How To Budget For A Short Film

Breakdown your script into a schedule. 

This means breaking down each scene into props, actors and sets and working out how long each scene will take you to film. 

Things to think about:

  • What time of day are your scenes set? Are they outside at sunset? You will have to work that into your schedule. If you have two scenes set at golden hour, you can’t film both on the same day. So that means you will need to film over two days. 

  • When are your actors available and how much are you paying them? 

  • Are you renting a camera or using your own/ a friend’s camera? Renting will mean you have to figure out how many days you will need the camera and any other equipment you will need. 

  • Food and snacks! Are you providing food? Work out how many days you are shooting before working out food costs and always leave a bit more than you add it up to. There’s always more needed…

Add it all up

Once you have estimated how many days this film will take to shoot, you should create a budget that estimates the total cost. A super simple breakdown may look something like this:

I like to use Numbers to create a budget spreadsheet set up similar to this with Days in one column and Rates in another and then multiplying the two with formula in the Total column.

Creating a spreadsheet like this makes things much easier because if you find better rates or your crew numbers change, you can really quickly change it in the spreadsheet and it updates your total budget for the film. 

Shoot fast, shoot cheap

Remember, the best budget planning comes in the breakdown of your script and the way you estimate the time it will take to film your scenes. 

If you’re storyboarding and directing you have control on this. If you need to shoot fast, you can storyboard and plan to make sure you film a scene more efficiently than shooting from every angle possible. 

If you shoot a scene in 4 shots instead of 9, it’s going to take less time up in the day, which means you can shoot more in a day which means in turn means you don’t have to pay everyone for extra days. 

Other than finding cast and crew who will do it for free or low rates, shooting efficiently and being fast is one of the only ways you can shoot on a smaller budget. 

Shoot slow and cheap and shoot alone

The only other way is to have a tiny crew, or lose a crew altogether and do it all yourself. This is doable and you will be able to take as many days as you like because you will do it for free and you won’t have to pay yourself. You will still have to pay actors of course (unless you have actors who are happy to do it for nothing) but it will still half your costs. 

Things to think about:

  • Managing the camera, lights, sound whilst directing actors can be extremely stressful. You need to plan and prepare enough to be able to know you can handle all that pressure before you start. Maybe think of ways to make it easier on yourself, for example having only a couple of lighting setups, one on each day and only one location.

  • If you’re doing it alone, maybe consider filming over a few weekends over the course of a few weeks. This will make it easier to plan scenes and prepare and you won’t be running around like a headless chicken trying to cram a million scenes into one day.

  • Be aware that you may be able to set aside the time, but actors and crew are not as invested in your project as your are. They may not be able to commit to every weekend. Find this information out before you set your heart on filming a certain way. Find out what suits cast.

Producer to Producer

If you want to learn more about scheduling, Producer to Producer is a really useful book. I used it to guide me through making my first feature film, but reading it will give you an in depth understanding of scheduling and planning for any production, big or small.


Hi, my name’s Jay and I’m a writer and film director based in the North East of England. I recently wrote and directed my first feature film, a musical called Ruth the Musical and I make videos on The Director’s Logbook on Youtube aimed at helping beginner filmmakers learn to make their own films.