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Budgeting Basics Part 2


So, this article is about creating a budget for first timers. Part One talked about a little bit of the homework you need or should do before you actually start to put numbers together. If you are a first time budgeter, I urge you to read that article first. This article is going to begin where I left off in Part One… with the beginnings of a budget.

Okay, so we have broken down the script. We know which characters are in which scenes, we have our locations in mind, along with a list of props, set decoration, wardrobe, makeup/hair changes. We are good for the next step.

So how much can you spend? You do not have to know this before you start… you can plug in the amounts you know and do your best to “guess-timate” the other numbers, hopefully giving you a general idea of what your budget total is going to be. But, having a total in mind when you start is helpful. If you know you have a $5,000 budget for a short film then that gives you a goal to hit. It also helps you know that it will be impossible to shoot at this location because it is $4500 and you still have to pay crew, cast, buy 35 vintage props off of Ebay and pay for catering! So that will let you know right away that you need to find a new location, re-negotiate the location fees or get more money!

So let’s say you know that you have $5,000 for your short film, because you just ran your successful Kickstarter Campaign (Congrats by the way on the fundraising!) and you have $5,000 left over after paying your Kickstarter fees and any other fees you might owe in rewards for backers and any people you have to pay for their help in getting the word out there about your project!

Okay so $5,000. So now you need a budget template. If you are doing a small project I suggest building your own in Excel or similar program as this will help you start getting to know budgeting really well, plus if you add formulas and have to build your own… you will soon be a guru.

Formulas are a big part of budgeting, you should learn how to use them and build them, start simply and build on to make more complicated formulas. Without formulas it is very very easy to make mistakes when making manual changes. Changes happen so it is good to be very familiar with your budget and be able to use the template quickly and efficiently. You need to be able to add rows and columns at a moments notice.

If you ask around for a template and cannot find one then do not get overwhelmed building one. A budget can be very simple. Think of a budget as a way to organize all the moving parts of your production, while also keeping track of its costs. It can be as simple as starting with your departments and allotting each department or crew member of said department their wages. Then, once you have done that, take it a step further and add in money for each department’s gear/rentals/ purchases. For example: Let’s say you are working on your $5,000 short film and you need a Makeup artist for $150.00 a day. You will need to make sure you tell them if that includes their kit fee (makeup supplies, that they supply) and then what additional purchases they will need. Do you have a character with a birth mark on their face? Chances are this will take makeup that is not in their general kit, so you should put some additional money in the budget for that purpose.

How do you know what departments you will need? Well, start asking yourself questions. First you need the script. Are you paying the writer? Then you need someone to help get this project off the ground, are you hiring a producer? You will need someone who has the whole creative vision in their mind and can bring it to life, are you directing? Are you bringing in a tried and trusted director who loves the project? Just keep asking yourself questions like this and plug in numbers for peoples rates. Once you have numbers in you will start see it all adding up and you will know if you have enough money or not.

If you find yourself having to make cuts… you will figure it out. Maybe you cannot hire a whole team of PA’s, but maybe you are able to throw in a bit more money or a better title and hire two PA’s. Maybe you really cannot afford to rent the brand new camera the DP wants you to rent, but perhaps you can reevaluate this with your DP, ask them for another option that might save a bit of money. You know you need insurance cause you cannot rent the gear without it, perhaps your first Insurance quote is high…well get more quotes! Ask around for recommendations on low budget, short film insurance companies.

Making budgets can be intimidating… but remember, it’s a tool for you as you run your production. I highly recommend just start finding scenes or shorts, simple ones and start making practice budgets. Just set a limit on what you can spend and start building your budgets. Then build up to bigger projects. Offer to help budget a friend’s project and see what questions you have. Then… figure out how to find the answer. People who make budgets do not always know the answers up front… we make a lot of calls and ask a ton of questions. Never be afraid to ask questions.


Ashleigh Nichols

About Ashleigh Nichols

Ashleigh Nichols resides in Los Angeles with her husband, Eddie, and their Chihuahua mix, Nova. Together they work on their own projects as a wife-husband directing/producing/writing team. Through Owlet Pictures, they created the web series Coffee Shop Squatters, and the award winning short film Summer of the Zombies. Ashleigh is also working on a dramatic feature and creating a new web series, set to shoot later this year. While not working on her own projects, Ashleigh is currently an in house Production Manager at Ampersand Media. Before going in house she Production Managed several shows/Pilots for Comedy Central, HBO Go and Vh1, some of these include: The Jeselnik Offensive, The Burn, The Ben Show, Brody Stevens: Enjoy It! and Parental Discretion S2. Ashleigh is also honored to have Co-Produced the indie film The Historian, currently touring on the festival circuit.