Archive for the ‘Budgets’ Category

Backwards Budgeting

When it comes to budgeting, whatever you do, don’t start at the beginning! Start backwards.


Peruse a budget template. That’s a lot of categories, isn’t it? Kind of makes the budget template seem smart by itself. Not so.

Sure, if you start budgeting at the first category and work your way linearly though the template to the end, you’re going to find line items you never considered. You’ll say to yourself, “that sounds good. I probably need one of those” and add it to your budget… and sooner than later your budget’s bottom line will swell to an unruly size. Who’d have thought that your production would cost so much!

The solution? Start budgeting backwards.

How much money might you have for the production? A ballpark figure will do, if the final financing amount isn’t available. That’s the end and that’s as far as you want to go.

Now go to the middle. Start budgeting the set crew categories below-the-line. You’ve decided on how many days, so that’s the place to plug in the first set of numbers. Bypass many of the template’s recommended categories. If you’re not entirely sure that you might want one of its recommendations, add it in for $1… the ridiculous amount will flag the category for when you review the overall budget after writing the first draft and then you can consider the recommendation in context of the entire budget and all departments in place.

Finally, fill in the other missing categories. By the time you review the budget from beginning to end (toward the end of your first draft), you will have a sense of the overall budget and can more wisely by-pass or select those extra categories.

It takes a bit of practice to know how big a crew and how many days a budget can support at different budget levels, but you’ll probably surprise yourself when you slow down a bit and let your logical brain kick in. The budget template is only a guide… and you’re the smart one writing the budget itself.

Cheers & smart budgeting to you,


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It’s a big budget production…  the production can afford it! Craft & catering should be good. It’s expected; it’s respectful.

It’s a low budget production… the production may not be providing enough time or money to the cast & crew to buy groceries. Craft & catering should be good. Production needs a healthy cast & crew; it’s respectful.

Good food, respect & a good shoot to you!

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The Australia Film Commission has a set of feature articles worth perusing. One in particular is called “The Financial Lowdown“.

Though this article is a tad old (it references films shot between 2000 and 2003), the content is still excellent. There’s a breakdown of a $1M production budget that helps with understanding of generally where in the budget the money goes. There is also discussion of how many shoot days are typical for low budget features and much more.

So… read it, learn from it, bookmark it! Then you can peruse their other articles too. Are any of them of significant interest to you?

Cheers & happy budgeting to you,

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It is said that with 7 memorable scenes in a movie – I mean really memorable, magical scenes – then the movie has great potential to do well.

In honour of the last Harry Potter movie coming out, I thought to examine this idea using the first Harry Potter movie. If any movie were filled with memorable, magical scenes, then I believe this one would be it. The trick in this case is to identify the scenes of the movie, not the scenes of the book…. because reading the book is a very different experience from watching the movie.

So, here, for “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”…

  1. The Harry Potter theme music over mist in the darkness and the first magic of Dumbledore & McGonagall
  2. Olivander facilitates the “twin” wand choosing Harry
  3. Through the wall and arriving on platform 9 3/4 to see the Hogwarts Express
  4. Harry, Ron and Hermione meet on the train over candy, spells and a dirty nose
  5. Snape explains the subtlety, fame & glory of potions… and labels Harry a celebrity
  6. In the great hall at the end, Neville earns the winning 10 points
  7. Hagrid gives Harry the photo album of wizard photos of Harry & his parents

Aha! Are these memorable moments different from yours? Hard to keep it to only seven?

Identifying the most memorable & magical scenes in your script will help to identify where and when to spend the production’s budget to maximize “getting the magic on the screen”. I’m not talking about “getting the story on the screen” – which is also a requirement of the focus of the budget – but finding the moments where the viewer’s thoughts are going to linger after leaving the theatre.

This list also shows us that allocating the production budget wisely may mean to allocate funds to special effects (the obvious) but also to time spent in rehearsal and on set to find the magic in the quiet moments or in dialogue between characters.

Since filmmaking is a collaborative art, explore (with the creative team) where the memorable moments may lie in your script.

