Budgeting a film production

Budgeting for a filmAll films have a budget to track spending. While most of the budgeting can be handled using a template, it is helpful to know that budget templates intentionally skip numbers for line items. They are numbered consecutively, and the missing numbers between existing items on the template are used to include unpredicted expenses while being able to keep those expenses near similar line items.

One purpose of having a budget is to prevent overspending. The Production Accountant will be working with you throughout production, predicting costs and tracking them. As you’re tracking costs, hold the crew accountable: make sure the department’s report to you so they know what they are spending, and ensure their department heads understand their budgets. The director, producer, and assistant director also need to help enforce the budget. Keep track of what they are promising and to whom, and attend all meetings with the location scouts for this purpose as well.

Although some people need to know the entire budget, such as the producer, financiers, and production manager, keep in mind that this is a confidential document. Department heads need to know the budgets for their individual departments, but not for the entire production. Not only might you be required to sign a confidentiality agreement, but also you might find that the cost report stops reflecting the budget as production moves forward. Keeping the budget confidential helps prevent promises that can’t be kept as unseen expenses arise.

As you start writing budgets, you may have producers asking you to write them for free. If you have the time, doing so will be good practice and puts more budgets on your resume as references for later. Do not be less thorough just because it’s free, though; that makes the budget useless, and negates the whole purpose of having done it at all.


Budgeting for a series

The unique challenge of budgeting for a series involves using two different budgets in concert. First, the amortization budget tracks expenses for the entire series as a whole, such as sets, legal fees, audit, hiatus costs, and other expenses that affect all episodes (or, in other words, no one episode in particular.)

The pattern budget is a template for the cost per episode. It will include an amort line Ð the amortization budget, divided by the number of episodes in the series. Other items included are production costs and post costs, such as catering, writers, editing, and equipment rentals.


Budgeting modifications for co-productions

A columnar budget is necessary for any international co-production. Both countries involved will need an audit. Not only do you need the budget for the entire production, you’ll also need a separate one for each country. This means three columns in the budget, and thus three cost reports each period: the total, your town, and the co-producer’s town. Tracking dual costs will help later as well (dual citizens might be an example.)

Separating each line item by country clarifies who is paying for what. Even the producers should be split over lines so that no line is shared between the countries. There are advanced features in budgeting software that can aid in columnizing your budget, and the missing numbers in budget templates can be filled in here to split costs out easily without having to renumber other line items.