How to Create a Film Budget: a Step-by-Step Guide

How to Create a Film Budget: a Step-by-Step Guide

How to Create a Film Budget: a Step-by-Step Guide

Oct 12, 2022

Saturation Screen
Saturation Screen

In an industry that relies on putting a price tag on creativity — the film industry — knowing your way around a film budget is critical to getting your project off the ground.

Initially, financial backers want to see a plan.

But the success of future projects hinges on generating a profit.

FIlm finance professionals aren't only examining audience responses to past projects when determining to back a project.

They want to see what happens on the bottom line — paying particular attention to how you've managed finances in the past.

To ensure financiers pick up your future projects, you must be adept in managing a film budget, whether or not you choose to use film budget software.

What is a Film Budget and Who Should Manage It?

Film budgeting consists of managing and accounting for film expenses. It includes developing forecasts for how much you expect to spend in each production stage — the actual film budget.

Then it is followed by tracking the exact amount spent — the film accounting.

A film budget includes pre-production and post-production costs. The film budget breakdown comprises four segments: above-the-line, below-the-line, post-production, and other costs.

Projects searching for financing will have a two-stage approach to film budgeting: a top sheet and a master film budget.

Top Sheet: This budget is typically a one or two-page document summarizing major line items. You'll use this budget to secure funding.

Master Budget: A more detailed budget that includes clearer projections based on the quotes of vendors and cast.

The film budget is essential to securing financing, irrespective of the amount you're scouting. Financiers want a detailed breakdown of how their investment will be spent.

Even self-funded projects benefit from filming budgets as they enable you to manage your spending better and ensure limited finances are allocated to the most critical production costs.

Who Manages the Budget of a Film Production?

The size of your project will determine who manages your film budget. For example, the producer will likely manage a short film budget.

That could change depending on the size of the project. A film budget for a tier 3 project will likely be managed by a business advisor (to oversee overall expenses) and a line producer or production manager (who manages the daily expenses).

A CPA or even an attorney could be tasked with overseeing and managing the overall film budget.

Typically, one team member will manage the high-level budget and reporting, while a second team member will manage how that budget is utilized daily and approve expenses in different stages of production.

What are the Key Components of Film Budgeting?

Although film budgets share the same four components, the exact cost will differ from project to project.

Above-the-line Costs

Above-the-line (ATL) costs are those associated with the film's directors, producers, writers, and principal actors. ATL costs can include expenses that facilitate these team members' work, including transportation, airfare, accommodation, equipment, catering, etc.

Below-the-line Costs

Below-the-line (BTL) costs include pre-production expenses and those costs for the crew, including department heads.

These expenses include equipment rental, props, permits, transportation, wardrobe, location, construction of animatronics, crew labor, etc.

Post-production Costs

Post-production costs, also known as below-the-line (BTL) posts, include all the post-production expenses like editing, post-facilities, and visual effects.

Other Costs

Miscellaneous costs should include insurance, marketing, distribution, and a completion bond.

If you're searching for a financier, remember you must provide comps. The budget breakdown and forecasts of projects are comparable to your own.

You can rely on a sales agent or entertainment lawyer to get your hands on comps.

How Do You Create a Film Budget: 7-Step Guide to Build a Trackable Budget

Two factors determine whether or not your film budget is successful — the first is that it helps you secure financiers for your project, and the second is that you can track the expenses to stay within budget.

This 7-step guide will lead you to create a precise budget that you're able to track.

Step 1: Determine Pre-production Budget and Wrap Crew Costs

Pre-production can become disorganized and costly if not properly planned.

Therefore, before production begins, list the necessary crew, including ADs, DP, and gaffers, and create a schedule.

Scheduling rehearsals, scouting, and other required tasks will save valuable time and resources.

Some crew members may require extra preparation time depending on the project, so it is advisable to seek guidance from a mentor or experienced producer when creating a budget.

