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From the Field: Every Film Needs a Budget

Posted on February 06, 2017

Photo: David Eisenberg


Making your film, being creative and seeing your film come to life are the fun parts of being a filmmaker. They might even be the reason as to why you are passionate about filmmaking. However, within all these fun aspects of filmmaking, there is a business side to it – putting together your budget. David Eisenberg, Director of Production at ITVS shares with us why this is an essential part of being a filmmaker and why it’s part of the creative process. 

Every film needs a budget. 

Having a solid one for your project will help you fundraise, anticipate production issues before they arise, get control of your schedule, and ultimately help you make better deals with exhibitors and distributors.  

None of that means that most of us wouldn’t skip dealing with them if we could.  For most of us, they’re boring, abstract, and pull us away from the creative work we all love best.

However, contrary to what most people think, the hard work of budgeting is actually creative.  It’s mapping out a clear enough vision of your final film to envision what “stuff” you’ll need to pull it off. 

In addition keep the following in mind as you work through your budget:



Your budget does not exist in a vacuum.  It contains the costs of materials and labor over a time period that should be laid out elsewhere in your production plan.  

Your written version of your story -- be that a script, or outline, or treatment -- is your wish-list for the locations, characters, archival materials, music, etc., that you’ll need to bring together to make your movie.  In the same way, your schedule or production plan should outline as specific a time period and duration for all of the smaller chunks of work you’ll need to do to take your project from planning through the final post.

As you flesh out these details, your budget becomes more realistic – so it’s impossible to come up with a useful budget without really thinking through the other parts of your plan.  And as things inevitably change around your story or timeline, you can and should update your budget.



Your budget is not something you build once (probably for a funding application) and then put away.  Your budget is a living document.  It may grow as your ambitions for the project expand, or contract as you hone the story.  

Be disciplined about making adjustments as you get new information about your project or as the unexpected impacts your plan.  By that same token, pay attention to what your budget is telling you as you update it, and adjust your plan for the future accordingly.


Research (Research, Research) 

A lot of the factors you need to consider when putting your budget together are under your direct control and are dictated by your vision for the project.  

Unfortunately, what everything is going to cost is not. 

Therefore, an essential part of creating and updating your budget is actually getting in touch with the people or companies you may have to pay to find out what their services or products cost.  They’ll also be able to let you know if the amount of time you’ve assumed you’ll need for their part is correct.  

Pay special attention to estimates for rights clearances for any third party material, your online edit, and mastering/finishing costs.  These tend to be large bills that come late in production (and usually when you’re under pressure to deliver the film.)  Do yourself a favor and get quotes for these costs early on instead of relying on numbers from an old project or ballpark estimates until it’s too late.




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