Film Budget Planning: How to Effectively Budget a Script Breakdown

When it comes to the glitz and glamour of the movie biz, most people don’t mention film production budget planning–try saying that three times fast.

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Film budgeting, of course, is one of the most crucial aspects of the film process.

While a pre-production film budget is only an estimate, some investors expect production costs to match very closely to the final price.

With all that pressure, we’ve compiled a few tips on how to use your script breakdown software to transform your script breakdown sheet into a film budget.

1. Break your script into pages per day...

The first step of formulating a film production budget is deciding how many pages you plan to shoot for each scheduled production day.

While there’s no set number of pages to shoot per day, it typically breaks down to this:

  • Major Hollywood films typically shoot about one page per day.
  • Well-funded indie films often shoot about four to five pages per day.
  • Low and micro-budget films may shoot eight or more pages per day.

As you start the process of film budgeting, determine how many pages you’ll shoot per day…

2. ...But plan for difficult scenes

Dialogue is typically easy to shoot. Effects-heavy sequences are not.

For each difficult sequence, examine page length. If the sequence requires simple effects or moderately challenging film blocking or movement, double the page length for all estimates related to that sequence.

If the sequence requires many effects or very complex blocking or movement, quadruple the page length in each scene breakdown.

Pro tip: Complex sequences are often written in different ways. One writer may simply say, “Frederick transforms into a wolf,” while another may describe each stage of that transformation in great detail for pages. Adjust your estimate accordingly. When there is little detail, treat the sequence as longer than the page count. When there is extremely great detail, treat the scene breakdown as shorter than the page count. A script breakdown sheet doesn’t always account for this.

3. Budget your film for actors

Every film needs a leading woman (and occasionally a man). Cast Members are one of the first elements you categorize on your script breakdown template.

Once you’ve broken down your script, look at each cast member’s featured scenes, and bundle them together.

Once each character has a count from your script breakdown, use the earlier page formula.

  1. Based on your shoots pages per day, calculate how many days each cast member will be needed.
  2. Because actors won’t likely work full days in front of the camera for every day they work, multiply this number by a correction factor of 1.5 or even 2.
  3. On your film production budget template, record this expected number of days on set for each actor and then calculate salary.

Example:

If actor “X” is being paid $1000/day, has a total of 12 script pages on your script breakdown, and your shoot is planned for 4 pages per day, the line item for this actor would be: 12 pages / 4 pages per day = 3 days * $1000/day * 2x correction factor = $6000.

And voila, you’re one step closer to finishing your preliminary film budget.

4. Don't forget film budgeting for your extras

Count background actor days by doing a count of where they’re featured on your script breakdown sheet (template), with each strip multiplied by the number of actors.

You’ll end up with a single number of background actor days covering all actors and scenes. On your budget template, multiply this by the day rate for background.

So, if you need 30 actors for a 1 page scene, that will equal 30 background actor days.

To do this in StudioBinder, click on “Elements” go to “Extras” and click “View Scenes.”

Pro tip: If your script totals 150 background actor days on your script breakdown template and your background actors are paid $100/day, multiply 150 by $100 for a line-item total of $15,000.

5. Film budgeting for stunts and special effects

Check your scene breakdowns for stunts and special effects, marked in your script breakdown software’s colors of choice.

As with most production tips, there is no simple, quick formula for stunts and effects.

For each, estimate materials and personnel costs. Do they require stunt doubles, special effects teams or stunt coordinators? Do they require second unit camera teams?

Develop a budget estimate for each effect or stunt on your script breakdown sheet.

Pro tip: If your script totals 150 background actor days on your script breakdown template and your background actors are paid $100/day, multiply 150 by $100 for a line-item total of $15,000.

6. Budgeting for vehicles and animals

Look for the marks on your scene breakdown for vehicles and animals. It’s easy to spot on our script breakdown template.

Like stunts, these elements will require special estimates for appropriate crew, rental, insurance, etc.

I suggest budgeting for these production elements early on in your process. However, this very much depends on the film you’re working on.

If you’re working on Marley and Me, animal costs would play a greater role in your film budget estimate than say Speed Racer, where vehicle costs matter more.

Script breakdown software can give you the information you need, but at the end of the day, you still have to weigh each element accordingly to your individual production needs.

Pro tip: If your script totals 150 background actor days on your script breakdown and your background actors are paid $100/day, multiply 150 by $100 for a line-item total of $15,000.

7. How to budget crew salaries

You don’t need a full breakdown to estimate crew salaries.

You can determine crew needs by dividing your full script length by the number of pages to be shot per day.

For instance, if your script comes in around 90 pages and you’re shooting 5 pages per day, that means you’ll need your crew for 18 days.

Simply list all crew and multiply their salaries by the number of production days. Some crew may be paid a flat rate, so note that on your film production budget template.

Your crew breakdown will typically include directors, producers, camera team, sound team, gaffing and electric, art department, craft services, hair and makeup, wardrobe, transportation, location management, property management, etc.

Pro tip: If you have team managers or department heads in place, check with them for estimates of personnel needs and materials costs. As good as your film budget breakdown is, it can’t replace the experience of your department heads.

8. Tailor Your Film Budget Breakdown

Consider the following script breakdown example:

“Scene 23b calls for two cast members, the crew, and an antique pistol.”

For an indie short film budget, most of the money may go towards finding a rare antique pistol, where as a bigger budget film’s greatest expense would probably be two Hollywood leads.

A film budget breakdown should fit your movie like a glove. If anything, the script breakdown example above shows how different productions use the same elements, but weigh them accordingly.

It’s simple when you think about it.

A short film budget is vastly different from a Kung Fu action film budget. A horror film probably budgets more money for makeup than a family comedy does.

 

Pro tip: If you’re on a short film budget for an indie pic, ask yourself what the most expensive elements on your film budget breakdown are. Craft your short film budget around those elements to make the most of your money. You can track this as early as your script breakdown (template).

 

Wrapping Up

Even without your production completely planned out, it’s still possible to present a detailed and accurate film production budget estimate. It’s just a matter of transforming the code of your script breakdown sheet into your film budget template.

Did we miss anything about film budgeting? Let us know in the comments!

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Michael Epstein
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Michael Epstein

Filmmaker at Launch Over
Michael J. Epstein is a Los-Angeles-based filmmaker, musician, and writer. He has written, directed, and produced three horror and sci-fi feature films in collaboration with his wife, Sophia Cacciola. Their films and music have won numerous festival awards and have been featured by such outlets as TIME, USAToday, SPIN, Curve, Starburst, Famous Monsters, Sci-Fi, and Fangoria. He will probably just keep making genre films until they let him write for Star Trek.
Michael Epstein
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