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Budgeting For The First Time
Do you want to be a line producer? Are you budgeting for the first time? Here, I shared a few questions to ask when you are estimating the costs of an idea, a creative treatment, or a script.

A good producer’s job is to make the creative vision a reality within the best possibility of resources.

By resources, I mean money – time – people

Traditionally, the script dictates the budget. That’s why you may have heard producers saying “it’s a 1 mil idea” “it’s a 500K script” etc. 

Yet a good producer would be able to shift things around, including the creative parts, ‘to make it happen’ within the available resources.

Simple estimates are based on two things:

  • Scale
  • Theme


How big of production are we talking about? 

The creative brief/treatment/script is one side of the coin. The other side of the coin is available resources.

To have an idea of the scale for the project, we look at the following: How many people are in front of the camera.? How many people will we need behind the camera? How many locations?

For example, a script in a school means having or building a school location, but it also may mean having the background to fill the classroom and hallways as well.

These are a few lines, and we get to highlight:

  • school (Location), 
  • morning (Time of filming), 
  • Riley (Cast) and 
  • bus (Picture Vehicle).

We also get to consider: we may need to close down an exterior space and hire extras that will be other students.

Remember to visualize the scene to capture all factors for your budget. Even if it is not specifically spelled out in the script.


Another factor that can make or break a budget is the theme of the concept. The theme can add another few 0’s to Set Design, Props, Wardrobe, Makeup, Special FX, or Visual FX budgets.

For example, a cyber-punk theme or Qing Dynasty China will be more costly than a standard modern-day look.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Questions you want to ask

Here are a few questions to help when evaluating the costs associated with the creative.

Above the Line

  • How many people are cast? How many roles or characters do we have?
  • Are there scenes with background actors?
  • What does the writer’s payment look like? Are we paying for the story rights? 
  • Who else is on the producing team? What will be the other producers’ rates?
  • What will be the director’s rate? What will be the Showrunner’s rate?

Below the Line

  • How big of a crew are we talking about? 
  • Will there be any travel involved?
  • How big of a production team will we need?
  • How big of a production design team will we need? 
  • Are we finding existing locations or building sets?
  • How big will the set design / props/ art spending be?
  • What will be the director of photography’s rate?
  • How many cameras? What scale of camera, grip, and electric equipment would we need?
  • How big of a camera, grip, and electric team will we need?
  • What are the sound recording needs? Do we need 1, 2 or 3-people team?
  • What are the wardrobe / costume unit needs? How big would the Wardrobe team be?
  • Do we need a custom wardrobe made? 
  • Will we rent wardrobe and art? Or will we buy and return? 
  • What are our make up unit needs? Do we have more cast than 1 person can handle? Or 2-person, or 3? 
  • Will we need special makeup or prosthetics? 
  • Is there any picture vehicle? 
  • How many vehicles and drivers do we need?
  • What does production dept. need for transportation? What are the Art, Camera, and G&E needs? 
  • What will be the Post Production needs? Will we need VFX?
  • Anything else? Special FX? Animals? Stunts?

Once you understand the scale and theme and ask these questions to understand what it will take to accomplish the creative vision, you will have an idea about the cost as well.

To do it accurately, you may want to have a good budgeting template that you can also use as a checklist. 

Leave your email to me and I will send you the lite version of the one I use.

In a previous post, I explained methods for Simple script breakdown for budget estimation, take a look at it for more detailed information.

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