A job well calculated is a job half done. In this article Videothink presents a calculation plan for moving image productions and explains in this second instalment of the article series on calculation for film and video further important basics when it comes to the all-important numbers behind a film or video.
A film budget is much like a blueprint for what you intend to create. The film producer Ruth Waldburger of Vega Film once explained in an interview that for her the film calculation – besides the script – is the most important basis for a successful feature film. Her reasoning: Calculation establishes which tools, team and how much time the filmmaker can dedicate to each step in the filmmaking process. In this regard, the way the numbers add up has an effect on every decisive step of the creation process.
This idea – banal as much as it is important – that the script and calculation are what determines the success of a film, doesn’t just apply to big movie productions, but also to videos and any form of commissioned production with moving image. Also the premise – that we at Videothink love to quote and can’t emphasise enough – that a good film can only be made with Know-How, experience and talent relies on a reasonable and well thought out underlying calculation.
Three-part article about budget in film and video
Budgeting and calculation in film and video differentiates between three working steps, whereby step 1 and 2 don’t necessarily have to be in chronological order:
- Step 1: Parameterisation (article 1 of 3)
- Step 2: Budgeting and calculation (this article)
- Step 3: Benchmarking and Recalculation (the calculation after the calculation, article 3 of 3)
This second article in the Videothink series on calculation for film and video focuses on calculation and will demonstrate by means of an example, how a professional film budget can be set up.
How detailed should the numbers be in a film calculation?
If the calculation is understood as a blueprint for a film, the question about how detailed a film budget should be is simple to answer. The more complicated the filmmaking process is and the longer it takes, the more detailed should each of the different processes be listed in the budget. Only that way can the most accurate assumptions be made and subsequent budget control be possible (more about this in part 3 of this series of articles).
The degree of detail doesn’t have anything to do with whether the budget is based on estimates or already fixed values. Estimates can be divided into two categories.
Category 1 comprises all estimates that are solely based on experience. And cost estimates that are based on quotes by third parties (external service providers, i.e. a specialist for 3D animation or a sound studio) belong in the second category.
Estimates in Category 2 can then again be differentiated by the type of quote. A binding quote for a service contracted externally is of course – to a certain extent – also an estimate (made by the external service provider), but at least involves fewer risks for the production company as an estimation offer might do, which can be changed by the external provider at any time.
But besides differentiating between values that have been secured (as accurately as possible) and predictive values, internal and external calculation should be considered separately as well. Internal calculations apply to production related working documents (aka the “working budget”) and are subject to changes throughout the development of the project. An external calculation (aka the “client budget”) is fixed on the other hand. The client budget reflects, at the end of a negotiation with the client (or in a feature film with the financing body) the legally binding financial working basis.
As for the degree of detail the client budget should comprise; there are no binding principles. As a general rule the amount of detail reflects the scope of production risks the filmmaker bears. If a fixed lump sum for the creation of the film or video has been agreed upon with the client, the client is usually less interested in details, than if he were to bear part of the production risks in a Cost-Plus-Deal.
Example for calculation plan
A calculation scheme is mostly set up over different stages. In general a professional budget includes:
- Cover sheet
- Key figures (to the extent known). An example for key numbers can be found in the Videothink article about Parameterisation.
