How to Avoid the Top 5 Budgeting Mistakes from Slated's Colin Brown

You sit down with your script, and after an all night coffee fueled session with your producer/director, you come up with a $15 million budget to make your movie. A month later, when you've raised $15,000 on Kickstarter you decide, what the heck, you'll just make your film for that amount. Red flag! Warning! In a guest post on indie producer Ted Hope's blog Hope For Film, Colin Brown goes through the biggest five mistakes filmmakers make when budgeting their films, and how to avoid them in order to inspire confidence in investors, and make the best film you can.

Granting agencies won't even look at a film with a budget under $100k; conversely, studio execs wouldn't trust more than few million to a new director. How do you make sure the budget you come up with will be right for your film? Colin Brown, the editorial director of Slated, helps break it down for us.

Be realistic

The first thing that Brown encourages filmmakers to do is practice realism over optimism:

In the real world of actual investment, of course, potential financiers soon lose patience with producers who don’t have a clear picture of how much they will need, and where that money is going.

In coming up with a realistic assessment of your budget, make sure those costs are justified by both how much money you can raise and make back. And when you talk about those commercial prospects, be realistic. As Brown points out, investors are more likely to trust you and work with your budget if you don't bluff about your potential profitability.

Budget equally for each essential element

How do you decide what needs to stay and what needs to go? As Brown points out, if you are paying big money for an actor, you shouldn't list the car explosion in the opening scene as something you'll be doing on your computer yourself. A balanced budget is found when packaging is proportionate:

 In the end, budgeting remains a bespoke sizing exercise that starts with identifying the cornerstone elements of your screenplay and then building a made-to-measure budget around those essential items. You work out what makes a particular project exciting and back into the budget from there using all the data points you can muster concerning prevailing market conditions and available incentives.

Don't con your team

All too often, when we are trying to whittle down our budget, we decide that not paying people is ok. Sure, hire all the intern/PAs you like, but when it comes to your main people, don't fool them into thinking they will be getting paid if they will not be. As Brown puts it, we should be investing in the independent:

In their zeal to make films for that “price,” film financiers are not above leading producers on until they cannot possibly afford to say no to a budget that requires those producers to make substantial deferrals of fees and overhead. Shortchanging producers this way not only jeopardizes their livelihoods, it also pushes films into production way too soon in an effort to make collect what fees are on the table.

Remember, you're not just trying to make one film, but a lifelong career out of independent film for you and the rest of your team. Brown's guest post is chock-full of examples and links to useful sites to implement these ideas into your next budget session. Be sure to check out the full article here to read all five of Brown's tips.

What do you think about coming up with a proper budget? If you have experiences that have worked (or haven't) please share in the comments below.

Link: Filmonomics: Thinking in Budgets -- Hope For Film

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Your Comment


Wait a minute. Is this a post about a post? A summary? Why am I even reading this?

October 24, 2013 at 2:00PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


wow, mister critical

I'm personally thankful the nofilmschool posted this article because i otherwise wouldn't have known about it.
This is what the website does, it collects readily available info and presents it here.
You could make the same comment on most of the posts on this site. I could find most if not all of the info here elsewhere. I could go to Black Magic's site and learn what i need to learn.
I could sift through Vimeo to find the test footage i want to see.
I could go to RED's website to learn about new specs.
But this site does it for me.

But it's more of an attitude thing.
Someone spent the time and effort to put this together.
"Why am i even reading this?"
You sound like you mock this article. If you're too good for nofilmschool, then don't read it. But don't complain about it.

October 24, 2013 at 3:20PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Exactly, there are hundreds if not thousands and thousands of website out there which I could be checking daily.

But instead I can keep that number down to just a few such as this one and a few others (like EOSHD, 43rumors & PetaPixel) because the keep me updated with what else is being said elsewhere.

So I say *THANK YOU* NoFilmSchool!

October 24, 2013 at 11:17PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Well said, Nathanael (& Iron Film). You could call it laziness not on nfs's part, but my part b/c I don't even bother checking most of the other sites. I get the weekly headlines/links sent to me from nfs, (and I only do that with them and The Black and Blue. Anyway, really, I don't even consider it lazy on my time is too valuable to spend all day sifting thru all the sites. NFS is my filter, condensing stuff for me. This is especially true of the links to things I care about but don't know about---and not to mention things I just don't have time to read. Reading Marine, Anderson-Moore, Boone, Renée et al's summaries lets me know if I need to if I should watch/read whatever article they're writing their article about or not.

November 5, 2013 at 12:58AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Daniel Mimura

I agree.

October 26, 2013 at 7:35AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


With a GH2 you could make a cheap movie like Upstream Color that won all the awards. Using that camera reduced the budget by a margin.

October 24, 2013 at 2:11PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Norm Rasner

The camera's not the expensive part...

October 24, 2013 at 2:16PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Exactly. But see, this just goes to show where the focus is on these guys with cameras these days. Putting the camera as the first priority and concern for production costs when really it should be a distant third if not last.

October 24, 2013 at 9:09PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Good point Kahl. The GH2 is a very good meoney saver while allowing the filmmaker to achieve Alexa quality at a more favorable price. High dynamic range is not cheap, usually, and this will save the cinematographer a great deal of time while cutting a typical hire budget by 90%. This leaves more money for catering and locations.

October 25, 2013 at 5:26AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Norm Rasner

Coincidently I today started reading on my Kindle The Hollywood Economist, is a gripping read that covers financing too, I'm already have way through!

October 24, 2013 at 11:15PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


What a nothing article. Just double-speak filler: " In the end, budgeting remains a bespoke sizing exercise that starts with identifying the cornerstone elements of your screenplay and then building a made-to-measure budget around those essential items." Really?

I work in IT, and this ranks right up there with the worst, useless corporate buzz-speak trash.

Guess pickings are slim over at NoFilmSchool today!

And on the subject of camera: cut your teeth on a GH, it'll get you 80% of what you want, and then rent or buy when you're ABSOLUTELY ready to do a pro shoot. But again, any cheapo big-sensor camera these days will get you mighty close. Good luck all!

October 25, 2013 at 8:02AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Totally agree about the vacuous article. It's a great subject but this is absolute filler quality précis. Several of the articles I've opened up lately from NFS seem to have slipped in quality. A bad direction to take. Good headlines and bad articles = short term open spikes and long term lost readers.

November 1, 2013 at 10:26PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


If we're taking a poll (and we seem to be) I thought this was a perfectly good and useful article. As someone who's had to budget a movie (with little experience doing so) I would love to read about the potential pitfalls and traps in the process.

Something I would love to see you report on in regards to budgets: what films are selling for at the big acquisition festivals. When you've got your independent film budgeted of $7 million and you see that 'The Place Beyond the Pines' sold for something like $3.9 million (with two very bankable lead actors) it gives a benchmark for what budget we should be shooting for.

October 25, 2013 at 5:45PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Dave Mueller

Hey darbpw (good job on hiding behind a fake name) and Alec, since this article is so terrible where can we find your great musings? Also, did you guys even bother to read the full article?

July 22, 2014 at 8:01AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM