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Basics on Budgeting Your Movie

Basics on Budgeting Your Movie

Articles - Directing

Budget. The word comes from
the French meaning “small
purse,” and on the typical independent film that definition
could hardly be more appropriate. But small purse or not, every moviemaker
has a limited amount of money to spend. The one and only way to be
certain it’s enough is to create an accurate budget.

The first thing to know is that developing
a set of numbers without first breaking down your script and
creating a workable schedule is not a budget, it’s a fantasy. Cautions LA-based Entertainment
Partners’ Myfa Cirinna, “If your budget is not good,
if your schedule is not accurate, your movie is not going to happen.
Art only happens when these things are done well.” While
scheduling your film is a different discussion, suffice to say
that it must be done properly in order to have a realistic budget.

Budgeting a film can be approached several
different ways. You can take the true do-it-yourself approach,
armed with nothing but a book on budgeting and your roommate’s copy of Excel. Or there are
a handful of companies who specialize in preparing your film’s
budget and schedule for a fee, using industry-standard software.
For those of you ready to take the plunge into true independent
film moguling, you can buy a copy of the software and enter your
own budgeting and scheduling nirvana.

There are pros and cons to all of these methods.
Let’s take
a look at the best options in each category and see which one
works best for your project.

DO-IT-YOURSELF: A pen, a pad, a calculator

This is you, sitting at your kitchen table, adding up a column of
numbers that equals a really inexpensive film. If your film will
cost less than $15,000, this might work. But your budget will probably
look something like this:

Film         $2,000         Editing    $5,000

Camera   $3,000         Pizza       $1,000

Obviously, that’s probably fantasy land. If you’re
like most moviemakers you’ll have to budget for cast, crew, transportation,
location fees, lights, sound equipment, etc. So you’re doing your
film a disservice if you don’t at least step up to the next level
of film budgeting. And if you’re spending one penny of somebody
else’s money—and want
them to feel that you’ve treated them professionally—you absolutely
need to make a real budget.

SOFTWARE PROGRAMS: Spreadsheet templates

This is a bit of a gray area of budgeting. Using Excel or some other
spreadsheet software to create your budget can work if you really
understand the nature of how categories relate to each other. Armed
with a couple of books on film budgeting (see sidebar), a computer
and a thorough knowledge of your own script, you can go this route
and probably come out okay.

The gray area arises when you consider the number of offerings from
companies who will sell you a pre-formatted film budgeting template
for Excel. These include BoilerPlate (, Easy
Budget ( and a handful of others. If you use
them, just be sure you understand how the links and formulas work
together. Other film budgeting software packages not based on Excel
run on their own native coding. There are only a handful of these
programs, and they each have their fans.

Movie Magic Budgeting
Cost: $499
Platforms: Windows, Mac
Movie Magic Budgeting is an innovative budgeting and cost-estimation tool used by production professionals around the world. It features an intuitive, flexible format that allows users to create and edit comprehensive budgets of all sizes, for all types of productions. Its “Apply Credits” feature allows you to apply credits from tax incentives, production rebates or other credits directly to your Topsheet. You can even add multiple credits to cover complex spend requirements. Browse Movie Magic’s growing library of free video tutorials, available on its BroadcastEP YouTube channel –

Two Books That Can Help You Sort it All Out!

Film Budgeting: Or, How Much Will it Cost
to Shoot Your Movie?
by Ralph S. Singleton n Lone Eagle Publishing;
This is a terrific little textbook that walks you through
the logic behind each category in a standard film budget.
Singleton covers everything from the difference between above-the-line
and below-the-line to how to figure out just how much film
you need. If you’re making your own budget—or if
you just want to understand how to read a budget—this
book is indispensable. And Singleton’s Film Scheduling:
Or, How Long Will It Take to Shoot Your Movie?
(Lone Eagle
Publishing; $22.95) is a must-have companion to this title.
Singleton has also published collections of forms and budget
workbooks that are helpful, though not essential.

Film Production: The Complete Uncensored Guide to Independent
by Greg Merritt n Lone Eagle Publishing; $24.95
Merritt covers everything from pre-production to film festivals
in a logical, thoughtful way and includes insight from moviemakers
who’ve done it all before. He includes plenty of information
on budgeting, as well as sample budgets of independent films
at different budget levels. This alone is worth the price,
but the rest of the book is bursting with useful information
that will absolutely make your film better. Merritt has somehow
managed to cover everything you need to know, touching lightly
on areas that aren’t as important to most independent
moviemakers and delving deeply into exactly what you do need
to know. I wish I had this book when I worked on my first film!

