There are so many elements to consider when calculating your film's production budget. This comprehensive guide and free film budget template will get you started.
So, you’re planning to make a film. That’s great, perhaps you are a producer or maybe an independent filmmaker. On larger film sets it is the line producer or unit production manager who prepares the film's budget, and to do this they may use film budgeting software such as Movie Magic.
All you need in addition to the template?
Just some fundamental knowledge on how to use it effectively!
Table of Contents
Whatever your job role and desired budget, this following guide will go through all of the areas of budgeting that you need to examine from pre-production to distribution.
But first things first…
What Type Of Film Are You Making?
The expectations of your film will help determine what type of budget you are looking for.
For instance, perhaps you are hoping to make a micro-budget collab with friends, or maybe you are aiming to attract stars and cinema distribution. Not to mention that the schedule of a film with a budget will look a lot different from that of a DIY venture.
As such, your desired outcome for your film can help determine what range of budget you need when you fill out your film budget template. Netflix, for example, has camera requirements and even self-distribution can prove to be very expensive. I am not saying that you can’t make a hit micro-budget film. Just that it’s wise to plan what type of film and schedule you are hoping to create before you draft your budget.
Some questions you need to consider are - How are you hoping to fund your film? And how much time are you willing to spend acquiring that funding? You might also like to check out our podcast episode – 100 different ways to get your film funded
In order to estimate your film's budget, you need to decide how many days you aim to be in production. Studio films get by on shooting only one page of script a day. The majority of films average about five pages, and a low-budgets can plan to shoot as many as ten.
In general, the more days of filming the more your film will cost however, a larger budget will attract more experienced crew and arguably the more professional your film will look.
This brings us back to the last section, you need to decide what type of film you are hoping to make, and what type of filming experience you want to have.
If you are clueless on how to determine a shooting schedule you could always hire a line producer to help you. If you are low-budget, you can still ask producers with experience on shooting with budget restrictions for advice.
To break down your script first list all of your scenes then next to them list their locations and a brief description of the action taking place in each scene. The majority of films are shot out of sequence. You may have several scenes in the same location that can be shot on the same day. Determine how many pages you will be shooting each day, and create a basic shooting schedule. This can be re-drafted as you get closer to production. For more on schedules, we break it all down here.
Also, keep in mind that some scenes such as dialogue scenes will be a lot easier to shoot than stunt sequences. Having an idea of how many production days you need will help a great deal with your film budget breakdown.
You can find our more detailed advice for breaking down a script here.
Now that you have an idea of how many days you will be filming, you can begin to break down your film production budget. You also now have an estimate of how many days of filming you need for each actor. Start by jotting down the number of days you need for each actor in your film budget template.
How much are you going to pay your actors? Most actors will be getting paid by the recommended union rates in their country (typically SAG in the USA). Well-known or famous actors will have a rate to be negotiated by their managers. Some actors will also have their own going daily rates. For low-budgets, you need to have an idea of how much you can afford to pay each actor.
Plan to be shooting for a few more extra days than expected, in case pickups any are needed. You may also be required to pay for several rehearsal/prep days. For example, a musical feature will have a longer prep time for actors to learn songs and dance sequences.
You might also wish to book your actors in for a few extra days of promotion. Such as photography for the film's movie poster, or to shoot some interviews to be used in marketing. If your script requires it several supporting artists may also be needed.
The Above-the-line crew is the essential members of your crew that you will need to hire before pre-production can begin. Film crew might be members of unions, they might also have agents or their own daily working rates.
If you are low-budget check out our article - What to do if you can’t afford to pay your crew?
Screenwriter - Firstly you need to pay your screenwriter. Typically screenwriters get 2% of the film's production budget, their payment will need to be negotiated before you start work on the film. Depending on the project, story rights may also need to be obtained (for example, if you are making a film based on an adaption of a book, video game, or play).
Producer – The producer can be the highest paid crew member, they are typically the first person to get hired and the last to leave a project. As such, they can receive up to 5% of the production budget. In short, the more experienced the producer the more they will charge.
Director – Your director is the creative force and vision behind your film. You will need to decide how many prep days you will be paying them for and what their rate will be during post-production where they will supervise the edit.
Director of Photography – The DOP is traditionally put below-the-line, however, they are an integral part of the production. They also tend to have higher wages than the rest of the crew and need to be hired during early pre-production.
After hiring your key crew members you can begin to find the rest of your team. Your director and DOP might also have recommendations on who to hire at this stage. Whilst hiring your crew consider if additional prep time is needed for each role during pre-production. The size of your budget will determine how big a crew you can afford to have. Also, keep in mind the larger the crew, the slower the shooting days can become.
Check out our list of film crew positions, and our corresponding infographic.
This list is a list of key crew members you should consider -
Camera Department – Camera assistants, Key Grip, Grip assistants, Continuity
Lighting Department – Gaffer, Lighting assistants
Sound Department - Sound Mixer, Sound assistants
Art Department - Production Designer, Art Director, Art Department assistants
Assistant Directors – 1st AD, 2nd AD, on set Runners
Production Department – Line Producer, Production Manager, Production assistants
Makeup Department – Make-Up Artist, Makeup assistants
Costume Department – Costume Designer, Costume assistants
Additional – special effects supervisors, stunts coordinators, transport, drivers
Remember you can download our free film budget template to help you work through these job roles. Film crew members might have their own daily working rates and guidelines can be found on union websites. You also will need to consider what you will pay if you shoot overtime. A typical film production day is 12 hours long, for overtime you will need to pay additional wages. At the very least you need to be honest with your crew on what they should expect in terms of working hours and breaks.
