Budget: The calculation before costing in film & video [incl. Podcast]

Film budget: Part 1 of 3

The Greek word parameter describes a special group of variables in an equation. In film and video the solving of that equation leads to the desired end result. The variables along the way are for example the budget, the quality or the deadlines. When calculating the cost of a film project, the way in which these variables or parameters are dealt with determines the success of the project.

Parameters in the film business not only influence the end result, but also each other. Much like buoyancy and gravity maintain a plane in the air, parameters ensure a project remains in the right balance. Key figures and parameters are two different kettles of fish. While key figures is a term for a fixed value, parameters are flexible. Which in turn makes them all the more special and valuable.

The parameters, which are laid down and defined in a binding way – for the basis of this article – are defined as key figures.

But it’s not only key figures that can be binding, so can the sum of the parameters. That is, if the parameters are within a standardised number category. That way for example, in a film calculation, the “total” (end sum) can be mandatory and set out by the client. The allocation of singular calculation items to production value can nonetheless be flexible.

Three-part article about budget in film and video

Budget Numbers: Calculation scheme for Film und Video (with example)

Calculation scheme for Film und Video (with example)

Professional film budgeting differentiates between three working steps:

  • Step 1: Parameterisation (this article, 1 of 3)
  • Step 2: Costing with a calculation procedure (article 2 of 3)
  • Step 3: Benchmarking and Calculation after Calculation (Recalculation) (article 3 of 3)

This first article in the Videothink series on calculation for film and video focuses on parameterisation and will demonstrate, by means of an example, how a professional film estimate can be set up.


Budget und calculation will be considered on an equal footing in this article. In day-to-day business of many film and video productions the term “calculation” is often used to describe the drawing up of the so-called costing (real costs, internal estimate), while the word “budget” describes the pricing (price9).

If you wish to read up on how to manage and differentiate between overheads, profit, mark-up and calculations the series of articles about film costs can provide you with more insight. Information about pricing can be found in the Videothink article How much does a video cost?

Research and analysis are an essential part of parameterisation of a project in the realm of film and video. They are required repeatedly throughout all working steps (1-3) and are thereby not signposted as a category by themselves.

Example of a film calculation

The parameters can only be properly applied, if we set off by giving each parameter a value, which logically correspond to the level of knowledge at the beginning of the project and/or on assignment of a film project. The necessary basic data is often already defined by the client (read more about this in the article Perfect film and video briefing and the Videothink checklist it contains), the others are to be set out by production.

The basic data when calculating a film can be drawn up like in the example below, if a storyboard or script has already been finalised for a film or video:

1. Basic data
Working title[Film title]
Media/Purpose[e.g. TV]
Duration of use[e.g. 1 year]
First use[e.g. 1. January 2017]
Duration[e.g. 30 seconds]
Versions[e.g. 1 version]
Director’s Cut[e.g. no]
Language versions[e.g. German]
Subtitles[e.g. no]
Director[e.g. Tim Talent]
Cameraman[e.g. Leo Lense]
Shooting days[e.g. 2 days]
Travel days[e.g. none]
Weather-dependency[e.g. yes]

The next step is to get a clear idea of the extent of the preproduction. The premise of which should normally be elaborated by the film or video production:

2. Preproduction
Location scouting (search for location, if not already existing)[e.g. included]
Preliminary viewing of locations with director[e.g. 1 day]
Preliminary viewing of locations with cameraman and head of lighting[e.g. yes]
Storyboard (by production in collaboration with direction)[e.g. yes]
Casting of actors and extras by production[e.g. yes]
Preproduction meeting (PPM) with client[e.g. yes]
Fitting (Costume selection with client)[e.g. yes]

If the concept, script or storyboard also calls for actors and extras, these too have to be drawn up in the calculation:

3. Cast Buyouts
Amount of actors (cast)[e.g. 2 people]
Amount featured extras[e.g. 4 people]
Amount extras[e.g. 5 people]
Other[e.g. no]
Buyouts included in offer?[e.g yes]
Buyout includes[e.g. 1 year TV + Internet, D/A/CH]
Travel and accommodation[e.g. included]

The same basic data should be considered regarding the key people (technicians) and the size of the crew that will bring the project to light:

