Budgeting is a crucial step in film production. In commercial filmmaking, it is often considered a criterion for measuring success. Therefore, the need for a film budget cannot be stressed enough. The budget can be prepared by the producer, unit production manager, or filmmaker for independent filmmakers.
Due to the complex nature of film budgets, most producers will use film budget templates for this exercise. The budget outlines all the projected costs of a film. These include costs on equipment, salaries, travel, location, permits, costumes, etc.
These templates will contain generic categories of costs but can be modified to represent the unique costs of a film. This article will discuss what to include in a film budget template and other essential details of film budgeting.
Why Is It Important?
The need to budget a film cannot be underestimated, considering the cost implications of any budget errors. This is where a good film budget template comes into play. The most important factor of a film budget is the ability to control the cost of a film while still delivering the vision. The budget is a blueprint for the cost of each phase of production, from pre-production to post-production. Having a budget also influences how much insurance coverage and premiums are paid for a specific. Additionally, it can influence how much cast and crew ask for their services. Films with a good script but a low budget can attract a high-value actor who doesn’t ask for significant compensation.
Phases of a Film Budget
Creating an adequate film budget is a procedural process. This is to capture all the relevant budget items. The process is usually completed in two phases.
The preliminary budget
This is a broad outline of the budget in which all anticipated costs are listed. This stage should be completed before budget approval. A preliminary budget is thus often used to acquire financing. Some of the categories covered in a preliminary budget include:
- Above the line: This is the budget for cast and crew (talent) salaries and other costs involved in the development phase. Talent includes writers, directors, principal actors, SAG hires (e.g., stunt team), and fees to acquire rights to the film.
- Below the line: This category of a film budget template is meant for other costs associated with producing the film. It covers the costs from pre-production to filming like equipment hire, permits, and costumes.
- Below the line, post: Costs related to post-production should be covered in this section—for example, the cost of editors, VFX specialists, post facilities, etc.
- Other: The preliminary budget should also indicate costs incurred in advertising and distribution of the film. Other costs such as production insurance, contingency, and completion bond costs can be classified.
Second film budget
Once the preliminary budget of the film has been reviewed, and financing has been approved, a second film budget should be prepared. This budget is more precise and covers all expenses incurred from cast and crew wages, equipment, external services, post-production, etc.
How to Handle the Film Budget Effectively?
The most crucial goal of any film budget should be to control costs and avoid unforeseen costs. When preparing a film budget, consider budgeting for overhead costs and planning for contingencies and excesses. Contingencies are used to control costs in case of possible overspending. For example, if the director comes up with an excellent idea that requires additional funds, there should be a provision for it in the contingency fund. This way, the budget effectively meets the production goals. Using software or any free film budget template ensures all the essential categories of the budget are factored in.
What to Include in It?
An all-rounded film budget template should cover development, production, post-production, and distribution costs. Therefore, specific categories are consistent among templates for film budgets.
These categories are:
Costs for pre-production
This is the first section of any film budget template. In this section, all costs relating to activities before shooting are captured. Costs like location scouting, creating a rough storyboard, and other activities can be included here. Categories under this section are:
- Production department costs: The costs associated with the product should be presented in this category. This includes scouting for locations, renting an office for the crew, printing scripts, obtaining licenses and permits, etc.
- Prep costs: The production and production design crew will typically require time to prepare, for example, surveillance, team meetings, casting, etc. This time is to be compensated and other expenses incurred during the preparations. Each cost should be highlighted.
- Rehearsals: There will be rehearsals before shooting the film. Costs associated with rehearsals, such as wages for cast and crew, should be indicated in the film budget.
Production is the second section of the film budget template. The cost of production activities is captured in this section. This includes costs associated with actual filming and other stages involved in production. Some of the categories included here are:
- Equipment costs: Costs associated with equipment acquisition should be captured in the film budget. Equipment includes cameras, actors’ equipment, props, rental production equipment, and other tools needed for lighting, sound, etc. Equipment can be sourced through acquisition or hiring. Insurance for the equipment should also be factored in, in this category.
- Location expenses: Location expenses are incurred through obtaining permits to use locations for shooting. Other permits may be applicable – for example, if the film involves fake guns, a permit is required from local police and authorities.
- Costumes/makeup/animation expenses: Costs of actors’ costumes, makeup, and additional animation props should be factored into the film budget. They are the main elements that portray the characters in the film. Makeup artists will charge differently depending on the character they are to style – for example, zombie makeup artists will be more expensive than contemporary makeup artists.
- Production design: Production design involves the interior and exterior during filming. This includes the hiring of tents, dressing rooms, furniture, etc. In addition, each scene in the script will often require a unique setting. Therefore, all the associated costs should be taken into account.
- Catering: Expenses on food should be added under production costs. Catering costs will vary depending on how many heads are fed per day and the number of days for shooting.
- Transport and accommodation: Additionally, costs of transportation and protection of the cast and crew, accommodation, or other expenses incurred during shooting should be accounted for. Sometimes this might involve hiring tour buses, especially for reputable actors. In other cases, this might involve reimbursing fuel costs.
The third section of a film budget template is post-production costs. It covers costs associated with the post-production phase after the shooting has been completed. Some of the categories in this section are:
- Hard drive charges: Post-production requires a lot of data storage space, and purchasing storage devices. Costs associated with these devices should be accounted for under post-production.
- Director, editor, and talents fee: Post-production is a phase that requires the efforts of different specialists such as the director and editors. The fees for obtaining such services should be calculated. Editors are often paid based on union rates or daily working rates. The total fees for the entire editing phase should be included in the film budget.
- Music and edit expenses: Sound is a crucial element of film production. Therefore costs incurred in hiring different experts such as sound engineers and composers should be included in the film budget template. In addition, costs incurred to obtain copyrights for music used in the film should be included.
