What is the real purpose of a budget? In my experience, it’s the road map of the production. The amount of money you have will dictate the majority of the decisions that are made in pre-production, principal photography, post-production and beyond (festivals, marketing, social media campaigns, etc).
You may have used a “development” budget, usually created to raise money or interest in the project. To ensure you do not spend more than you have, you’ll need to get tough and really dig into the details.
If you have the money, I suggest hiring a line producer who has a ton of experience breaking down scripts and creating budgets in your price range. A line producer typically charges $500-$3,000 for a micro-budget and/or low budget, depending on the scope of the project.
However, if you want to do it yourself, the first step is to break down the script. Here’s how to start.
Read the script and make a list of the following components:
Locations: The type (street versus Plaza Hotel) and total amount of specific locations. The latter will determine how many company moves need to be made, the transportation of cast and crew, etc.
Cast: How many principal cast and background cast members are scripted. This can help you decide if you should go union or non-union depending on the budget level.
Stunts/SFX: Identify what type of stunts or SFX are required based on the script. That will affect your production budget as well as your post budget.
Production Design: Identify key props and art elements, including picture cars. This can help you define the size of your team and the flow of the day in regards to your schedule.
After you finish your initial breakdown, take time to interview the creatives (writer, director, executive producer) to determine the project’s genre and to get an understanding on their vision, their experience level, and how they intend to shoot the project (e.g., handheld versus long dolly shots, practical shots versus SFX done in post, the type of camera they want to shoot on). From there, you’ll know if the creative force attached to the project can execute the vision on the actual budget. Know who you are working with. Build a team that will honor your budget.
After the first pass you can always suggest changes to the script that will reduce costs while keeping the original vision intact. Remember, this is only the first pass. From here you can develop a detailed budget. Film and TV production is a collaborative art.
As Orson Wells said: “A writer needs a pen, an artist needs a brush, but a filmmaker needs an army.”
Stay tuned for a follow-up post on budgets and line items.