-the-line

Additionally, we can break down the budget into above-the-line and below-the-line costs. These terms are often abbreviated as ATL and BTL and they are usually reflected in the topsheet with four sections:

  1. Above-the-line
  2. Production (below-the-line)
  3. Post-Production (below-the-line)
  4. Other (below-the-line)

Above-the-Line

Above-the-line categories are generally referred to as the “creative” talent, and the rates are negotiated during development and then locked in for the remainder of the production. This is generally a flat fee and not a daily rate. This group includes:

  • Director
  • Producers
  • Writers
  • Cast
  • Story Rights

Below-the-Line

Below-the-line categories are referred to as the “technical” personnel, logistics, materials, and equipment. This group includes:

  • Production Crew
  • Camera
  • Lighting
  • Set Design
  • Locations
  • Props
  • Costume
  • Hair & Make-up
  • Prod. Sound
  • Picture Editing
  • VFX
  • Sound Editing
  • Music
  • Color Grading
  • Titles

Budget Versions and Documents

The budget and its corresponding documents will go through a few different iterations as the film progresses through the production stages.

Preliminary Budget

The preliminary budget is created in the development stage of filmmaking. They are generally created from a non-final draft of the script. The goal of the preliminary budget is to provide an overall cost projection for a film. This can then be used to seek out financing.

Cash Flow Chart

This is a document that outlines how much money will be required at any given time from pre-production through to distribution. It is created for the studio, financers, or production company so that the film will always have the funds it needs to continue operating. In some cases, the funds for a production are released on a weekly schedule depending on estimates created in the cash flow chart.

Final Budget

The final budget is created in pre-production once the script is locked, locations are confirmed, and the cast is set. This is the most accurate projection of costs that will be incurred during the production of a film. Having a veteran production manager or estimator to calculate the final budget is strongly recommended as their experience will allow them the ability to predict areas of concern and how to appropriately budget for them.

The final budget must be signed by everyone from the producers to the financers or studio executives. Once the budget has been approved nothing can be added without approval from the financers.

Unapproved overages will have to be financed by moving funds from other areas of the budget. Sometimes this will result in scenes, characters, or locations being cut from a film.

Daily Cost Overview

The daily cost overview (also known as Daily Hot Costs) is a document used during production that outlines the estimated costs for each day of filming. This includes what was budgeted for that day, and any overages.

the cost of crew, cast, locations, equipment, and anything else that will be needed on set. This document is created by the production accountant each day of principal photography.

Weekly Cost Reports

The weekly cost report (also called the Estimated Final Cost Reports) is a document created by the production accountant that outlines all of the costs incurred during the previous week of filming.

This is calculated by utilizing the information available from the daily cost overviews of that week.

This includes crew salaries, location fees, equipment rentals, and any other cost that was incurred. These reports are generally sent to the studio or financiers so they can see how much money is being spent and where.

How to Create a Film Budget

Now that we’ve gone over what a film budget is, let’s take a look at some of the steps necessary so you can create your own. In the following posts, we’ll dive into the details of how to create a preliminary budget and final budget, but for now, we’ll just provide an overview.

1. Analyze the Script

The first step is to get a copy of the script and read it carefully. As you’re reading, make note of any locations, props, or special effects that will be needed. Also, take note of the number of speaking roles and any scenes that will require more extras than usual.

2. Create a Breakdown

Once you have a good understanding of what’s needed, you can start to create a breakdown of the script. A breakdown is simply a list of all the elements that will be required for each scene in the film.

3. Get Estimates from Crew and Vendors

Now that you have a breakdown of what’s needed, it’s time to start getting estimates from crew members and vendors. This can be done by requesting a quote or an estimate from each person or company.

4. Create a Preliminary Budget

Once you have all of the estimates, you can start to create a preliminary budget. This budget should include all of the expected costs for the film.

Film Budgeting Software

As with so many aspects of filmmaking, budgeting was done by hand with paper and pencil for nearly a hundred years, but today we have the luxury of modern production software that makes everything so much easier. Let’s take a look at some software that can help you with the process.

Movie Magic Budgeting

Movie Magic Budgeting is a software program designed specifically for creating budgets for films. This software is used by production companies all over the world and is considered to be the industry standard.

Celtx Budgeting

Celtx is a software program that includes budgeting tools as well as many other features for pre-production and production. Celtx is a great option if you’re looking for an all-in-one solution.

Gorilla Budgeting

Gorilla Budgeting is a software application specifically designed for film production budgeting. This software was developed to be user-friendly and easy to use and is a direct competitor to Movie Magic Budgeting.

Free Film Budget Templates

If you’re just getting started in filmmaking, or if you’re working on a low-budget film, you may not be able to afford the cost of commercial budgeting software. Luckily, there are some great free film budget templates available online that you can use.

Wrapping up

Film budgeting is a complex (and often times annoying) process, but it’s an essential part of making sure your film stays on track financially. By following the steps outlined above, you can be sure that you’re taking the necessary steps to create a solid budget for your film.

Up next we’ll take a more in-depth look at the process of creating a preliminary budget.

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