How to budget a short film?

Hi Emily! When you are just starting, budgeting is hard because you have a small budget so you need to be realistic with your choices. It can be tempting to make complicated plans or to go over the budget with expensive equipment but you need to make the most of what you have. Fortunately, the recent leaps in technology allowed affordable alternatives for students and you can look them up. I have seen many students do impressive videos with the use of proper lightning, smartphone and a lot of imagination :D Good luck!
When you have little to no budget, try to find people who would work with you for the fun and for the experience! Use the small budget you have to rent equipment and allocate most in the direction you need...lights, camera, lens...they all cost a lot. Maybe you can find a company near your location with special discounts for students.
it's hard to say, I think you should think about what you want from your film, then calculate your capabilities and budget,I agree that a good film can be shot on a smartphone, for example, iPhone 12 pro max.
Renting can be off limits for a student with low budget. But a friend with the latest smartphone is more easy to find. That, of course, if you do not have a very good smartphone yourself.
You will probably not have enough budget to get the equipment you need but at least you can make it fun. Use the money for the gas to get to a cool location. Get a pizza to the ones who get involved in this. Have a lot of fun and learn a lot of things. :D
It's hard to budget when you don't really have a budget. You need many friends and volunteers to help you out. When you do have a budget, you need to rent really good equipment and you need good actors so the majority of the budget should go in this direction.
Hi all,
I am studying filmmaking and I have stumbled upon this question that I am having trouble to figure out. How should I budget a short film? Of course, my budget is not huge but I would love to know what is the right thing to do this.

This is a step by step guide for budgeting your project in the indie or student filmmaking level. I have used this method successfully for 5+ years on all my paid and self-financed projects. Bigger productions use the same method but scaled up with more advanced software, guild fees, tax rebates involved etc.

Before budgeting, you need to have a locked Shooting Script. Locked means that you know what locations you need, what characters you need and what props etc you must have to tell your story. You can make minor adjustments after locking the script but if you are still unsure what location you need for example basement vs night club for the third act or whether the protagonist will have a mother/mentor figure etc then you should not budget yet.

Once you have a locked script you will need to break it down. Google script breakdown for examples, wikipedia has the standard colors for each element. I use moviemagic’s format because it is the industry standard which most big productions use and it will help you scale up in the future.

You can use apple preview if you’re on a mac or adobe acrobat reader (which has more highlight colors). You can also do it physically with a highlighter but I suggest you do it digitally to easily update and share your breakdown with your collaborators if necessary.

One you have highlighted all elements in the script that costs money, you will put them down in a script breakdown template (google free templates) This is a scene for scene breakdown that gives you a big picture of what costs you money for each scene. This is good to have on set as well to remind you if you forgot something. This along with the script will give you ideas if you forgot to write an important element in the script, example: a yellow blanket that your protagonist always needs in order to sleep or wet hair after shower scene etc (you get the idea)

Once you are set on all the elements required, you should create a new word document and list down every single element that costs money in order of category: Actors (speaking), extras (speaking), extras (nonspeaking/background), Stunts, Special FX, CGI, Sound FX & Music, Vehicles & Animals, Props, Wardrobe, Makeup & Hair, Special Equipment.

Along with these breakdown elements you want to add gas fees (if you have transportation), food (meal) & snacks (coffee, fruits etc), crew costs (sound mixer etc), location cost, and emergency fund (at least $50 per day) and any other costs related to the production like music rights etc.

Once you have listed everything that costs money it’s time to create a realistic budget. Your biggest costs will be, Actors, props, crew and maybe location. Check first what you can get for free. The more props & costumes and locations you can use for free the cheaper your film will be. The more technical knowledge you have in filmmaking, the less crew members you need to rely on the cheaper it will be. Remove unnecessary cost elements that blow your production costs to unattainable levels. On my projects I am the writer, director, producer, cinematographer, editor, colorist, VFX artist, sound editor & mixer. If you can take on those positions by yourself, you will be saving major costs.

My average costs is about $50-$100 per minute of film (final cut runtime)

What you cannot cheapen out of is the Actors and food. Everyone needs to be fed at least one meal per 7 hours and paying your actors means you’re signaling to the industry that you are serious about your project and you are a legitimate indie filmmaker in the business. Sometimes even established actors or reality stars will apply for your project, depending on how catchy your logline is on your ad.

Another cost you can lower is equipment. If you are serious about filmmaking as a career then it is best to invest in a good run & gun production camera & field recorder + mic. The best quality per dollar is currently Blackmagic pocket series. The best sound recorder, which will be my next investment is the zoom f6 since you won’t have to worry about peaking or noise floor and anyone non-technical can operate the boom for you.

Renting an arri or red if you are starting out is a very bad idea because those cameras require large crews. Buying them is also a bad idea because cameras are obsolete after 5 years and depreciate like cars.

Depending on which country you live in your costs will vary. I live in Sweden (one of the most expensive countries in the world) so use the big mac index and convert my costs to your country.

If your 5 minute short film costs $10K then you are doing something wrong. It is better to film 10 projects with $10K than one passion project. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Find the conflict and desire line that made you want to film this story and move genre or location, minimize cast and crew. For example if you wanted to make a sci-fi movie in a spaceship where they crash land on an alien planet and it turns into a dog eats dog scenario, can you move that into a horror/thriller, in a house or better a forest camping scenario in the middle of nowhere?

Finally the amount of shooting days will affect your budget. If possible minimize the shooting days but this is correlated with the shot list & length of script. I will answer your question on scheduling in the other forum post.

If you are just starting out I highly suggest you start by telling a 5 minute story. 4-7 minutes allows you to tell a highly contained scenario with a three act structure that doesn’t always require the protagonist to have an internal change in the ending (hero’s journey). Once you have done a few of those you can scale up to 10-15 minute and finally 30 minutes and implement the hero’s journey to tell a complete, dramatic story. If during this time you have achieved critical acclaim, it will be easier to attach famous talents and receive financing to private equity or government institutions.

Last of all, don’t wait for any financing. If you wait, you’re playing the lottery and most likely won’t get funding. Keep working on that dream project on the side or take its best elements and make a no budget version of it. Everything can be solved through creative methods and spending money on a problem usually doesn’t give the best and most “artistic” result. Example: Wong kar wai couldn’t afford film stock so he had to film at a very slow frame rate to preserve the remaining film stock he had. The look, known as step-printing is now iconic and part of his signature style, though the reason he used it was because of economic limitations.

Best of luck and if you or anyone else have any further questions I am happy to answer them.

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