You could rely on overtime pay rather than full-day pay to save on expenses. For that reason, you should include an overtime allowance in the film budget.

Now is also the time to conclude your wrap crew costs. Typically, you'll need to allocate expenses for three pick-up days to film shoots not included in principal shooting days.

Step 2: Break Down the Script and List the Expenses

The script is the blueprint for creating an accurate film budget. Begin by breaking down the script pages into 8ths. Doing this is essential to developing a comprehensive budget from which you can draw insights for your top sheet.

Once you've completed the script breakdown, you should analyze it twice to draw insights about the costs and production dates.

During the initial analysis, list the cast and their respective production dates, which will help determine talent costs.

You can determine the production date using a simple trick.

A big-budget film will film two script pages a day, whereas a micro-budget Indie film could film as many as eight script pages a day.

The second — or subsequent — pass should be more thorough. You should list the production elements.

During this second pass, you'll list the following:

· Extras

· Props

· Set Dressing

· Costumes

· Hair and Makeup

· Vehicles

· Equipment Rental

· Stunts

· Animals

· Animatronics

· Studio Rental

· Special and Visual Effects

· Music

Step 3: Calculate Script Breakdown Expenses

With the list of expenses, it's time to calculate the total of each.

Each expense will be determined by how many filming days the line item requires.

You should ascertain how many filming days there'll be during this time.

You can reduce the filming days and costs associated with the principal photography by filming scripting pages that require the same materials and expenses. You can begin by separating your filming days into two: studio shoot days and location shoot days.

Then, you could film all scenes with extras or equipment rental scenes in batches.

If you want an accurate film budget, this is the time to research each cost. It's better to overestimate the cost of expenses rather than underestimate and run out of money during shooting and seek out more financing.

Step 4: Add Remaining Costs and Expenses

Not every cost can be derived from the script breakdown. For that reason, you should consider adding overlooked or miscellaneous expenses.

These expenses should include crew labor and overtime in addition to crew member per diems, filming security, location expenses, and other remaining expenses.

A great starting point is crew expenses.

Every film, irrespective of budget, should have a department head for its department, even if the department crew and head are the same person.

You can rely on these department heads to provide feedback on the hours their crew would need for their work. If you still need to fill these roles, turn to a mentor or seasoned producer for clarity on expenses.

Other costs could include travel and transportation, accommodation, and catering for cast and crew.

As an unavoidable shoot cost, the tally for catering should be $25 per person for every filming day.

Step 5: Calculate Your Post-Production Budget

Your post-production budget should account for 20 to 25 percent of the overall budget expenses, given it has many moving parts.

Most of these post-production costs can be divided into four categories: sound, editing, special and visual effects, and color grading.

Editing: Editing is often the most cost-intensive and labor-intensive segment of post-production. You'll need to get an estimate from editors and factor the time it takes to edit the film into your schedule and budget.

Sound: Audio editing software ensures your project has a finished product the audience will enjoy.

If the budget allows, a sound engineer or mixer should conduct your audio editing.

Visual Effects: The cost of visual effects is a challenge to quantify as the expense will depend on the complexity and effects you need.

Color-Grading: Color Grading is standard for any modern film production as it helps ensure the hues are consistent throughout and makes the film appear more vivid.

Step 6: Use the right Film Budgeting Software

Now that you've concluded your production budget research, it's time to bring them into film budget software. The right software allows you to track, share, and generate reports for your film budgeting.

It's advisable to use film budgeting software as it guarantees you won't make mistakes and enables your line producer or production manager to track and report the daily expenses.

The best budget software for film production budgets is saturation. Saturation has become the go to for line producers and production companies alike. The best part of saturation is that its collaborative so you can collaborate with your film producers, unit production manager & film crew. Get started with a free film budget template today.

Step 7: Generate the film production budget report.

Once you've input your details into your master budget, it's time to draw your budget report. Using, you can obtain top-level data on your forecasted expenses which you can use to create a top sheet with the information you'd like to include that will help with your film finance.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much of a film budget goes to producer?