Wages of cast
The next section of the film budget template should discuss the wages of the cast. Each film has a lead role(s) and supporting cast. These wages can be categorized as follows:
- Salaries for actors: There should be a category to note down the wages for the main actors. The first step is to ascertain the number of scenes each cast has been featured. Then, depending on the shoots per day, determine the number of days each cast member will be needed on set. The number of days should then be multiplied by a correction factor of 1.5 or 2. The corrected number of days should then be used to determine each member’s wages as follows:
Cast member 1 has a daily working rate of $1000/day. They are needed for a total of 20 script pages. The film will be shot four pages per day. The correction factor is 2. The number of days needed will be 20/4 = 5 days. The wages will be $1000 x 5 x 2 = $10000.
- Expenses for extras: Most films will require extras or background actors. To determine their wages, determine the number of scenes where they are needed and multiply it with the number of extras. This number is then multiplied by their wages rate.
If two scenes require 30 extras, their working rate is $100 per day. The total wages will be, 30 x 2 x 100 = $6000.
Add expenses of above-the-line crew
The film budget template should have a section to record the costs of the above-the-line crew. Above the line, the crew is the crucial member that ought to be hired before pre-production begins. They include:
- Screenwriter: A screenwriter creates the story to be told through filming. A good screenwriter should be able to visualize the world they will portray on screen. A great screenplay can attract top film talent to a project. This is a one-time investment and should be considered in the film budget. Typically, a screenwriter can be paid 2% of the production budget.
- Producer: The production team or producer(s) is responsible for overseeing the entire project. The producer has the overall authority to ensure that the project meets its schedule, budget, and distribution requirements. Typically, they are hired before any other party. Due to their significance, they are often significantly compensated – usually 5% of the production budget. As a result, they can be the highest paid crew member.
- Director: Hiring a talented director is essential for the pre-production of a film project. They are responsible for turning a screenplay into a movie, and thus their experience and expertise in directing play an essential part in the successful production of any film project. Their rate will depend on expertise, experience, and other additional fees, such as prep days before production.
- Photography director: The picture director is responsible for the overall visuals of the film, often referred to as cinematography. They will typically be paid a higher rate than others above the line crew. Their fees should be included under this section in a film budget template.
Add expenses of below-the-line crew
The production team will hire a below-the-line crew to help complete their film. Below the line, the crew is also called “below the camera.” Below the line, the crew includes members of the following departments: camera crew, lighting crew, sound department members, art people, production crew, and assistant directors.
Distribution is an essential step after the production of a film. Therefore, the film budget template should cover associated costs to ensure the film reaches a broader audience. Distribution costs include costs of marketing, entry into film festivals, hiring sales agents, organizing cinema screenings, etc.
Filmmaking can face unprecedented costs. These costs could be associated with unforeseen incidents such as the illness of a top lead actor. Incorporating a section for miscellaneous film costs will help reduce the financial risks of filmmaking. Some examples include additional insurance, legal fees, local film body fees/registration, ticketing, and taxes.
Free Film Budgeting Templates
A film budget template is a compilation of information that can be easily understood by anyone who wants to weigh up the financial implications of a proposed film project. Film budget templates are available and can be downloaded free from this website. These templates will cover all the necessary information to prepare an efficient budget for a film. The templates can be helpful for both the already established film producer and the upcoming entrants. The templates are reusable and customizable; therefore, the user does not have to create a film budget template from scratch for every new project.
Professional Budgeting Tips
Here are a few professional tips for proper film budgeting:
Breaking down the script into pages per day
Breaking down the script into production days to create a production schedule is the starting point for efficient management and calculating the expenses incurred during filmmaking. Depending on the type of film, the number of shoots/pages per day can vary from 1 to 8 pages per day. Other factors to consider during film budgeting are:
Prioritize the difficult scenes
Complex scenes can be challenging to break down, especially if little detail has been offered in the script. Therefore, it is essential to prioritize these complex scenes to ensure sufficient time to shoot them appropriately. For example, for an effects-heavy scene that involves moderate film blocking or movement, it is wise to double the page length as per the sequence. Conversely, the page length can be quadrupled if the scene has multiple challenging movements and film blocking.
Note: Always look out for complex sequences as they are not always phrased as similar or straightforward. Some writers give little detail, while others tend to be too detailed. If the scene is not detailed, the sequence should be counted to be longer than its page count in the script. However, if the scene is detailed, the sequence can be estimated to be shorter than the page count.
Include stunts and special effects
Stunts and special effects should be noted as they often require extra materials, which results in additional expenses. For each stunt and special effect, determine what the additional requirements are. Then, a budget for each stunt or special effect can be created for better financial control.
Tailor the budget according to the needs
The film budget should reflect the type of movie being filmed. This means the estimates and figures of different categories of a film budget for one movie won’t match that of another movie. For example, a horror movie and a high school drama movie will have two different budgets due to their unique needs. Makeup and costumes will take up a big chunk of the horror movie budget compared to the high school drama movie.
For a film budget to be implemented, it must be approved by key decision-makers such as the director or producer. The film budget is an essential element in the film production process. A poorly designed or poorly calculated film budget template can negatively affect the movie’s production and may fail in the film’s production.
On the other hand, a well-crafted film budget template will minimize financial risks, minimize the risk of delays, and maximize the film’s production. They can be used by different people involved throughout the development and production of a film. Producers can use it to ensure that their film production is as efficient and effective as possible and directors.
Once the film budget template is created, it should be followed religiously to ensure the filmmakers rip its benefits. Templates and film budgeting software are the two most common ways of creating a film budget, software being on the higher end. The budget preparer can choose the most affordable option software depending on the film’s budget.