Film Budgeting 101 (with FREE template)
It’s no surprise that a creating a realistic and accurate budget can make or break your film. Even if you have no money for your first short film, having an understanding of the costs of a shoot (and what you’re not spending) will give you a leg up in your future.
Before we begin, here’s the secret to film budgeting: YOUR SCRIPT NEEDS TO FIT INTO YOUR BUDGET. If you can’t afford it, you can’t shoot it, so you need to re-write it.
You are welcome to start your budget without a detailed schedule, but should have a rough idea of how long you intend to shoot, size of your cast and crew, and completed script breakdown. If you haven’t, check out our other lessons with those steps:
Naturally, the hardest part of spending money is finding money to spend. The Producer is responsible for raising capital – funding the film through varies sources. Without adequate funding, there will be no project. And even on a zero-budget independent short film, nothing is for free.
The two major problems with raising money for short films are: return on investment and lack of experience. Short films don’t make money – they are designed to showcase a filmmaker’s work and will not result in profit, or even funds returned. Also, since it could be one of your first films, even if it did make money, you have little experience to create trust in a potential investor.
Here’s a list for potential sources of capital for your film:
- Win the lottery – surely if you had a stack of spare cash, you can fund your project yourself.
- Friends and family – starting out, these are your biggest supporters. Perhaps even not a monetary donation, but friends and family can help you on set, build props or even help you with catering. (A shoutout to all of my awesome friends and family who have supported my projects over the years)
- Private investors – the Golden Goose, an Angel Investor: someone who believes in your project enough that they are happy to pick up some or all of the costs. They will want a return on investment, and may have some say over how the film is created (since hold all the cards).
- Charitable sponsorship – someone may believe in your project so much that they don’t want an return on investment. This is rare, but if you can spin your projects as not-for-profit, they can score a tax break.
- Private grants – some companies support the arts and filmmaking through grants. These don’t come round often and are highly competitive. A detailed pitch document and solid grasp of your project may win it for you.
- Public grants – different state and federal grants are on offer for filmmakers. Some specifically to indigenous or rural artists. Again, these are very competitive, usually need to benefit the country (aka Australian focused) and sometimes expect return on investment.
- Corporate sponsorship – say you make awesome snowboarding videos with your friends. Approaching relevant companies (ski brands, ski fields) for sponsorship to fund you video is a very viable option. A few YouTubers have made this their business model, and now companies approach them for their next projects.
- Personal savings – if all else fails, you’ll need to fund your project yourself. Don’t want to spend the money? Then maybe you don’t care about filmmaking as much as you thought you did. Sorry.
- In-kind services & donations – if you can’t find money, try the next best thing: things. Ask local business for small donations of their products – maybe ask a sandwich store to do the catering for free (or discounted). Also ask around for free locations to shoot (universities are usually incredibly accommodating). These small things add up and can save your budget.
- Crowd-funding – personally, I think crowd-funding has had its day. There have been some amazing success stories on sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, but there have been many more failures. Pre-selling your completed film implies that you will complete your film, and sometimes that’s not guaranteed.
- Anything else. Be creative! – Run a car wash. Work weekends at a bar. Sell your photos on stock photo sites. There are stacks of ways to raise money for your film – you just need to work hard for it. Nothing is for free.
Searching for funding for your project will take much longer than you think – longer if the project is larger. Stay positive and be patient. Always act professionally and stay informed with new opportunities. And at the end of the day, thank your supporters with all of your heart – you can’t do it without them.
Let us know in the comments below if you’re interested in a lesson on pitch proposals. These documents can help sell you film to potential investors.
To start, there a two distinct categories in film budgeting: Above-the-Line and Below-the-Line.
Above-the-Line refers to anyone with largely negotiable salaries. This can include Cast, Directors, Producers, Writers and some crew. Their wages are variable and depends on their reputation, skill and box-office potential. Their compensation can also include a percentage of the film’s profits. Note: a cast member is not automatically Above-the-Line and can still be paid a daily or weekly rate. Also, Above-the-Line is not a status symbol, but simply represents a potentially large portion of the budget.
Below-the-Line includes everything else in the production: crew, locations, equipment rental, art department, unit, catering, post-production, insurance – you name it. Generally, these rates are either daily, weekly or run of the show.
Remember the secret to film budgeting: YOUR SCRIPT NEEDS TO FIT INTO YOUR BUDGET. If your script calls for an intense car chase but you have no money for vehicles, stunt teams and multiple cameras – it’s going to need to be written out. If you eventually secure funding, then there’s scope to add part of that car chase again (only if it’s crucial for the story). Famous directors like Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and Kevin Smith all made their first films just using what they had to use and wrote their script inside the scope of their budget.
The follow are some major factors that will influence your budget:
- Script elements – the script is king and certain elements are naturally expensive. Period pieces set in a different time require sourcing wardrobe and sets from the past (or future). Genres like science fiction or westerns involve lots of art department costs. Scenes with plenty of extras cost a lot of time and money. If you’re early in your film career, write a script that you can shoot yourself – stay humble and only grab what you can reach.
- Locations – shooting on location can give you some of the best looking footage, but also consider the benefits of shooting in a studio. Studios are controlled environments that can assist your shooting speed and flexibility. Some locations also involve long transport times, which need to factored into your schedule and budget.
- Crew – the size of your crew will directly affect your budget. Not just wages, but catering, unit and insurance. You’ll need to pay attention to union vs non-union crew members with regards to wages and entitlements.
- Director’s style – just like how the Director’s style will affect your schedule, different styles can increase your budget. A Director that prefers shooting a lot of takes, or more moving shots (Steadicam, drones etc), needs to be considered. This also includes the format you’re shooting on eg HD, 4K or even 6K. These heavier file-formats need more storage cards, more hard drives and more time.
- Post-Production – the team at the back end of the production can suffer. Always allow sufficient funds for your post crew. Visual effects (VFX) are expensive and timely. Also, problems on-set are jokingly referred as ‘fix it in post’ (sometimes it’s not joking), so give them the resources to fix those problems.
We’ve developed a simple budgeting template that you’re free to use for your shoot – just click HERE. The template includes an instructions sheet, but is straight-forward enough for you to get started right away.
Essentially, we’re going line by line and including all crew roles, multiplying their weekly rate by the amount of weeks they’ll be hired for. The same applies for equipment rental, catering, travel etc. If you don’t have firm quotes yet, insert a maximum value (allowance) that you would spend per week (until you source a quote). This template includes a 15% fringe / contingency / just-in-case fund. This adds 15% to most totals to make sure you’re budgeting enough – chances are you’ll need more (or in case of emergencies).
This template also includes the current Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) rates. These are the minimum wages you can pay your crew. Your crew can of course agree to be paid less. For more information, check out this link. Screen Australia also has a more detailed budget template, if you’d like to sink your teeth into it here.
Your budget is an ever-changing document. With more information and more research, it can be an accurate estimate of how much capital you will need to raise to create your film. Remember to spend your money responsibly, pay your crew fairly and have a contingency plan in place. This lesson is just the tip of the iceberg with film budgeting, so keep researching.