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How to Create a Film Budget – Learning the Production 411’s

Making a film, television or web series requires more than a script, actors, crew and equipment. Nothing can be started without a budget in place! In our ongoing series, “Learning the Production 411’s” this primer, broken down into major categories, is designed to be easily digested, offering you the basic elements to get you on your way to completing your first successful project!

• Why create a budget?

The budget presents a guideline for you to follow during all stages of production. It keeps surprises at a minimum, and allows you to actually finish your project. A budget isn’t a bible: you probably have heard the term “Over Budget” used to describe many projects that are being shot. Circumstances, such as broken equipment, inclement weather, fried hard drives, and countless others can affect a budget. A wise plan will allow you to finesse your budget to compensate for the unexpected.

Another major reason to create a budget allows the film makers to determine where they would like to invest the greatest piece of the pie. If you need a song or piece of music that has a substantial licensing fee, and you also want to shoot on film but have a small budget, you will determine early on where your sacrifices will have to be made to accommodate these items.

• What should be included in a budget?

Your budget should cover everything from pre to post production. If your goal is to submit your film to festivals, you may want to include a marketing and submission budget as well. An important thing to remember in this process is that the budget is what you make it. If you want to make a budget for under $100 it is do-able. If you don’t know how much you want to spend but have ideas of what you need, the budget will help you determine your fundraising goal.

1. Pre: determine if you are shooting non-union or union. If you are low/no budget you will have to obtain an experimental contract for your actors, which will require you to purchase workmen’s comp insurance. You will have to investigate insurance companies in your area to find rates. Determine your equipment – this includes lighting, camera, and sound, in addition to gaffer and grip equipment. Remember incidentals, including tape stock or hard drives, duct tape, batteries, office supplies, printing and mailing costs, paper towels, garbage bags. You can get very granular here to be fully prepared. If you are creating sets, you will need to take all art department and construction needs into mind.

2. Production: Be prepared for permitting fees, security fees, location rental fees, catering and craft services costs per day, set dressing, costumes, makeup, transportation fees, electrical fees, security and parking fees, and all crew fees. If you are planning to have production stills, don’t forget the cost of this service and the staffer performing this role.

3. Post Production: Be prepared for: Color Grading, Color Timing, post services (editor, editing suite, audio sweetening) licensing fees for copy-written material (this includes music, artwork, brand names, etc.,) duplication, titling. These are many of the big cost items that a project of any budget should anticipate.

• How do you create a budget?
There are budgeting tools that are available to film makers, and if you are planning to have a complicated production requiring a lot of moving parts and expect to spend a sizable amount, you may want to check out some of these programs. Entertainment Partners ( has a highlight respected budgeting tool called Movie Magic that will be very useful. If you are planning something that is a few thousand or under, however, you can easily prepare a budget on a simple Excel program.

• When is the best time to work out the budget?

Start contemplating your budget as soon as you have a project you know you want to shoot. This will allow you to make important decisions very early on. If you have limited funds, you will want to work with as many people willing to take credit only instead of pay. You’ll also quickly determine how complex you can become with your locations as well as all creative department needs (such as art department, camera department, costume and makeup.) Thinking ahead of time as to equipment rentals will let you contemplate your shooting schedule and wisely make decisions about how far apart locations should be, how much time you can spend on each take, and how many days you can afford (literally) to complete the shot. Getting a budget set- up early also allows you to do the fund raising required to obtain the budget you need before principle photography begins.

Hopefully you feel excited to dig in and start contemplating your budget. Keep in mind many organizations and colleges dedicated to film making provide classes on budget creation. There are many workshops on the subject as well. It never hurts to become as knowledgeable as possible with the process in order to make your project the very best you can be!