Media Math: How Writers Should Think about Film Budgets Part 1

Broad Sense of the Film Budget and Producer’s Intention

Film Production budgeting requires a lot of detail – but it starts with the broad strokes from the Producer. I need to know their general sensibilities for the project.  When I worked on the “Taken” films (I did all three with Liam Neeson), then I could get a general sense of what was going to be required.  By film number 2, the genre was very familiar to me.   The producer must tell me what their financial intent is for the project.   So to gain some insight, I have them fill out one of these Project Master Questionnairres:

Master Project Questionnaire – Very useful to ascertain what’s in the producers head before the real budgeting process begins!


Schedule for the Film

While we don’t know the exact schedule, I will ask for answers about:

  • Probable location – which is critical to determine what specific union contracts and rates are used in the budget. Los Angeles, Atlanta, Colombia, Australia, etc.,
  • Shooting Days – always a tough one to guess at intially until you see a board. But many Indie films fall into the 20-30-40 day range.
  • Cast Emphasis – are there any particular roles other than the Principals where you see a special actor. That role would have to be ‘compressed’ for the shortest period of time.

Rough Estimate for Film Budgets

As a result, when we add up the amounts above, the total is $3,715,000. All projects – with few exceptions – that require a Completion Bond must have a ten percent (10%) contingency.   So we have to take out about $650k based upon a target budget of $6.5M.

Target Budget: 6,500,000
Major Category Projections: 3,715,000
Post-Production Est: 350,000
Completion Bond Cost-2% 130,000
Contingency: (10%) 650,000
Production Funding: 1,655,000


Real Figures Adding Up

In addition, we can break down the above figures into for the Film Budget.

Target Budget – the preliminary figure that the Producers believe could attract funding, sales, equity, pre-sales, etc., for the project

Major Category Projections – the rough estimates for the various categories like Producer, Director, Writer Talent, etc., These numbers do not include the state and federal required fringe payments for Medicare, FUI, SUI, etc., Again, it’s an estimate.

Post-Production Estimate – This estimate includes editorial (editors, assistant editor, editing rooms and editing eqiupment), post-sound (mixing, foley, ADR, etc., ) as well as delivery.

Completion Bond – 2% fee here. The cost varies but not more than 2.5 to 3%

Contingency – 10% for Standard contingency requird by the Bond company.

Production Funding – After all these deductions, this amount remains which  includes production and “Other” which is a category reserved for legal, other expenses, publicity, etc.,


As a result, this broad sense of the Film Budget is very, very slim number to make this film – depending!  This is not a real Film Budget but a Reverse Engineering from the money available in Finance to what’s available in Film Production.

Are we shooting inside a Jury room like the great film “Twelve Angry Men”? Or are we shooting battlefield scenes? Consequently, these are very rough figures to be sure – but the layout does give us pause to reconsider some initial assumptions and participants.

  • Do we not hire a few more people in various producer capacities?
  • Negotiate the script for a lower rate, perhaps with a significant amount deferred?
  • Consider putting more money into a single Star principal and then hire locals at scale for other roles?