If you’ve ever wanted to make a film, you should know that it isn’t a simple process. In fact, it is a multilayered process that requires expertise in a ton of different fields, with one of the most important things going into getting a film approved and produced being the budget! You’ll want to convince producers that their money is being used effectively and creatively, for which you’ll need a convincing and professional budget! If that sounds daunting, fret not! The process is typically split into multiple sections, each of which is allocated towards different purposes, such as casting and post-production, which is why you’ll need someone to walk you through each aspect of drafting a film budget! For these reasons, we’ve crafted a guide on drafting a film budget to help you navigate these muddy waters, so keep reading to find out how exactly you should go about writing a film budget!
The Phases of Production
Films are typically planned and subsequently executed in three distinct phases – Pre-production, Production, and, finally, post-production. As a result, the budget is split into these phases, with an estimated amount of money being listed under each section. Before we get started with writing a budget, you should know what each section entails;
Pre-production involves the meticulous planning of every detail that goes into film production. Typically, this involves breaking down the script, scouting locations, enlisting your team, casting actors, and assembling a functional unit to work on the film itself. Additionally, scheduling the film-production process is also included in the Pre-production phase, which lets you determine with much more accuracy and detail how much each day of shooting and post-production is gonna cost!
Simply put, this involves the actual, physical act of making the film itself. From shoot-related expenses to fees that need to be paid, production is almost always the most expensive phase of the filmmaking process. Here, you’ll need to be aware of two distinct types of costs that go into production – Above the line and below the line expenses. Above the line, expenses are things that are negotiated before shooting begins and deal with unavoidable expenses that are essential to the film. Directors, Writers, Cinematographers, Actors, Sound engineers, and the like are all essential technicians that fall under the ‘Above the line’ category, as their salaries are pre-negotiated. Below the line expenses indicate deal with costs that accumulate as production carries on. This includes a set’s working staff, set design, implementation, technical staff, makeup, lighting, props, and the like. These are often hard to judge beforehand and so, are included in the budget under the production section.
These are the expenses that relate to the finishing of the film. While production is the act of filming all of the parts of the film, post-production involves things like editing, special effects, sound, dubbing, subtitling, and much more, which all essentially go towards making the film a finished product and ready for the consumer. Depending on the film itself, you may also have additional costs for things like promotions and marketing, which varies from film to film. For the purposes of this article, we’re dealing with the actual filmmaking process, so we won’t be touching on the promotional costs, marketing costs, campaigns, and the like, although this is important to know and consider when budgeting.
Things to Consider When Drafting a Film Budget
What sort of film are you producing?
The nature of the film itself can help drastically with planning the different phases of production. For instance, documentaries are much less likely to require heavy VFX work, as opposed to feature films, which can entail months of time being spent on post-production! As a result, come to a decision on what type of film it is, then budget accordingly.
Sticking to the Script
When making a film, the script is akin to the Bible! Every move on-set, as well as off-set, should abide by the script, including the budget! Moreover, it is an important tool in allowing you to plan your budget – Many big-budget studios, for instance, focus on getting 1 page of the script done in one day of shooting and plan as such. As a result, they are able to get a solid estimate as to how much time each part of the film should take, allowing them to plan and stay on schedule throughout.
Understanding the Phases of Production!
Understanding each phase of production is integral to developing the budget. This is because costs can be estimated, as well as optimized, depending on the phase of production. For example, pre-production typically deals with sorting outcast and crew wages, i.e., above-the-line wages, whereas production and post-production typically entail a high amount of expenditure on below-the-line wages. As a result, it is imperative to know what is going to cost you, as well as when it’s going to cost you! To help you out, we’ve outlined the primary costs that come with each respective phase of production;
Managerial/Administrative costs – These include the cost of working space, such as an office and/or a studio, as well as miscellaneous day-to-day expenses like printers, internet, paper costs, etc.
Scouting Costs – With pre-production, scouting locations are very important to make a quality picture. For these reasons, you’ll need to spend a significant amount of money on things that help your cast and crew develop a working idea of the film—the travel costs, personnel costs, and hands-on costs all factor in. Additionally, actors may also need to rehearse in this phase, the costs for which fall onto the producers.
Miscellaneous Costs – Each production is a unique one, and always has the need for some additional resources that other films don’t require. Expect to incur some of these costs (props, experts, translators, local guides, etc.) during the pre-production phase and account for any specifics that your film may require!
Equipment – If you’re making a professional film, odds are you’ll need to rent equipment that is in line with the budget. As you plan your film, do some research into the equipment market, gauge the kind of equipment you may require, and plan ahead. Make sure to allocate ample resources towards your equipment, and get input directly from your crew as to what they may require. This can make a tremendous difference with regards to the final project, so don’t skimp on equipment and budget correctly for it!
Shooting-related costs – These can vary from something as simple as a permit to shoot on a particular site to copyright costs, legal costs, props, music, etc., and are virtually unlimited in scope. Additionally, this phase is known to generate unexpected costs, which is why we recommend reserving a small percentage (5-10%) of your budget to accommodate these expenses.
Production-related costs – Typically, these are below-the-line costs that are used for things like sets, hair, makeup, cosmetics, costumes, props, and the like to help increase the production value of your film.
Additional Costs – Random costs are also associated with film production, and the role of the budgeteer is to minimize these costs. Typically, large scale productions have to manage travel, accommodation, and food for the cast and crew, which is where a majority of this section will go. To get accurate estimates, do research on the localities that you plan on shooting in, and take into account the average costs of each particular thing.
Post-production Personnel – Typically, this includes personnel like editors, VFX artists, sound engineers, and dubbers, who work on the technical aspects of finalizing the cut. The editor, as a result, is usually the biggest chunk of this portion and is considered an above-the-line cost. Other personnel who assist with the process of post-production should also be accounted for.
Post-production equipment and technology costs – Your editor may require a particular space, as well as specific techniques to work on post-production. Additionally, your sound engineers may require technology in the form of software or hardware, which may be necessary to produce a quality picture. Account for these costs, as they can easily be determined before production commences.
Sound design and engineering – Apart from the technical aspects of suiting sound for a motion picture, you should also think of potential dubs, as well as music. Typically, music is copyrighted to a composer or artist, and the producer will have to pay them for the rights to feature their music. Make sure to gather an exhaustive list of all the music, sound fx, and other little details in the script to gather an estimate as to how much sound design and production is going to cost!
How do I Draft a Complete Film Budget?
Well, it’s quite simple – you first complete the scheduling process, then gauge how much each day is likely to cost using a number of different factors – Typically, large studios have templates on hand that give budgeters ample information as to how much below the line costs are going to be, as well as post-production costs. As for above the line costs, these can vary drastically – If you’re set on employing A-list actors, directors, and writers, this section will probably run into the millions. If not, it may be much lower. In any case, the first step of drafting the film budget is to prepare the shooting schedule.
Then, each phase should be listed, with the relevant expenses being listed under them. For example, the following templates will show you how to list the expenses in a budget sheet.
As you can see, the budgeting process really involves listing down all of the potential expenses the production is likely to incur. Then, using historical data, market research, and input from third parties, an approximated figure of how much below the line costs will be are assigned categorically. This applies to all three phases of production. Additionally, Above the line costs are pre-determined before shooting begins and so can be listed at the very top, as they generally tend to be the most financially-demanding part of filming a movie!