Don’t Forget the Waffles: Building a Realistic Film Budget
Building an accurate budget can be an enormous challenge for many new filmmakers. There’s a temptation to think that once you get started on your project, “someone else” will figure out how to allocate the precious funding you’ve just scored. Bad news. There is no someone else, at least not at the stage where you need your budget the most – before you find your investors.
Your projected budget is going to be an integral part of the business plan which attracts an investor, so you need to make sure it is as accurate as you can possibly make it. Budgets balloon out of control for two reasons. Either they don’t accurately predict what goods and services will cost, or they leave stuff out.
Cost is very much tied to location, the size of your crew, and your proposed schedule. This part of the equation can be difficult to predict without experience or professional advice. What goes into your budget, however, is simply a matter of forward-thinking. Walk through the entire filmmaking process in your head, and write down everything that’s happening. You’ll find that very few of these activities are taking place for free. The items to which you need to affix a cost should be developed over several days or weeks, giving you the time to keep adding as new expenses come to mind.
Here’s a partial list of what you need to be thinking about to get you started.
Development and Pre-Production
This is everything that happens before you begin shooting. It includes things like buying script rights, location scouting, consulting fees, travel, casting, retainers and legal fees.
Many new filmmakers do much of the initial legwork themselves, then fail to include the associated costs in their budget. If you’re prepared to cover these costs out of your own pocket, include them in your budget anyway to show investors how much you have already invested in your own project. If you want to recoup these costs or already have hefty bills to pay, make sure your development budget line items are complete. You don’t want half of your production budget to be eaten up by prior expenses that you forgot to include.
Aside from the more obvious above the line costs of salaries and labor, you need to break down a typical day of shooting and think about what expenses are being incurred. If you have to move everyone to a new location, it’s going to cost money. Transportation, rentals, and lost time. If you’re starting early, you’re going to need to provide breakfast as well as lunch and probably supper. That’s right, don’t forget the waffles.
Then there’s sets, costumes, accommodation, taxis, equipment, catering, portable toilets… Insurance is also going to take a bite out of your budget, so make sure you include it and that it covers your liability. Nobody wants to see a line in their budget to cover getting sued.
The one advantage of using celluloid film was that it was expensive to process. This meant that Directors were far more vigilant about how many times they could shoot the same scene. With digital, they are far less concerned with the cost of filming – but all those other expenses just keep ticking along as your Director of Photography shoots the eightieth take and you find yourself two days behind schedule. Consider the skill and experience of your crew when developing your production budget.
There’s a tendency to think that everything can be “fixed” in post-production, but doing so is expensive. Far cheaper to get it right on location than try and do a work-around in post or, heaven forbid, have to schedule a re-shoot. Again, the skill and experience of your Director will govern a significant portion of the post-production expenses, so budget accordingly.
Music rights don’t come cheap, and if you haven’t cleared your soundtrack, your film is never going to sell.
Promotion and marketing can cost up to half of what you spent on making your film, so be prepared to develop a budget that includes the fees incurred by a reputable distributor.
The Brothers McMullen cost Edward Burns $23,800 to make and grossed $10 million. Paranormal Activity had a budget of $15,000 and took in a whopping $193 million at the box office. Slackers brought in over $1 million in return for $23,000 investment. You don’t need a massive budget to make a movie that’s going to strike a chord with your audience.
But you do need one that’s accurate, realistic and complete. Better carry a notebook and pencil around for awhile…