Building out your first film budget can be intimidating. Producer Natalie Metzger has produced many projects at different budget levels including shorts and features and she walks through some of the basics you need to know including: main budget categories, schedule breakdowns, contingency, padding, and other considerations. 

Key Insights
  • Budgeting a film can be intimidating, but you can get help by using online tools, budget templates and resources.
  • A schedule breakdown: a page is considered one minute of a film. By breaking down each page into “eighths”, you can budget what’s needed for each scene and know the questions that will need to be answered.
  • There are four main categories of any budget:
    •  Above the Line
    •  Production
    •  Post-Production
    •  Miscellaneous
  • Above the Line covers the Director, Writer, Producer(s) and Principal Cast.
  • Below the Line covers the costs of prep and production, including the camera department, locations and permits, craft services and catering, production design, wardrobe, additional talent, transportation, grip and electric, hair and makeup and production staff.
  • Post-Production includes all costs associated with finishing the film including editing, visual effects, music, sound mixing, color timing and making deliverables.
  • Post is one of the most consistently under-budgeted areas. There are certain elements you can do inexpensively by editing your film or doing the temporary mix. When you’re getting a film ready for distribution, you will often need to invest in color, sound, and the making of deliverables.
  • The Miscellaneous category grows or shrinks according to the budget size because several of the items are largely based on a percentage (production company fees, insurance). It also includes costs associated with film financing (bonds, bank fees) as well as distribution costs (festival submissions, publicists, marketing costs) and legal.
  • Insurance is an essential budget item to cover your liability if something happens during production and to allow you to finalize agreements for equipment rentals and locations.
  • There are different ways to acquire insurance which can include using an insurance broker who will charge you a fee based on the number of shoot days and locations, amount of equipment and the general liability coverage needed. On a smaller budget, you can consider making a deal with an existing production company who can underwrite your insurance needs.
  • Contingency is a portion of money that you set aside to use only in case of an “emergency”. This is typically 10% of the overall budget which can be adjusted to your scale. If you don’t use the contingency, then you can return that money and be under budget!
  • Padding is when you over-budget portions of the budget because you anticipate needing more money in certain departments, but are not sure yet. It will give you flexibility while making your film, so you can move that money around, as needed.
  • Make sure you budget for music which is an essential part of your creative process and can make or break a film. You can often negotiate a music package with a composer, if your budget is small.
  • Another under-budgeted area is finishing costs and submission fees for festivals. If you don’t reserve even a small portion of the budget for this, you may find yourself unable to show your completed project.
  • With practice, you will learn how to budget over time. Being on set and taking time to understand how money is being spent is a great start. 
Natalie Metzger is an award-winning producer, director, and writer, who explores the dark, surreal side of human nature with her visually rich and thoughtful work. She is a Spirit Award nominated producer whose credits include the upcoming WEREWOLVES WITHIN (which will be premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival and distributed by IFC Films), THE BETA TEST (Berlin Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival), THE WOLF OF SNOW HOLLOW (MGM/Orion), GREENER GRASS (Sundance Film Festival), THUNDER ROAD (Grand Jury Award - SXSW), THE ROBBERY (Sundance Film Festival), MATPAT’S GAME LAB (Streamy Award), and Lil Dicky’s FREAKY FRIDAY (over 664 million views), among numerous others. Metzger is currently in post-production on a new sci-fi series as well as Yogi Berra documentary IT AIN’T OVER. more...

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