#FemaleFilmmakerFriday – BUDGETS!

Alright! Budgets! How does THIS work when we’re talking about filmmaking?

I like to put everything into an enormous, flexible spreadsheet doc. I think it’s really valuable for you guys to be able to actually see what it looks like, so this is a blank version of what I use:


It’s a lot, right? I like the flexibility of a GDoc/Spreadsheet because as things change, and things will change, I can easily make adjustments and return to backers with updated figures. 

The first thing I do is I take a script and start to break it down. For our example here, let’s use The Long Dig. Our initial thought was that we would make this movie in 1 day (ha) for 5,000 (ha!) and with minimal cast/crew (HA!). I budgeted for that, then, as I looked at where our script was going (it kept getting longer) and what our actual workload was going to be, I made a multi-day budget for Tim, our contact at Electric Purple, and said: hey. I think this is a better idea. He agreed.

No way in hell this would take 5k and one day.

But rewind a little bit. 

First, what’s ‘above the line’ and ‘below the line’. As you can see on the spreadsheet, above the line includes writers, talent, directors, and producers. Below the line is pretty much everyone & everything else.

Every script is different. Shooting ten 5 minute episodes in my kitchen with minimal/no camera movement is very different from shooting a monster movie. The former, I could break a budget with enough for sound, a DP (maybe), and some food. The latter, we needed to pay people for the time & work they put into things BEFORE production even began.  

Productions usually plan for 3-4 pages per day; more than that starts to get crunchy. Knowing how many days you need severely impacts the budget — every extra day is another X amount of dollars. But you need to know roughly how much money you have in order to figure out how many days you can shoot. Budgeting for films is kind of like having to put the cart before the horse & hoping the horse catches up to it. 

I always fill out an “estimate” and an “actual” spreadsheet, so we can track what went over, what came under, and where we can (or can’t) spend extra dough.

As I go, I fill out costs of things I know — actors are 168/12 hour days. Our writers get 200 bucks for the script. Producers get 400. Stuff like that. Usually these are my paychecks, which I don’t have to really negotiate about. I then start to fill in what we can pay crew members — I start by expecting a higher bid and, of course, try to negotiate them down. Once I match crew to $, I fill out the finalized spreadsheet. At this point, I SHOULD be under budget.

A note about salary — legally speaking, if you are employing people, you do have to pay minimum wage. Whatever that is where you are. SAG sets our actors’ minimums and we can’t pay them less than that — SORT OF. If they are deferred, we can. SAG’s a whole other thing. Other unions probably set wages too, but I haven’t dealt with them. 

Big rule of thumb, always tell people there’s less budget than there is — with salaries, I hate doing this, but with stuff like rentals? your DP will ALWAYS want the biggest best tech… and he probably won’t need it. 

Important line items we all like to forget:

  • Publicity
  • Contingency
  • Festivals

Don’t forget those. 

Finally… ballpark numbers vary way too wildly to ask people for general ideas about how much things cost. Best thing you can do is talk to people you want to hire, get quotes, and budget from there.

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