TOP OR BOTTOM?

There are two ways to budget your movie.  The first, which is known as the traditional manner in which all movies are budgeted, is Bottom Up budgeting.  It’s the least effective way to budget a movie, but most everyone does it.

Bottom Up budgeting is where you start from ground zero with no idea what your movie is going to cost.  Then you identify all the people, jobs, things you think you need, and at the end you’ll have the amount that will cost.  There is software out there, which can help you down this path.  See this example of a traditional budget Top Sheet.

When using this software, you’ll scour an endless list of job titles, finding out there are jobs you never knew about, but that you must need, now that you’re thinking of them.  Yes, a Script Supervisor would be great.  $100 per day is a bit much so you plop in $20 per day.  Then you’ll go to the next job, plop in a new amount, and so on.  At the end of the list, the software will tally up all the jobs and expenses you typed in, and voila: you see the budget for you movie.  In this case, your movie will cost over $240,000.

But then you’re faced with the reality of trying to raise a quarter of a million dollars.  Which, if you can do it, great, by all means, have at it!  But, chances are in this economy it simply isn’t going to happen.  You might raise half that, or even less… but a quarter million?

I prefer to budget a movie using a Top Down approach.  This is where you start with an amount and deduct items you know you can afford, and do away with the items you can’t or don’t need.

Let’s say we believe we can raise $60,000 to produce the movie.  Or, let’s say we have already raised $60,000 and we’re not sure that’s enough.  I’m here to tell you it’s more than enough, and here’s how you’ll do it.

First, identify the items you must have.  Not things you think you need.  You don’t need a Script Supervisor.  Anybody on your crew can do it – since the job is required only when cameras are rolling.  If you’re making a horror film that requires visual effects, or special effects make-up, those items are mandatory.  So, write those down and subtract their cost (let’s say $7,500).  Now you only have $52,500 remaining in your budget.

Next up, fifteen people on the cast and crew.  Let’s say you’ll shoot for two weeks and pay everyone $50 per day.  Subtract $10,500.  Now you only have $42,000 remaining.  Can you get those people to work for deferred?  If so, you can add $10,500 back into your budget.  Need to fly them to the set?  Subtract those costs, or see if you can use airline miles and add those costs back in.

Hopefully you get where I’m going with this.  I’m thinking about expenses as if I were using a debit card.  Not a credit card.

I understand the general public would rather use a credit card instead of a debit card.  The traps of “buy now, figure out how to pay for it later” are easy to fall into.  But those people are usually in debt.

By handling your budget in the Top Down approach; you’ll know exactly how much money you have and can make realistic decisions on what you can afford.  And what you can’t.  Which will keep your movie on budget, and you won’t waste a cent.

6 thoughts on “TOP OR BOTTOM?

  1. I was going to say something about paying people $50 a day, but I understand the possible reasons for a figure like that.

    Is the example top sheet from one of your productions? I have an inkling it may be.

  2. As a script supervisor, I do disagree with your statement. If you’re shooting in simple locations with little action and blocks that are in sequence, a Script Supervisor might be considered to be superfluous. If there’s a lot of complexity – shooting out of sequence, multiple locations, script logic when the script starts changing during shooting, lots of camera movement, etc., then it’s a big help to have one person whose job is to pay attention to those details.
    Cheap is Good, I realize, but there is such a thing as CRAFT – and the lack of it is why a lot of indies look like shit nowadays.

    • I agree it’s nice to have someone to do the duties of a script supervisor, but you don’t NEED to hire an official “script supervisor.” Those duties can be taught to most anyone on the crew.

      • Yes, but it does help if there’s time to teach “most anyone” and if the teacher actually knows what he’s teaching about… And as for just having ANYone on the crew do it, I had that situation on a recent shoot, where I had to leave and they pulled a P.A. to take over… a P.A. who spent maybe 20 minutes learning what to do… actually more like 10 minutes, if accurately counting the time they were really paying any attention. I was told afterwards that several scenes had to be reshot because no one paid any attention that dawn was breaking… slight problem because the scenes were part of a night sequence.
        You might not NEED to hire an ‘official’ script supervisor for what you’re doing now… but it’s rather insulting to insinuate that it’s completely useless on a production. As I said earlier, Craft used to count for something… some movies might benefit by looking like they were shot in a backyard with a nephew working for food and hallucinogens — but not EVERY movie does.

        And if you want people to move heaven and earth for roughly $50 a day, an even better suggestion is to only use students for crew… that way, it’s a learning experience for them, and you get to keep most of your overhead down.

  3. Yeah, I started with top down and then had to add so many logistical things that I ended up switching to a traditional bottom up approach. The result? I put myself at a financial disadvantage and ended up going WAY over budget because of the bottom up approach but also because of limited resources, scheduling limitations

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