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Considerations of Creating a Film Budget

Producer and line producer working on film budget

Filmmaking is one of the most exciting ventures someone can do. But before any production begins, there is one process that needs to be completed– the art of creating a budget. When a production team puts together a film’s budget, it is an extremely intricate process. For example, a film budget allocates for many factors throughout the entire production of the film.

Throughout this process, there are four steps: above the line, below the line, post-production, and a miscellaneous category. Let’s take some time to provide a general outline for how a film budget is put together with these steps.

Use The Script As A Guide

When a production starts a film budget, the team must have the actual script. The team that helps in this process includes the line producer, the unit production manager and the production accountant. Smaller productions may have multiple roles covered by an individual.

During this process, the team conducts a preliminary analysis of the script. During this time, the team extracts out information that helps them to make key decisions. This script breakdown information includes:

Speaking Roles

This means that the group has to list scenes with speaking roles. After this is done, the film’s budget group notes which has the highest amount of screentime. This helps to begin talks with potential actors. This is what is  referred to as “above the line”.

Locations

This process includes naming the locations that are detailed within the script. This will be a key thing to do when working on the next step of the film budget.

Production Length

During this task, the group figures how many pages per day the production aims to film. This can be tricky, and it also depends on the plot and the time period the film is set in. For major motion pictures, this is typically one page per day.

Shooting Schedule

After the production length is planned, the group also creates a shooting schedule. This ties the scenes together, as well as the transport with times for transport and setup for locations. There should also be certain days set up early in the schedule for certain scenes that involve longer sequences, such as stunt work.

Script Breakdown and Film Budgets

From this point, the film budget helps to guide a script breakdown. The whole team uses this template. They can also obtain blank templates from various sites that can be populated with the collected data. With regards to the principal cast members, the information on their scenes will be figured into the breakdown to find out how many days they’ll be needed on the set.

Calculating Dates for Actors

A common formula is to multiply the amount of days that the actors would be needed by 1.5 or 2 (to compensate for any days that the actors in question don’t work in full). This resulting amount projects the salary for a cast member.

After this is done, this formula can be used to figure out the budget line requirements for any extra roles. With these tasks done, a preliminary budget is now on the table.

Consider More of The Production Elements

At this point, the film budget crew considers what will be termed the “target budget”. This film budget differs from what will be the final budget based on the financing the project would receive. The other production elements that are of the utmost importance to address are the equipment and the crew. When it comes to the equipment, the best thing to do is to have a pragmatic listing of what pieces of equipment that the film would need.

This is a broad category so the following needs to be weighed and considered:
  • The types of film cameras that will be used along with equipment such as tripods and dolly tracks.
  • Lighting in terms of external set-ups, cables and power sources for interior and exterior shooting locations.
  • Rental fees for props that will be used during filming as well as any costumes that the cast members will wear.
  • Fees for transporting any larger pieces of equipment as well as vehicles that will be used to transport the cast and the crew.
  • Audio equipment, especially for synchronization with video while on set such as microphones and mixing consoles.
  • Tools to be used by technical members of the crew such as the dolly grips and camera assistants and electric grips.

Film Crew Salaries

The next addition to the film budget in progress is to estimate the salaries of the crew members on the film. The bigger the crew, the bigger the film’s budget will be. This is mainly dependent on the length of the script and the potential financial possibilities.

It also can be dependent on what the director and director of cinematography would want in terms of crew size. It’s customary that in this grouping, the director can wind up having the larger salary followed by the producers and unit managers and the director of photography. All of this is otherwise referred to as “below the line”.

Film Budget Calculation and Revision

The post-production stage of the budget is the third part to solidify. As mentioned earlier, part of the cost of this section can be the computer hardware that is needed to edit all of the video and audio that has been recorded. Another cost in this section can be for any visual effects work that could be sourced out if that’s needed. This leads into the final part of any budget calculations, which accounts for other expenses. These expenses can include obtaining insurance for the equipment, fees to use different locations, food for the entire cast and crew.

Film Budget Reduction

At some point, it is necessary that the team reviews the film budget to see if costs can be reduced. This can be accomplished a few ways. One example suggests avoiding shooting in popular locations to limit fees for permits and rentals.

Another cost-cutting tactic is to reduce night time scenes. This cuts down the amount of lighting that would be needed for such scenes. With all of these things taken into account, the budget is finally put together and ready to be submitted for appraisal by interested financiers.

Film Budget Approval and Financing

Once the film budget is all done, if the film project is a large one the line producer and the production accountant present it to the studio that they’re working with along with other producers that are interested in it. This period might see some back and forth take place with investors looking to potentially save more costs by making suggestions to cut back in certain places.

Another factor in this stage will be the executive producer looking at costs to be added on for marketing and distributing the film once its complete. Those who are creating films on an independent basis will combine this part with the miscellaneous/other category to keep a tight grip on costs.

Conclusion

Creating a film budget requires a lot of concentration. The idea is to have the budget solidified with everything the film needs from the beginning. Any lapse where one detail isn’t accounted for can cause the production to exceed their planned schedule and as a result, add more costs that might not be readily available in an emergency. That’s a scenario that all film productions strive to avoid no matter if they’re independent or a major studio. This outline is helpful for anyone unsure of the basics to create a film budget, but it is totally up to the team involved to
flesh it out to fit the needs of each film.

Want to Learn More?

All movies that get off the ground do so thanks to the time and effort put into creating a good budget at the outset. If this aspect of making a motion picture intrigues you, take a moment to check out IPR’s Digital Video and Media Production program and the training and tools we provide to help you succeed.

Contact us today to learn more about the Digital Video and Media Production program and how to take that first step to starting a career in the film industry.