Budget Structure

Your budget will be your blueprint.  It's the culmination of all the script and scheduling work you've done this far.  The budget will (should) dictate how you proceed with most every decision while making the project.  You will need to know this document inside and out - backwards and forwards.  You need to understand where you can 'steal' money from to pay for other things and what accounts are untouchable.  I cover the actual budgeting process by department in Line by Line, but before we get there, I thought it wise to review how to read a budget.

Please be aware that no two budgets are created equal.  Every studio has their own way of structuring accounts and fringes - some even dictate globals which need to be used.  Even myself, when doing an independent film will use my own derivation of a budget (my template).  Every Line Producer has their own, however all of them are a sum of basically the same parts - it's only the order and format that change.

Also, be aware that when creating a budget for a studio, you need to get ahold of their Budgeting Guidelines documentation and Chart of Accounts.  Review it and stick to it, or else you'll face the wrath of their accounting departments.  Ugh!

For all examples and illustrations on LineProducing.com, I use EP's Movie Magic Budgeting.



The topsheet (sometimes two sheets) is the 'cover' of the budget.  It shows a total of each account in a list, a grand total at the bottom and production information at the top.  You may sometimes get asked by a producer to "just give them a topsheet" - but understand, that's like asking a construction contractor to just give you a roof, with no walls or foundation to hold it up.  You need to have that structure to the accounts and details to allow the topsheet to have any hope of accuracy.

Also, let me briefly warn you about using topsheets from 'similar' projects.  There's no such thing as a similar project.  There is no cookie cutter.  Sure, you want to say, "Well, both of these films are $35M, shot in New Mexico in the summer".  That's cool and all, but do they have the same cast?  Same crew?  Was that shot last year with different scale rates?  Did that project have 17 locations, when yours has 37?  Did that project have a CG creature that disintegrates metal on touch?  You get my drift?  It's totally fine to get another budget and modify it - but don't get stuck in the trap of relying on someone else's 'similar' project for a rough topsheet.  Chances are, the producer is going out to investors with that topsheet, and now you are "on the line" to ensure you stick to it.  Won't you feel silly when you do your own later and you find that your project can be done for a million less - or needs a million more?

Also, while I am on this subject, some advice:  You'll find more often than not that producers will bring you on and then tell you that the budget is a certain number.  Gosh, why do they need you then?  You'll need to do your first pass of the budget in a mode I call "Kitchen Sink".  That means, everything is in there - no deals, no negotiation, no free favors, no special treatment.  Once you do it this way on the first pass, you'll have room to go in and cut - but if you start with lower figures hoping to get them lower - you're already starting out on the wrong foot.

Sorry, I rambled on...

The topsheet denotes each department or broad-stroke subject which is non-departmental.  For example:




Production Office & Location Expenses
Second Unit

Don't worry too much about this now, I am only illustrating the differences.  Accounts will be, as mentioned before ordered different on most every budget you see (unless they are all from the same studio).  Also, some Line Producers / studios may combine departments, the most common combo is Make-Up & Hair, and sometimes Sound & Video.  These combinations have a lot to do with the governing union, but, again, is a preference.  Do what makes you or the studio happy.

Heres' a sample topsheet (I did not include the header to keep the project name secret - but know that above this is information about the project).

Note too, this is a topsheet generated with EP Budgeting 6.  The way EP Movie Magic handles rebates is now displayed a little different.  Also, the account numbers are my own - not conformed to any studio, so while you can certainly use this numbering system, don't get married to anything.


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While this is a Topsheet, you'll please notice all the account numbers to the left.  All these accounts create a "list" of all accounts in a budget to create the hierarchy of its construction.  This list is called a "Chart of Accounts" (COA).  I am sharing one with you as an example and to illustrate all of the detail you need to think about when creating a budget. Keep in mind that every studio, every line producer / UPM and most every project may have a different COA.  Each studio will demand you adhere to theirs, while when you do indie features - you are free to do as you like.  I created a basic budget template which I use on every project, however when I do studio projects - I must use their COA.


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Accounts are the next level down from the topsheet.  Each account usually denotes a crew member type or divisions of cost based on subject.  For example:

CREW (for this example, I'll use the Production Department)

Unit Production Manager
First Assistant Director
Production Coordinator

EXPENSE SUBJECTS (for this example, I'll use the Transportation Department)

Production Vans
Star Trailers

Don't worry too much about these now, I am only illustrating the differences.  Accounts will be, as mentioned before ordered different on most every budget you see (unless they are all from the same studio).


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The real meat of it all.  The numbers here drive the totals in the account, and thereby, the totals on the topsheet.  There are such wide range of details you can put here, but in general the following guidelines are sound.  If you want even more details on things to consider when entering budget detail lines, please see my section in considerations "Detailing the Details" (coming soon).


Crew Member Details
Prep, Shoot & Wrap Days
Special Days, such as: Holidays & Travel
Possibly, OT Coverage


What the item(s) is/are
Scene Specific costs
Set / Location Specific costs

The detail area of a budget has multiple columns to help you segment and digest costs, while still giving you an accurate total.  The basic columns include:


These should all be self-explanatory - except "X".  This is a shortened denotation for 'times'.  For example, you are renting one single item - let's say a prop gun - (Description), for six (amount) weeks (units) at $100 (rate) per week.  Your "X" column could say "1" which would add no multipliers to this line of detail and confirm that you are indeed renting one gun.  However, making it a "2" would double the entire calculation, and signal that you are renting two guns for the same time period and price.  This allows you to multiply a single items to the number of those items you are renting/buying - as opposed to entering 10 individual lines for one gun each or calculating 10 guns times $100 each is $1000 as the new Amount.  Let me know if anyone finds that confusing and I'll re-word this paragraph.

The very first column is worth mentioning.  That is titled "Ind.", which stands for "Indicators".  Here you could see a few different things.  For each of these items, there is more information in "Working with the Budget" (Coming soon).

Bracket:  Denotes fringe ranges for this (and other) line(s).
Blue Globe:  Means a Global is applied to this line
Green Arrow:  Signifies that one ore more fringes are applied to this line.

Subgroups can also be applied to individual detail lines.  There is no direct notation for this, unless the subgroup is set to display text in a different color.  However, there are a few columns which are not viewable by default.  Opening them requires you clicking on the appropriate button in the upper left area above your details.

AGG is Aggregate:  Displays the Aggregate totals of fringes.  There are settings to display different aggregates which can be found in the Budget Preference pane, under the "Setup" menu.
FRIN is Fringes:  Shows the name of the fringes applied to this line.
GRP is Groups:  Show the name of the (sub)groups this line is included in.
LOC is Location:  You may denote a line of detail belongs to a certain location.
SET is Set:  You may denote a line of detail belongs to a certain set.
CUR is Currency:  This allows you a finer grain of detail to shift rates to and from currencies which are not your base currency.

All said, the detail area is where you'll spend most of your time honing the elements of the budget and their associated costs.  Know how to use it, and you'll be a hero.


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The first budget I was ever asked to create, the producer said to me, "Make sure you fringe everything."  Of course, I said' "No problem."  Then, to myself, I wondered what the heck a fringe was.

Fringes are the taxes an employer pays for mostly payroll, but you can also 'fringe' purchases to denote sales tax and other tricks.  I'll talk more about fringes in the Considerations, but for now know that fringes are part of the budget, per detail line.  You can have them show per account detail, account or budget section.  Where they show is a matter of preference per the LP or the studio.



Those are the basics.  Each budget you do, should include all of the above.


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