Budgeting will generally occur before a production is commissioned or during the commissioning process. The process requires a considerable amount of expertise and the importance of an accurate budget cannot be underestimated. An under-budgeted production is in trouble from day one!
In television, the budget is usually prepared by the Producer, the Line Producer/PM or someone with the relevant expertise. Feature films are sometimes budgeted by the Production Accountant.
Bespoke TV/Film specific software is available for budgeting but a spreadsheet is also an effective budgeting tool.
In the UK, there are some standard formats for different genres of programme and, whilst many of the broadcasters use similar formats, it is worth ascertaining exactly what format is acceptable to the broadcaster/funder for which the production is being made for.
The Digital Production Partnership has published a standard budget template from discussions with Production Managers and Producers and can be found here
The following files detail other common formats used.
It is very common for drama productions to use Movie Magic Scheduling and Movie Magic Budgeting software packages (previously known as EP Scheduling and EP Budgeting). It is not usually necessary for Production Accountants to know how to use Movie Magic Scheduling, but they should know how to read the schedule and know what reports to request from the 1stAssistant Director. E.g. day out of days reports can be produced to give a breakdown on different areas in the budget, including artists, locations, crowd etc.
It is useful for Production Accountants to be familiar with Movie Magic Budgeting. It helps when the Production Accountant is reviewing and checking the budget, making any amendments necessary, producing ‘what if’ scenarios, and making comparisons between different versions of the Budget.
Another budgeting package is PMI, otherwise the budget may be produced on a spreadsheet.
Budgeting by Genre
The person doing a factual genre budget needs a synopsis of the programme or series with details of the delivery requirements. The synopsis should indicate where shooting is likely to take place, the length of each programme and what archive or music is likely to be used. The synopsis should also impart the ‘feel’ of the intended production. Are we dealing with a visually stunning production involving rolling aerial long-shots of beautiful scenery or is the programme likely to involve a lot of ‘talking heads’?
Having arrived at an overview of the production the next step is to decide on the production schedule. The simplest productions have the following phases:-
- Development -when the production is researched, budgeted and funded
- Pre-production – the preparation period that precedes the ‘production’ period
- Production – when shooting occurs
- Post-production – when editing occurs
- Delivery – when the programme is delivered to the broadcaster along with delivery paperwork and the final cost report.
In reality, most productions have periods of overlap and often post-production work will take place at the same time as production work is taking place. Where a series is commissioned there will be periods where one programme is in pre-production whilst another is in post-production.
Having arrived at a sensible schedule, budgeting is now a matter of going through the standard format budget lines and using experience and knowledge of industry rates and procedures to arrive at a budget. Budgeting is very much a process of using experience and common sense to arrive at a sensible and workable budget figure.
Entertainment / Comedy
Entertainment and comedy can cover a wide spectrum of subjects such as magic, award shows, cookery or reality television shows. In principle, the budgeting process for such shows is much the same as for Factual programmes.
Drama / Scripted Comedy
Drama and scripted comedy are considered more complicated to budget than other genres but have the advantage of being script driven. The accurate way to budget is to analyse each scene in the script noting the location, the artists required, set requirements and anything with a cost implication. Having broken down the complete script the person compiling the budget needs to make decisions as to the most efficient order to shoot the drama in order to minimise the cost of production. Much of this process is driven by common sense or necessity. For example, where a specific location is required by the script it would usually be most cost effective to shoot all the scenes in this location together to minimise set dressing costs and location hire costs. Furthermore, a scene where a set is destroyed by fire would have to be shot after another scene using the same set before its destruction.
The schedule takes the form of a detailed daily shooting plan listing each day’s crew, artists, equipment and location requirements. Having drawn up this schedule the daily requirements have to be costed to arrive at the first-draft budget.
Software (such as ‘Movie Magic Scheduling’) is available which is designed to help break a script down into a daily shooting schedule. Such software can be a powerful tool if correctly used.
Animation and VFX is a specialist area and should only be budgeted by someone who understands the complete process and is aware of related costs.