Short Film Budgeting

Budgeting is allowing a certain amount of money for a specific project. Budgeting for film is learning to estimate exactly how much money and time you will need to make your film. These days, people are a lot more reluctant to do things for free so I would recommend making sure you have enough money to pay your cast and crew, even at a low rate.

Short films are not necessarily cheap. I know filmmakers who have made short films for anything between £5000-£15000 and they were still stretched. That doesn’t have to be the case, but keep in mind that if you want crew who know what they’re doing, you will need to pay them day rates.

Day Rates

Day rates are how you deal in payments with crew and cast. In film crew usually have a daily or a weekly rate.

For example my charity rate for an 8-10 hour day of filming used to be £250 and my editing rate was £280.

BECTU, the media and entertainment union is a good place to look up crew rates.

Catering

For some reason, probably because it can be a very active calorie burning job, it is an accepted practise that whoever is making the film will provide food to all the cast and crew.

Filmmaking is tiring and often long hours. I happened to check my phone Health app one day when we were making our feature film and couldn’t believe I’d walked 13km by the end of the day. I didn’t even notice.

Whatever you do, accept that you will have to provide food for your cast and crew at no extra cost to them. Try to make it nice food if you can and remember not everyone wants pizza!

Pre-production budgeting

  1. Breakdown your script into a schedule. 

Working out how long each scene will take you to film. This can be difficult when you start out because estimating correctly comes with experience and if you are new, you will have to do some guess work. If you don’t have a good sense of how long something might take to film, why not find a more experienced filmmaker who could give you an idea.  

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…


2. 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. 

Shooting your film - Keeping costs low

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 then 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. 

KEEP IN MIND: Everyone involved in making the film with you is going to try and make it cost you more. Not intentionally of course, but be prepared for crew to ask for more gear, more days, more food, better gear. Sometimes you will say no, sometimes you will be forced to find more money to make the film work. That’s why you should always have extra money in the budget for the things you decide you need more for. And be prepared for everyone to think you are a bottomless pit of money!


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. 

(If you want to do this, at this point I would strongly suggest reading Rebel With A Crew, by a filmmaker who did just that - eliminated the crew. It’s also a fantastic book and a really good read!)

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.


Editing and Post-Production

Everyone always gets caught out at this point with the budget. I have, my filmmaker friends have, everyone. So don’t feel like a failure if you get to the edit and discover you need more funds. Here are some things you may not have thought about:

  • Music. Do you have a composer friend WHO WILL WORK FOR FREE? Who can create the music to your timeline? If not you may have to buy music. Audio Network is a great site, but each track will cost you £69 and that goes up if you use your film for TV broadcast. How many tracks will you use in your short? It’s £69 per track…do the math and set that money aside before you make your film.

  • Editor. Editors have rates too. Maybe you’re doing your own editing but make sure you have thought about how many days it will take to edit your film and who is doing it…and for how much.

  • Graphics/Stock footage. You may not think you would ever use stock footage but you may need a landscape shot you just didn’t have time to get during the shoot and the only way to get it now is to buy a piece of footage that fits.

  • Sound Mixing. Did you know that this is a specific job done by a specific person. Once your edit is locked, you hand over the film to a sound mixer who cleans up all the dialogue, adds sound effects, mixes the whole thing and much more. Again, this person will cost you. Who is it and how much?

  • Sound effects. If you have to use sound effects, your sound mixer won’t be paying out of their own pocket. Find out how much they cost and whether you need them. Maybe you can make them yourself if you’re on a limited budget?


What are some questions you have about short film budgeting? Leave them in the comments below or add your own insights for others to learn from. Be nice! : )