Budgeting your film: low- medium- high-

An outline of the three budgets for your film

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When you’re producing a film, you’ve got to create three budgets.

Low- budget

pablo40The low- budget is the absolute minimum you can make your film for.

  • You’re shooting with whichever equipment you can borrow or already own (the cheapest you can get);
  • you’ve got the bare minimum crew;
    • which could be you with your camera phone;
  • you’re using whichever locations you can get for free (like your house);
  • no-one is getting paid.

The thing to remember is that no-one should incur costs from working on your film. If you aren’t paying them, then you have to cover their transport costs and feed them. In your low- budget, your highest costs are catering, transport, and insurance (you could try to avoid insurance, but that could cost you way more in the long run).

High- budget

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The next to calculate is the high- budget. It’s the “pie-in-the-sky”, “if you had all the money in the world”, ideal scenario. There is no upper limit. In the high-budget:

  • you have the absolute best top quality equipment;
  • you have all of the crew you could possibly need;
  • you’re paying full rate for the best locations;
  • everyone is getting paid their union rate (see BECTU for crew rates).

Your highest cost is going to be crew fees. Then it trickles down to catering, transport, insurance, equipment, and locations.

Medium- budget

The medium- budget is likely what your budget will end up like. In it:

  • you mix what equipment you can borrow with what you will need to hire;
  • you work out who you will need on set for the most efficient amount of time;
    • e.g. if you have to have a stunt co-ordinator, you get all the stunts in one day; you have a full camera department when there are complicated scenes, but minimal crew other days.
  • you are likely looking for free locations, but have some funds set aside for hiring if needed;
  • you work out who you need to pay and how much.
    • some people may get NMW (national minimum wage); some inexperienced crew roles you may ask to work for free (e.g. runners);

Your highest costs for this budget will be, as above, crew rates; catering; transport; insurance; equipment; and locations.

Before anyone gets upset: I’m not going to get into the “not paying people”, “asking people to work for free” debate now, but will in a different post. 

To give you an idea of how this works, let’s look at cameras:

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  • Low- budget: iPhone; DSLR
  • Medium- budget: Canon C100; Blackmagic 2.5k; Arri Amirah
  • High- budget: digital: Arri Alexa; RED Dragon; film: 16mm; 35mm

 

Or your camera department:

  • Low- budget: DP
  • Medium- budget: DP, 1st AC, 2nd AC
  • High- budget: DP, Camera Operator, 1st AC, 2nd AC, 3rd AC

Once you have your three budgets, you have your range: the minimum your film can be made for; the maximum; and the safe middle-ground.

But why can’t I just make one budget?

Producing is all about troubleshooting and problem-solving. When being thorough with your budgets, you are working through all possible scenarios. This will help you to understand your film’s needs at a deeper level because you have done the figures. An HOD asks for more crew? You have done the figures and know whether it is possible or not. The location costs more than expected? You can work out where to minimise costs in other areas.

You can also use the budgets to your advantage:

  • when funding, which budget are you trying to raise?
  • when a location asks for your budget, which do you send?

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Budgets are vitally important to a successful film’s production. It takes practice. Remember that this is only one stage of budgeting; the budget will be revisited throughout the film’s production.

Best of luck with your films.