Can an Algorithm Really Produce a Useful Movie Budget? Film Budgeteers More or Less Hits the Target

A new online app that promises to create a budget for your independent film in a few easy steps based on information you provide through a questionnaire?

My grumpy inner line producer was skeptical of Film Budgeteers, launched late 2016 by Jeff Orgill and Brian O’Malley. But I was pleasantly surprised by how well the service performed.

It works very simply. You fill out the questionnaire at filmbudgeteers.com and select one of three output options: a PDF ($49), an editable Excel spreadsheet ($97) or a topsheet-only PDF ($20). The service emails you the budget after your finish the questionnaire. (There’s a money-back guarantee if the budget doesn’t satisfy.)

I tested the service on my low-end Win8.1 laptop running Firefox, and opted for the Excel output. I created a budget with a $250,000 target (the app can handle numbers between $10,000 and $25 million), 15 shoot days and nine cast members. The site loaded quickly and was well-designed.

The budgeting process is broken down into 10 steps. (You can return to previous steps to revise your answers.) First, you enter basic information—budget title, total “target” amount, director name, number of writers and producers. You’re prompted to customize your allocation for principal cast, stunts, special effects, makeup effects, animals and visual effects. Film Budgeteers gives you 10 “customization points” to spread across these different categories.

Then you add your cast list. You’re limited to six leads and 20 supporting players, which seems fine for many indie projects. Then you specify the prep, shoot, wrap and post weeks, or go with their defaults. I chose to customize. Finally, I paid, and received the budget two minutes later.

The budget comes on one sheet, with a page break between the topsheet and details. The categories and line items are pretty standard and include almost everything you’d need. The printed budget is easy to see and edit onscreen. Above-the-line line labor fees are calculated based on your allocation points. Crew rates are calculated based on the weeks of prep, shoot and post you put in. Fringes are included as well. The salary structure for the crew follows a “tiered” rate set (i.e. keys are paid more than seconds, seconds more than thirds, etc.). (In one or two cases in my budget, the key rate within a department was lower than the second rate—a minor discrepancy.)

A screenshot of the author’s budget

Location rentals and fees, background, props, set dressing and costume rentals are each given a single flat fee within their categories—so make sure the fees reflect your script breakdown properly. The deliverables category is very complete: Publicity, overhead and insurance categories are detailed.

Some limitations of this first version: There’s no standard “key,” “second,” or “third” rate across departments. (I usually standardize my rates across departments so that the key grip gets the same rate as the gaffer, the script supervisor, etc., except for some “superstar” positions, like the DP.) There aren’t yet any line items for conform, color, Foley, additional musicians, DCP output and Blu-ray/DVD design, and the VFX category is a little abbreviated. Also, there’s no distribution and promotion section, something most moviemakers have to budget today.

Ultimately, Film Budgeteers is a promising tool, appropriately priced, and worth considering, especially for producers who are just starting out. You still have to break down and schedule the script yourself, and check the budget against reality, so it’s not trying to replace your hard-won skills—but it can be a very useful “what-if” generator. MM

This article appears in MovieMaker‘s Winter 2017 issue. Visit Film Budgeteers’ website here.

Top image courtesy of Shutterstock.

2 Comments

  1. Terrarium Tv app

    August 18, 2017 at 2:52 am

    This one is cool, accurate and convenient.

  2. Sean

    January 24, 2017 at 9:37 am

    Just tried it out and am excited to say it is very accurate and convenient. As an independent filmmaker, it alleviates so much of the unnecessary stress that comes from the financial side of film. Definitely going to be telling all of my friends about this one!

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