A significant portion of a film's budget often goes to the producer, although the exact percentage can vary greatly depending on several factors such as the scale of the production, the reputation of the producer, and the financial model of the project. As a rule of thumb, a producer's compensation may account for roughly 5-10% of the total film budget.

This allocation covers the producer's responsibility to oversee all aspects of the film's creation from development to distribution. It's important to note that the film budget not only caters to the producer's fee but also includes costs such as cast and crew salaries, equipment, post-production, marketing, and distribution. Given the complexity and variability of film budgeting, potential filmmakers should invest time in comprehensive budget planning to ensure every dollar is put to good use.

how much should your short film budget go to festivals?

Picture this: you've got a killer short film in the works, and you're hashing out the budget. You're calculating costs for equipment, actors, post-production and the like. But here's something you might overlook – film festival submission fees.

Just like you'd set aside some cash for a party invite, you'd want to do the same for your film's big debut. Festivals give your work the spotlight it deserves, exposing it to wide audiences and industry professionals. And who knows? The right eyes on your film could just kickstart your career.

So how much of your budget should you set aside for this? It varies, but a good rule of thumb is around 1-3% of your total budget. It's not a small amount, but consider it an investment in your film's future.

So say your budget is $10,000. Reserving $100 to $300 for festival fees would be a wise move. This gives you the opportunity to submit to multiple festivals, improving your chances of getting noticed.

Sure, it's an added expense, but it's an important one. Festival submissions can open doors for your film, paving the way for recognition and even awards. So when you're crunching those numbers, don't forget to include a line for film festival submissions. It's one expense that can lead to a big return.

Why are film budgets so high?

Firstly, there's the talent – both on screen and off. Hiring seasoned actors, top-notch directors, and skilled crew members can cost a pretty penny. These professionals have honed their crafts for years, and their expertise comes with a price tag.

Then there's the technical side of things. High-quality cameras, lighting equipment, sound gear, and editing software can all add up to an enormous sum. Not to mention the costs associated with building sets, creating special effects, and designing costumes.

Plus, you can't forget about post-production, which includes editing, music scoring, and marketing. These are vital steps in bringing a film to life and ensuring it reaches its intended audience.

And then there's the logistics. If a film involves multiple shooting locations, especially if those are abroad, travel and accommodation expenses can also inflate the budget.

In essence, making a film is like a giant jigsaw puzzle – there are numerous pieces that need to fit together perfectly, and each piece comes with its own costs. That's why film budgets can skyrocket to such impressive heights. They represent the resources, the creativity, and the effort that goes into making movie magic. So next time you sit down to watch a film, remember all the hard work and high costs that made it possible.

What film has the biggest budget?

Ever find yourself wondering about the movie that had to shell out the most cash? As far as I'm aware up until 2021, "Avengers: Endgame" wears that crown. Believe it or not, the budget was a staggering $356 million plus! That's a lot of zeroes, huh?

The reason why it cost so much wasn't just because they had a list of superstars to pay. Nope. This figure includes everything - the over-the-top special effects that made our jaws drop, the massive marketing campaign that had the whole world buzzing, you name it.

And the best part? The gamble paid off big time! The film became a massive hit, breaking all records and becoming the highest-grossing film ever.

Just remember, in the fast-paced world of movies, these rankings can change as new films are released. So, it's always a good idea to check the most up-to-date info. Makes you appreciate the magic of the movies a bit more, doesn't it?


While having a master budget is essential to staying on track with your filming expenses, developing a schedule is another aspect of maximizing your financing.

Scheduling can help reduce location expenses, crew pay, per diem, and other line items.

Essentially, the cost of filming is linked to your filming days; the fewer principal filming days, the more likely you are to come in under budget and guarantee your next project receives funding.

Try Saturation today with our
free budget templates.

Get Free Template