POSTS The Film Business

How to Approach a Film Budget

I always make at least a simple budget to forecast expected expenses, no matter what size the project is. The more complicated the project, the greater the detail I put into the budget. This also helps tremendously when you are working with a partner or outside funding source. All parties can then see what needs to be done and what all the players can bring to the table in their expenditures and role in the project.

Photo by Tax Credit

I break budgeting down into three areas:

Pre-Production —This includes planning, travel to meetings, script development, location scouting, acquiring permits, and other expenses required before you can begin production.

Production —This includes all activities involved in shooting the video including the director, camera operators, actors, grips, assistants, equipment rental, consumables like tape or memory chips and batteries, travel, meals; basically all expenses involved once you start production.

Post-Production —This includes the editor, effects or graphic artist, special software, stock footage, music and sound effects, hard drives for storage and archiving, voiceover narrator, tape stock, DVDs, office expenses, and possibly the time of the director to look over the editing process.

I further break each of these down line by line into projected hours times cost-per hour, unless the item is a flat fee. This makes it easier to build a rational best-guess budget.

I also like to keep one column that is the projected budget and one that is the actual budget. As I go along I fill in the actual costs to see how far I’m deviating from the budget. Over time this will help you improve your forecasting accuracy.

For your reference, below are some typical fees for a professional video director, crew, and rental equipment. I’m not talking part-time hobbyists, but professionals. These costs are typical where I live in California. Your costs will vary. They’d be more in New York City and less in Missoula, Montana.

Typical (even low) standard industry fees:

  • Producer Fee: $500–$1,000/Day (you may be the producer)
  • Script Writer: $500–$2,000 Total
  • Director Fee: $500–$1,200/Day
  • Camera Operator: $500/Day
  • 2nd Camera Operator: $400/Day
  • Script/Continuity Assistant: $200–$400/Day
  • Camera and Audio Equipment Rental: $150–$750/Day
  • Key Grip + Assistant + Lighting Gear: $500–$1,000/Day
  • Wardrobe: Estimated $20–$200/Day Per Character
  • City Permits: $25–$1,000/Day (depending on the city, whether roads need to be closed, and other factors)
  • Props/Furniture Rental: Estimated $100–$500
  • Possible Set Construction: $50–$300
  • Set Location Rental: $500–$1,000/Day

Typical post-production costs:

  • Editor Fee: $500/Day
  • Redundant Hard Disk Archive: $200 (for storing your program files)
  • Visual Effects/Stock Footage $50–$500

Variable costs not included above:

  • On-Camera or Voice-Over Talent
  • Stock Music
  • Travel and Lodging
  • Vehicle Rental
  • Catering (food)

You may not need all of these items but as you can see, there are a lot of things to consider and it can really add up fast. This doesn’t include the cost of designing the packaging for your DVD, marketing it, inventory and fulfillment services.

In Appendix C is a very simple budget template that I use to quickly estimate the costs of a production. You can also download this template as a blank spreadsheet at www.shoot-to-sell.com.

This kind of budget gives me a quick look at the costs and is often all I need. The biggest single expense is Location Field Production. This can vary greatly for each project. If I’m editing it myself, which I usually do, then post-production will not be an out-of-pocket expense except for effects and music I may purchase. The next largest expense is the script. If you or your partner write the script then you can save here.

If it’s a more complex project you probably want to make a more detailed budget, such as breaking equipment rental out into separate line items for camera, audio, lighting, and grip equipment. You can find a more detailed budget template for download at www.shoot-to-sell.com.

Once you develop a budget, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you think you can make enough to break even?
  • Can you do much better than that?
  • Would your time be better spent elsewhere?
  • Can you afford to do this project if you don’t sell that much?
  • Is this a wise investment of both your time and your money?

Once you know what your video is going to cost to create, you’ll want to do a quick income projection.

Here is a very simple way to calculate profit based on estimated sales:

Single Income Projection

Price Per Video $50.00

Duplication/Delivery Cost Each $1.25

Net Profit Per Unit Sold $48.75

Unit Sales Per Month (Projection) 30

Monthly Profit $1,462.50

Annual Profit $15,550.00

Your price and actual sales will vary, so just use this as a way to create a quick forecast.

This model is based on selling one unit per day at $50. This does not include your marketing expenses.

Excerpt from Shoot to Sell: Make Money Producing Special Interest Videos by Rick Smith and Kim Miller © 2013 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.

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