Cheers & happy hunting,

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Today I’m at Theatrebooks in Toronto with my latest book “Film Production Management 101“! Oh boy!
PM101 in TO
Since I’ve spoken at a number of places over the years, in honour of today’s event – and for those of you who are not in the Toronto area – I thought I’d gather together links  to some of the articles I’ve written over the years:

Budgets: Use a Template or Write From Scratch
(at MWP Virtual Film School)
I discuss 3 factors to help you sort out the dilemma.

7 Things Writers Need To Know About Production Budgets
(part of the Expert Series at the Writers Store)
Though written for specfically for writers, PMs… and the rest of the crew should know these elements too.

To Volunteer or Not To Volunteer – as a Production Manager
(at MWP Virtual Film School)
I talk about 5 times when volunteering is a good thing, and 2 times when it’s not.

I’m very much looking forward to meeting and re-meeting fans, friends and family at Theatrebooks today! If you’re in the neighbourhood, come on by! See you starting at 5:30pm…


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Easter brings to mind hidden eggs… hidden eggs brings to mind hidden savings & costs in a production budget. The hidden savings are great, but the costs? Well, not so welcome. Here are three situations that typically generate hidden costs that you can watch out for:

1. Tethers In The Shot
Working with animals is challenging and tethers are often used as a training aid. Seeing tethers in the finished shot, however, is not what you have in mind, so you’ll have to CGI them out if you see any. Do you want to spend your CGI budget removing tethers or creating fancy effects shots? Balance the cost of shooting a few minutes faster on-the-day vs the extra (hidden) cost of tether removal during post.

2. Weather Dependence
If you need a certain exterior weather, you need to plan extra time (read “extra money”) to wait for it. Yes, that means the cast & crew waiting for the clouds to arrive, or waiting for the clouds to leave. Can anything move inside (and stay true the story)?

3. Distant Locations
The location may be the perfect for the story, but it’s miles away from the “free travel zone” for cast & crew and you need to be there for multiple weeks. You find that the crew you really wanted to use prefers not to be away from home for that long a time, so you choose your B-choice crew… who happen to shoot slower and don’t have the same sensibility as you do about the film. You also find that equipment and supplies are harder to source at the distant location – so, again, you need more time (and again more money) to make it all happen. Perhaps shooting at that inside location in-town would work and instead use a reduced unit at the distant location for the few critical exterior shots in order to bring the two locations together? Hmmm…

When you think about potential hidden costs, you can often find potential hidden savings. And hidden production savings is the greatest easter egg there is!

Cheers, Happy Easter & a great shoot to you,

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PM101 in TODo you know about Deb’s appearance in Toronto and the “Toronto Area PM101 Facebook Challenge (for a free book)“? To learn more, click here: http://on.fb.me/hEdmNg

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The 2010 stats are in and the F.I.L.M. Blog is doing great! Thank you for making it so and let me share some nuggets with you:

Deb’s F.I.L.M. Blog at WordPress (the host):

  • WordPress’ Blog Health-o-Meter: “Awesome!”
  • Included in Bachelor’s Degree.org’s 60 best blogs for Aspiring Screenwriters – Filmmaker section
  • Most of the favourite blog posts appear to deal with sourcing free information… the top one being the Free Film Budget by co-MWP author Deke Simon. Well, I hear you and will bring you more “free” again this year. No worries!

Deb’s F.I.L.M. Blog & social community at Facebook:

  • growing community from at least 7 countries around the world; a great place to connect – like a virtual porch
  • Held some great contests in the last year and gave away books and budgeting pencils. we’ll have to do that again! Yes?

Deb’s books – published by MWP Books:
As you may know, this blog – as well as the film resource links at debpatz.com – are companions to my books on film production management and coordination.

  • My book “Film Production Management 101” was one of the top selling MWP books in the last quarter of 2010 (the new edition, as you may know, came to market mid/late last year) – thank you very much for your part in making it happen!
  • Deb’s books are now available in at least 27 countries around the world! Wow. My books are more travelled than me!

Thanks again for your part in the success of Deb’s F.I.L.M. Blog (and books)! Please continue to spread the word! And here’s looking forward to more posts, more connecting, more F-un, I-nspiration, L-ife & M-anagement!

Cheers & a good shoot to you,

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