Creating a film budget is an important beginning step in transferring the written words on a script to visually arresting images on the big screen. Filmmaking is a business, and with any business, planning how to spend available funds is vital. Without a properly prepared budget, you may find yourself short of funds before you can finish your film, leaving footage unshot, unedited or unseen. Calculating the costs for your budget is mostly a matter of splitting your film project into budgeted items, then assigning a cost to each. With the proper price research, you’ll be able to create the budget you need with accurate costs that takes you through the filmmaking process, from buying the story to marketing.
Create a schedule for your film covering all phases of the production process. Use four distinct phases in your scheduling for splitting the budget: "Above-the-Line," "Shooting Period," "Postproduction" and "Other." Mark each phase down into a logbook and leave room for a line-by-line budget under each.
Split your budget by each production phase. List each filmmaking activity that you intend to use in producing your film under each phase that the activity is a part of. List the length of the activity. Create your budget by assigning a dollar value estimate for each activity based on the cost of the activity and the length of time involved for the completion of the task. Determine the costs by checking with movie industry trade papers on average costs per activity given the scope of your film. For example, the cost of hiring an extra is constant across film budgets, while the costs of hiring a sound mixer can differ according to whether you’re working on a high-budget mainstream film, or on a small-budget indie film. Add the totals for each phase with a calculator, and note them in a logbook.
Assign all costs related to gearing up for the actual filming to the above-the-line budget. This includes the costs of securing the story rights, main participant salaries for the producers, actors, and travel and living expenses. Everything from the day you begin the film to the day you begin shooting. Mark down everything you anticipate having to spend money on during this phase, and then assign costs individually to each activity to prepare the pre-production budget.
List the costs associated with actual shooting of the film in the shooting period phase of the budget. These costs include everything from camera costs, film costs, sets, location rentals, to extras and production crew salaries. As with the pre-production budget, assign expected costs to each budgeted item on the list.
Create a post-production budget that includes all costs associated with finishing the film from the end of shooting. Most of this budget goes to editing and the addition of visual effects. Include any costs of screening the film prior to creating a final cut ready for distribution.
Budget the last section, other, to include all other costs related to getting the film before a general audience. Whether it’s packaging the film, shipping it to theaters, attending film festivals or Internet streaming costs, if it involves showing the film, it should be placed into this phase’s budget. Include any marketing costs related to showing the film, as well as any insurance and medical costs.
Add up all of the total amounts from the four budget phases in order to calculate the total cost for the film.
Consider purchasing file budgeting software to help keep track of the process and avoid leaving out an item in your budget.
Larry Simmons is a freelance writer and expert in the fusion of computer technology and business. He has a B.S. in economics, an M.S. in information systems, an M.S. in communications technology, as well as significant work towards an M.B.A. in finance. He's published several hundred articles with Demand Studios.