Now you have a basic layout of how many days you will be shooting, how many actors will be needed, and what crew you are going to hire. There are also some extra costs that might arise during pre-production. These will depend on your budget and scale of your production.
For example, a low-budget film can hold it’s production department in a crew member's house. A contemporary drama will cost less in production design than a sci-fi.
Production Department Costs – such as hiring out an office, internet, general paper and printer costs, you will also need to ideally print out script copies and call sheets
Reconnaissance and Prep – likely several key crew members will be attending recon/tech scout meetings. You will also need to consider paying for any prep days for key crew members.
Rehearsals – The director might need several rehearsal days with the actors
Production Design - depending on your shoot type you may need to book extra time during pre-production for the visuals in your film to be sourced and gathered.
The bulk of your budget (unless you are shooting a CGI-heavy film), will go towards the production costs. The most expensive costs are likely going to be your cast and crew wages. Your crew will be able to help guide you on what they will need to be hired and sourced. This following section will go through some of the key areas you need to be thinking about during this stage in your budget breakdown.
Equipment/Insurance – Film equipment is expensive as such make sure you get the proper insurance needed to cover you if anything breaks. You might be renting, buying or hiring crew with their own equipment. You will need to find camera, lighting and grip equipment. You will also need to make sure you have high-quality sound equipment.
Locations – Obtaining and gaining permission for locations can be expensive. Unless you are on public-owned land you will need to seek permission. For low budgets and student films, you will be able to get away with more, especially if you have a small crew. Seek in advance what permission you need for filming in each location. If using fake guns and weapons in a public space you will need to inform the local police before you shoot. Here is our in-depth piece on locations and location agreements.
Production Design – Set design is often overlooked on indies but can make all the difference on screen. Consider each scene in your film and how much money you be dedicating to set design. Are there any notable props in your film that need to be created or bought.
Costume – Every actor appearing in your film will need costumes bought or made for them. The cost of costume will once again depend on the genre of the film. For lead actors, several identical copies of the same costume may need to be bought. On low-budget films, you can ask actors to bring their own clothes, but it would be ideal to have copies for lead roles.
Hair and Make-up – Depending on your genre you might have a large budget towards make-up. You will need to reimburse make-up artists for the cost of any specialist make-up (such as fake blood). Even on a low-budget contemporary film, you will need a make-up artist for applying basic cover-up and for keeping the actor's continuity in check.
Catering – How many heads are you feeding? What will be the allocated budget for food each day? On low budgets, this can be done cheaply by having friends help out. On larger sets hire a professional catering service. Like an army - a film crew marches on its stomach. Check out our basic guidelines to help make sure you don't run afoul of your team on this.
Transport and Accommodation – You will need to pay for any transport costs of cast and crew. This includes fuel if crew members make long trips back and forth during production. On larger film sets all expenses will be covered, on low-budgets, you will need to discuss fuel expenses with crew before production. Accommodation might need to be paid for several cast and crew. For low budgets hire locally to avoid these additional expenses.
To figure out how much all of these elements cost you will need to do some research. Have a look at costs for camera hire, check out the cost of a local catering service. During the early stages of pre-production, your budget breakdown is an estimate, you can re-draft later with the help of your crew and production staff. It’s likely there will be several re-drafts of your budget during the making of your film. Always overestimate the cost, so that you don’t get caught out later, additionally have some cash leftover for petty cash expenses during filming.
As mentioned production is likely to be the most expensive phase of filmmaking. During post-production the costs will vary depending on genre and if any computer effects are needed. Ideally, you will want to hire your editor in advance even during the pre-production stage.
On many sets, the editor or assistant editor will be cutting footage alongside the shoot. They will also be creating dailies (rushes) for the producer, director and DOP to look over every night. With digital technology, this process has become easier and you can get part of the edit complete even before post-production begins.
Editor – Your editor's wage will likely be the largest cost during post-production. The editor might work independently or as part of a company. Editors are paid union rates, they may also have own desired daily working rates. The editing process will likely take several months even for a low-budget - you will have to discuss the turn over with your editor to have a more clear idea of how long this process will take.
Assistants – Depending on the scale of your production assistant editors and other post-production personnel such as visual effects editors and colorists may be needed.
Hard Drives/Office – You will likely need to purchase several hard drives for your film. You may also need to hire out an office space for your post-production team
Music Composer/Music Rights/Sound Design – Even if your film is low-budget you will need to have permission for all music used. Music composers can be hired as well as sound designers. Gaining the rights to well-known songs and music is expensive.
Typically, the distribution costs of a film are not included in the budget breakdown. However, if you are an independent filmmaker you don’t want to get caught out later on in the filmmaking process. Having a distribution plan before making your film is ideal, perhaps surprisingly the costs of making a film don’t end once the film has been completed.
Film festivals have fees to enter, you might also wish to have key crew and cast attend film premiers. For larger budgets hire a PR team, major festivals recommended that even smaller productions hire a sales agent. Then there is self-distribution, you may wish to organize your own cinema screenings or DVD sales. Making money in film costs money and you can find a great film budget example of a $1 million independent feature film on Stephen Follows blog.
So, there you have it. This guide is here to show you the important elements that you need to consider when estimating your film's budget. No matter what type of film you hope to make, or budget you wish to work with. Creating a budget breakdown, and revising that breakdown throughout the filmmaking process will help keep your expenses under check. Next up, check out what you need to know about prepping your script for production!
Of course, we don’t know everything and if there are any areas you wish to expand upon, or tips for budgeting you wish to share, please do so in the comments section.