4. Key Talent / Crew
Salary director[e.g. included]
Salary cameraman[e.g. included]
Local crew[e.g. included]
Crew from abroad[e.g. no]
Extra[e.g. Stuntman included]

Indication for the amount and type of technology needed can be determined from the script or storyboard and according to the desires of the cameraman and other heads of departments:

5. Equipment/Technical
Camera[e.g. included]
Shooting format[e.g. HD]
Shooting support[e.g. digital 4K]
Special lenses[e.g. 40mm, 45mm + 60mm]
Sound[e.g. yes]
Lighting material[e.g. included]
Grip/stage material[e.g. included]
Power supply/generator[e.g. included]

Script or storyboard can also provide information about filming locations, which can be defined for the start of shooting:

6. Location/Studio
Interior sets[e.g. 2, apartment and kitchen]
Exterior locations[e.g. driveway to detached house]
Studio[e.g. included]
Extra[e.g. cleaning included]

If an art department is required for both sets and costume it should be listed too:

7. Art Department
Set Dressing[e.g. included]
Costumes und Styling[e.g. included]
Extra[e.g. rental and refund]

Making films doesn’t just mean making decisions. A film or a video needs to be organised too. If the expenditure required for that is not included in the margin, mark-up or pricing, the costing of such should be included in the calculation:

8. Logistics
Mobile phones[e.g. national (flat rate)]
Data transfer[e.g. included]
Transport vehicles production[e.g. 3 vehicles]
Catering / meals[e.g. Film catering on site]
Travel[e.g. included]
Accommodation[e.g. included]
Insurance[e.g. included]
Production Service[e.g. no (not required)]
Subcontractor[e.g. no (not required)]

During the editing stages the film takes on a new shape. This know-how belongs to the basics of film production. Image postproduction and sound postproduction is a universe in itself. That is why for the purpose of this article we have chosen to summarise it in broader categories:

9. Postproduction
Image postproduction[e.g. included]
Sound postproduction[e.g. included]
Travel & accommodation[e.g. not required]
Narrator[e.g. 1 narrator, language: GER]
Rights of use narrator[e.g. TV + Internet, D-A-CH]
Music[e.g. composer]
Rights of use music[e.g. TV + Internet, D-A-CH]
Subcontractors[e.g. no (not required)]

Setting the parameters

In order to set the parameters for a project in the best possible way (there rarely is an entirely “correct” way of doing it) first we have to make assumptions. These can either be the result of thorough prior research and facts (quotations, for example for desired locations) or empirical values. At this initial stage of calculation the parameters are set and modified until the total of the quote corresponds to the desired result. Only from that point onward, does the second and more important part of the setting of parameters begin: its fine-tuning with production value in mind.

Parameterisation, the optimal setting of variables, in essence simply means to best implement the variables of a project in order to strive for and secure the ideal production value – considering all known as well as unknown factors throughout. This can be done by setting up different scenarios. These are then considered by weighing up their inherent pros and cons, perhaps even combining aspect of different scenarios into one or supplemented with new variations. At the end of this process you have a budget for film and video that consciously reflects all chances and risks and controls them by having made detailed assumptions (which in turn depend on analysis and research).

In other words: Parameterisation is the process of weighing up value within a film budget and thereby the targeted defining of focal points (so-called production values) in a film or video. With the right parameters you can hit the nail on the head. For more detailed information about production value, see our recent Videothink article here.

Continuation of the series about calculation of film and video budgets

Part 2 in this film calculation series will in addition to parameters, deal with the actual budgeting and costing of a film or video and provide an example of a calculation procedure The concluding part 3 deals with benchmarking and recalculation.


Since the beginning of the year Videothink is now available on smart phones in the new Google-Mobile-Standard AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages). The legibility of charts and tables is still not at its best on said platform, due to technical difficulties. We appreciate your understanding.

In the interest of legibility only male job descriptions were used in this article. | © Graphic design: Freepik | © filmpuls, translated by Nina Kaelin

About Videothink team
Articles by the Videothink team are collaboratively-written by more than one member of the videothink publishing team.


  1. A terrific overview that provides to new comers and some not so new comers to the Film Market as to how to go about the process of organising your budgeting. From my point of view as an Specialist Broker offering Film Insurance , having my client provide to me the correct budget helps in the event of a claim.

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