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Film Schedule & Budget

You can't shoot a movie without a plan. And the heart of your plan will be your budget and schedule.

If you are shooting your film on a shoestring you may think you can skip this step ... or at least you don't need a budget. But bear with me because you may be surprised at how helpful these planning steps will be once you start actual production. Making a film on a small budget requires even more careful planning and budgeting than if you have unlimited time and money.

Schedule or Budget? Where Do You Start?

The first step is always to work up your schedule and see what the budget will be. Wouldn't it be nice if you could schedule your film and the money would just appear. Fact is even the most successful and experienced filmmakers often have to beg for money and many great films never get made for lact of the financing.

Scheduling and budget are like the two ends of a teeter toter. As you add to the schedule (locations, scenes, actors, etc.) the budget goes up. Lower the budget amount and the scheduling has to compromise.

Look carefully at everything you schedule and ask yourself "How much bang-for-the-buck does this give me?" Drop everything that won't improve the film then get creative about how to get an equivalent result for the same time and money. Eventually you will find a balance.

The Filmmaker's Handbook is the "bible" to creating and distributing your film. The one essential book every filmmaker needs to own.

The Scheduling Steps

It is part of the director's job to create the schedule working with the producer and other key members of the crew. Next to having a great screenplay, doing a great job of scheduling is the most important thing you can do to guarantee you finish your film.

The first step is to go through your script and do a breakdown of locations, actors, equipment, crew, etc.

The next step is to juggle elements so that all scenes involving the same actors and locations are shot at the same time, even if the scenes appear at different places in the final film.

Estimate the costs by multiplying the location/actor expenses by the numbers of days you will need them.

Go back through as many times as necessary to get your production costs down to the bare minimum. Put everything onto a blank calendar so you can make sure that the locations, crew, actors and equipment will be available on the dates you will need them.

Now add on the costs of post production and marketing plus a contingency for when things go wrong to arrive at a final budget.

Script Breakdown

This step is sometimes called "lining your script" because you will go through your script line-by-line listing the requirements for every scene as far as:

  • locations
  • crew
  • actors
  • extras
  • costumes
  • props
  • time of day
  • vehicles
  • animals
  • equipment
  • special equipment/makeup/effects

A spreadsheet program or scheduling software will come in handy for the next step of creating a "breakdown sheet". You will want to have all of these items listed across in a row along with the scene number, scene page, and scene page count plotted out so you can sort on any of the elements to group them for most efficient production.

You also will be able to build a separate list of all of the individual people and items that are needed to create the film. Somehow you will need to find and hire, rent, buy or borrow all of them. This is especially important for locations, props, costumes, and special effects.

Build Your Film's Production Board

Once you have finished the above steps you can create a final list of the people and elements your film will need and do a final sort of your breakdown sheet into the "production board" that will be your bible for production.

Generally the major sort should be by actors to group their scenes together. Scheduling actors is almost always the most difficult part of producing a film.

Filmming locations are the next major sort. Moving crew and equipment from one location to another somehow always seems to take much longer than makes sense.

Your skill as a filmmaker will be how closely you can come to matching the actual filmmaking with the production board by staying on time and on budget.

Traditionally, before spreadsheets and scheduling software, strips of paper were created and color coded to make up the lines of the production board. Software makes the job easier, plus when something goes wrong (it always will) it is easier to juggle the lines of the production board to adjust to actors/crew calling in sick, bad weather, etc.


Scheduling Software May Be Helpful

Today it makes no sense to try to manually schedule and budget your film when software is available at reasonable cost.

Now Create Your Budget

Above The Line

Below The Line


Something will go wrong. Something always goes wrong. The better you plan for things going wrong the more likely you are to finish your film.

One way to handle things going wrong is to make sure you have backups for everything: backup crew, actors, locations, props, etc.

The other way to handle contingencies is to allocate additional budget to buy you way out of problems. Bad weather can stop outdoor scenes but you still need to pay actors and feed the crew.

Budgeting Software Options

Why You Probably Need Insurance


Insurance Agents

Completion Bonds

If you have been lucky enough to get financiers and your budget is more than $1 million then you may be asked to get a completion bond. The bond is a guarantee that you will finish the film.

Completion bonds are thing you generally want to avoid. If you don't have a good record of completing previous films then you may not qualify for a bond. The bond will cost you as much as 5%% of the budget. Every day you will need to report your progress and where you are in spending your budget.

If you fall behind are start to get over-budget the bond company will take over your production, assign a new director to get the job done as quick and dirty as necessary.

Preproduction Overview


Film Financing

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