- Budget overview
- Detail calculation
You can find more information on how to differentiate between contribution margin, handling costs, profit and cost-plus in the article:
A detail budget can be divided into different segments in order to make it easier to read. The following sample shows the stages of preproduction:
|1.1. Research and Preparation|
|Coordination and Planning||10.-||2 Days||1 Pers||20.-|
|Development of concept||10.-||1 Day||2 Pers||20.-|
|Story board||10.-||1 Day||1 Pers||10.-|
|Shooting board||10.-||1 Day||1 Pers||10.-|
|Presentation material||10.-||1 Day||1 Pers||10.-|
|PPM Booklet||10.-||1 Day||1 Pers||10.-|
|Couriers||10.-||1 Day||1 Pers||10.-|
|1.2. Location Scouting|
|Location Scout Region 1||10.-||1 Day||1 Pers||10.-|
|Location Scout Region 1||10.-||1 Day||1 Pers||10.-|
|Car (incl. petrol)||10.-||1 Day||1 Pers||10.-|
|Meals||10.-||1 Day||1 Pers||10.-|
|Travel costs||10.-||1 Day||1 Pers||10.-|
|Fees||10.-||1 Day||1 Pers||10.-|
|Casting Organisation||10.-||1 Day||1 Pers||10.-|
|Casting Agency||10.-||1 Day||1 Pers||10.-|
|Casting Studio||10.-||1 Day||1 Pers||10.-|
|Live-Casting||10.-||1 Day||1 Pers||10.-|
|Equipment||10.-||1 Day||1 Pers||10.-|
|Casting Director||10.-||1 Day||1 Pers||10.-|
|Editing Casting||10.-||1 Day||1 Pers||10.-|
|Editor Casting||10.-||1 Day||1 Pers||10.-|
|Fees Casting Agency||10.-||1 Day||1 Pers||10.-|
|Fees Cast||10.-||1 Day||1 Pers||10.-|
|Casting Organisation Abroad||10.-||1 Day||1 Pers||10.-|
|Casting Studio Abroad||10.-||1 Day||1 Pers||10.-|
|Casting Regie Abroad||10.-||1 Day||1 Pers||10.-|
|Travel Costs Casting Abroad||10.-||1 Day||1 Pers||10.-|
|Vacation /Social Benefits 2||1||v %||5 Pers||10.-|
|Vacation pay 2||1||w %||5 Pers||10.-|
|Pension/Social2||1||x %||5 Pers||10.-|
|Occupational and Non-occupational accidents 2||1||y %||5 Pers||10.-|
|Family allowance fund 2||1||z %||2 Pers||10.-|
|TOTAL 1 – DREHVORBEREITUNG 3||340.-|
This is a layout for a possible calculation plan. This plan is an example and does not pretend to be all-including and applicable for every production and should be carefully adapted to each project’s needs. If you have any further questions contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Condor Films, November 2016
Extra numbers: Handling Reserves
Making films in the project world means taking a load of decisions. Films are projects and the process behind moving image projects in film and video requires ongoing planning. What no producer will divulge willingly: Surprises in the film world are a given. In order to deal with the unforeseen in a professional manner, the film budget has to include a reserve.
Reserves are not a hidden stash of profit money and should be clearly designated in a budget. In the US film calculations that don’t include reserve money are seen as unprofessional. There they usually put 10% of the overall total (“below the line”) aside for the odd surprise that is bound to pop up. The way this reserve may be used is clearly discussed before shooting begins. If against all expectations the reserve is not used to put out a fire during filming, the reserve will then either be invested in production value or the project is completed within budget thanks to the reserve.
In project work any architect and any building contractor – even when budgeting a simple garden fence – factors in 10% to 15% of the budget as a reserve. Nevertheless in the realm of film and video the majority of producers – without rhyme or reason – mindlessly budget without a reserve in mind. Filmmaking without a reserve seems to becoming a habit in the corporate film world. Whether stupidity, competitive pressure or ignorance: Budgeting without a reserve harms the quality of the film, diminishes the effect of moving image communication and is to the detriment of the medium’s, the producer’s and the industry’s reputation.
For the interplay between parameterisation and budgeting there are no set rules. A producer with years of experience and know how will be able – based on key figures and content – to set the parameters and production values in a targeted way without a detail budget. On the other hand for a novice it’s a good idea to deduce scenarios for parameterisation from at least a rough calculation – better even a detail calculation. Regardless from which direction the budgeting and parameterisation is dealt with, the goal is always the same: calculation and parameterisation/production values have to come together seamlessly at the end of the budgeting phase.
Some people may turn up their nose at the idea of the film budget taking center stage along with the script in any production. But Ruth Waldburger’s – the Swiss producer mentioned above – extremely successful career is proof that she knows what she’s talking about. She produced her first feature film (“Johnny Suede” by Tom DiCillo) with a young, yet unknown actor, who later went on to become the superstar, Brad Pitt.
The upcoming, third and final part of the Videothink series on calculation and budgeting in film and video, will explain budget control, benchmarking and recalculation.
1 Usually the tabs within a budget don’t only include Price or Piece (days required or number of items), but also the “amount”. This additional column allows not just the price and amount to be listed (1 day at 10.-), but also to be able to include, if one or two people will be working in parallel on a task.
2 Social security and employers contributions differ depending on the location the services are provided in. The type of contributions and the amount have to be adapted to the requirements of where you’re filming .
3 Excluding handling costs/ profit or mark-up. These in general are only listed on the budget’s cover sheet (Budget overview).