Creating a production budget template for film, TV or web projects is like making that first trip to the gym. It may seem like a slog, but once you’re up and running, you’ll find it pays dividends down the road – and you may even enjoy the endorphin rush. It’s the number one thing you can do to get your film budgets off on the right foot.
What is a production budget template?
A budget for film, TV or new media production generally has categories, accounts, subaccounts and detail. These are numbered elements that generally correspond to your production accounting Chart of Accounts (COA). There is no single “right” way to number your film budget accounts, though there are some common practices.
You also may be budgeting a project for an existing production company, and need to follow their own COA. If that’s the case, the company will provide the COA and sometimes even a production budget template of their own.
But either way, once you’re budgeting for media projects regularly, you’ll want to build budget templates that align with your particular budget style – or at least the style of the productions you work on frequently.
How do I get started on a template for my production budgets?
If you’re just starting a production budget on your own, with no format or COA you need to follow, you have a few options:
Start the budget from scratch
With free reign on a smaller production, it’s up to you to make up the accounts and subaccounts, and organize them in a way that makes sense to you. A common way to categorize the accounts broadly in your film budget is to divide them into Above the Line, Below the Line, and Postproduction budgets.
In Above the Line, you might have Cast, Director, Producers Unit, ATL Travel, etc.
In Below the Line, you’ll have almost the entirety of your production crew and everything related to them. To look at it another way: in this section, you’ll have all the equipment and other physicals costs you have to budget for to get the production shot, and also the related crew labor costs to operate all the equipment, pay the fees, etc.
For example: you’ll likely have a Transportation account in your production budget. Let’s say you number this account 3500, and the next account you have is Locations and you number it 3600. (We’ll see this in our sample film budget in a little while.) You now have 99 lines of subaccounts (3501 – 3599) available for you to spell out the details of those production budget line items that fall under Transportation.
So: maybe you make your Grip Truck 3501 (some production accountants might put the Grip Truck under their Grips account instead – you see where preference and custom play a part). You’ve got some other cube trucks, maybe a passenger van, some rental cars, etc. Fuel could be a subaccount here too – though fuel for generators might go under your Grips account.
Finally, you’re going to need Drivers for the trucks, right? You may put all Drivers into one subaccount if they all are being paid the same and working roughly the same amount of time on the shoot, or you might put each in their own. If you have many different types of vehicles, you may want to group drivers into license class (Class A Drivers, Class C Drivers, etc.).
Make a copy of an existing production budget
Sometimes the best way to get your feet wet is just to beg, borrow or… well, just beg or borrow an existing production budget from a film or TV project similar to yours. This method will give you a window into the thinking of a practiced production accountant and/or producer, and you’ll begin to see the logic in why they categorized certain line items the way they did.
Production accountants won’t share the details of a budget with the project name or any identifying crew or talent information included, so they may need to do a pass before handing it over for you to start building your own.
Once you have a sample film budget file in hand, you can break it down and start customizing line items and their projected costs to suit your own media project.
Use a template from a production budgeting software
Using a production budget template from a film budgeting software such as Movie Magic or our own Showbiz Budgeting has its pros and cons. On the pro side, budgeting software will generally have dozens of templates for all kinds of productions. In Showbiz, we try to provide a variety of template types, from indie film to studio feature to reality TV to commercial projects.
While budgeting software templates get you off the ground, if they’re not based on real-life film projects, they can sometimes be light on the details. In Showbiz, we build our budget templates from actual projects our payroll clients have agreed to make available, after scrubbing any identifying details.
The other downside when you’re just getting started is that film budgeting software costs money. Media Services has a special one-seat freelancer version of our Showbiz Budgeting software – just ask a sales associate. And our 10-day free trial allows you to get a feel for how it works for you.
Where can I find a good production budget template?
As mentioned above, you can always try Showbiz Budgeting software or Movie Magic to pull any budget templates they have. Showbiz actually has a free trial of the software that you can install and try out production budgets on your own, with few restrictions.
Sample film budgets
For instructional purposes, we’ve made a sample film budget available here. It’s a PDF rather than an actual film budgeting software file, but at 35 pages it includes a lot of detail and makes a great place to start.
And we also have this sample cost report, built from the same budget. Cost reports are something you’ll generate often during production to get a picture of your Estimated Final Cost and Estimate To Complete; Showbiz Budgeting lets you do it without leaving the software.
Questions about film budgeting software? Meet with an expert