ProductionPro Budgeting
Cost: $399 (free 30-day trial)
Platform: Windows
ProductionPro is a brand new piece of software I’ve been using for a short
time. While there are a handful of functions that I miss from Movie Magic,
this program definitely holds its own. One standout feature is the navigation
tree, which lets you click on a budget category no matter where you are in
the program—a function that Movie Magic is sorely lacking—and that makes a
ton of sense. With a free 30-day trial (which generously includes unlimited
free access to the help desk), you have plenty of time to decide if this is
a program for you. Keep an eye out for native Mac versions and ProductionPro
scheduling. I like the fact that the people who wrote the software are the
same ones selling it, and they’re eager to help you use their program.

Cost: $399
Platform: Windows

Cost: $199; $299; $399
(Student; Standard; Pro)
Gorilla from Stolen Apple and Cinergy from Mindstar are both products that
aim to provide an all-in-one solution to your production needs. While the gathering
of scheduling, accounting, budgeting and pretty much everything else you can
think of in one place is a great idea, personally I’d rather choose the best
software for each individual application. The budgeting applications are also
not as robust as in Movie Magic or ProductionPro. Both Gorilla and Cinergy
offer trial versions, so take a look and see if they are right for you.

FULL-SERVICE: Budgeting & Scheduling

Where the rubber hits the road, if you don’t know how to budget
or schedule a film, you have no business doing these tasks yourself.
There’s simply too much at stake. Bad schedules and budgets are the
biggest reasons that films don’t get completed. If no one on your
production team has the experience necessary to do the job right,
it’s not a bad idea to go to one of the following companies. They’ll
be happy to lend you some of their expertise for a small fee.

The Budget Company
Rates: Starting at $1,000.00

Veteran producer Tom Razzano runs The Budget
Company. With 20 years of producing experience under his belt,
he knows what it takes to bring your script all the way to the
screen, and he specializes in working with first-time moviemakers. “The problem with people who
haven’t made movies before is that they really don’t understand the
nuances of a film set or the reality of a shoot. As a result, their
budgets are not true reflections of what the movie will cost,” says

The Budget Company starts with your script and
the total amount of money you think you will be able to raise for
the film. Razzano will consult with you throughout the scheduling
and budgeting process, and will hand you a complete schedule and
budget to work from. If you end up raising less money, Razzano  will
work with you to adjust the number of shooting days and other parameters
to ensure that your film can actually be completed.

“Make sure that whoever you sign on as an assistant director does
a legitimate strip-board based on the information I’ve given you,” advises
Razzano. “You’ve got to have the ability, on the fly, to lift the
strips and move them back and forth. There are only a couple of areas
you can’t do without—DP, camera, assistant director, the actors… and
the strip-board.”


Jud Cremata and his network of film professionals
offer services that he describes as “getting on the phone with the filmmaker and
holding their hand.” Like Razzano, Cremata will work with your script
and anticipated funding to create a schedule and budget for you to
work from.

Says Cremata: “There’re a lot of people out there with scripts and
no idea how to make their movie. We give you a roadmap.” With this
in mind, one new feature that BudgetCheetah offers is to put vendor
contact info into the line items of the budget. “We’ll work with
you to help you make your film on the cheap. But if you don’t have
a script you’re enthusiastic about, don’t even bother,” he states.

BudgetCheetah gives you all the tools you need
to start pre-production: a printed version of the strip-board,
a budget and a day-out-of-days. Says Cremata: “I did one movie
recently that had a lot of dogs in it, so we made a day-out-of-days
for dogs.”


Ultimately, it doesn’t matter which method you use, as long as you
start with a good schedule and idea of a how a film set works. If
you don’t have the knowledge to make that happen, you might be better
off hiring one of the budgeting companies. Any of these companies
will be happy to give you a first consultation at no charge, so contact
them through their Websites and see which one is the best fit for
you. Likewise, if you decide to make your budget yourself, be sure
to check out trial versions of software before you buy!

A professional-looking schedule and budget are indicators to your
investors, partners and crew that you are a confident moviemaker
who knows what you’re doing and can finish the film. Together, your
budget and schedule are a map and guide that help ensure you’ll get
your film finished. Without them, you’re lost! MM

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