How do we estimate the cost?
We do that by breaking the creative vision down to its components and estimating the budget for each element. This process is called “script breakdown.”
For budgeting purposes, script breakdown is much simpler – compared to what a 1st AD does – yet, you have to have the same attention to detail in order to have a good estimate. In this post, I wanted to give you tips and tricks to make a breakdown for budget estimation easier 🙂
By the way, the Mindset of “breaking down for budgeting” doesn’t only apply to a traditional script, it can be any creative vision, treatment, a storyboard, or even a comic book…
What is Script Breakdown?
As the word suggests, you are breaking down elements in the script. In this post, we are looking at the ‘script breakdown’ process to figure out the money – time – people you will need to turn an idea to reality on screen.
To break down, you will go through each scene and break it down to the following elements.
In a most traditional sense here is what you look at:
- Set Dressing
- Special Make up
- Picture Vehicles
- Special Effects
- Visual FX
- Sound FX
- Other Misc. Elements
Most Line Producers I’ve encountered, including myself, read the script twice. The first time, we enjoy it ‘like the audience’. The second time we read it, we highlight each of the above elements and color them.
Here are the things to consider while estimating your budget:
Cast: Every character/role is a cast member. The more cast you have the more expensive it is.
If you are trying to save money, you may need to minimize the cast or minimize the day amount cast is spending on the shoot.
Extras: Everyone you see in the background are extras. And it is a vital part of your estimation to get it correct.
For example, a script in a school means renting a school (Location) or building a school (Set Dressing). However, it also may mean hiring extras to be in the background as students as well. The script will not mention the students in the background. As the producer, it is your job to estimate the costs for such needs.
To minimize the costs on extras I recommend scheduling them on the same day. For example, if you have a class scene and a party scene with a large group of extras, see if you can schedule them the same day to avoid having multiple extras on multiple days.
Locations: Location is one of the main considerations when estimating a budget, not only because it is an expensive element, but also because it may define the number of shoot days. The more locations you have, most likely the more shoot time you will have.
When thinking about locations, remember it also means: Permit, Parking, Restroom, Where to serve food, etc.
Set dressing: Set decoration is one of the most important items that need to be considered when estimating the costs of a script.
The overall theme of the idea is the main factor in the overall cost of the project.
Blade Runner (1982) Market Scene – A scene like this can be very expensive, as it includes sourcing decorations that will match the theme. As the producer, you get to have an idea of the hidden expenses that comes with executing ideas.
Greenery: Finding and sourcing fake plants may be a little different than a usual set dressing. If you decide to have all the plants fake, it can get pretty expensive pretty quick. If you decide to get real plants, then it means a different level of care will be required…
Remember, that more set dressing means more people in the art team.
Sometimes it is cheaper to get a location that already has your desired set dressing than to source the materials and hire the team to build it.
Other theme-related costs to consider are
Props: The items the characters are interacting with are called props. (The word comes from ‘property’)
Reminder, that guns are special types of props and will need a weapons wrangler.
Costumes: Wardrobe is an important factor especially if the theme of the idea is not in current times. (Western, Historical, etc.)
Special makeup: Although you will usually have a person to make up your cast members, some ideas may need special prosthetics or other special makeup (Zombie movies, Sci-Fi, etc.)
Other things to consider
Picture Vehicles: A simple cop car scene may mean more than renting a picture vehicle. It may mean closing a road, getting another vehicle to tow it, or sourcing a special camera and lighting equipment to shoot inside the car.
Animals: One of my budget breakers, animals in the script means you are going to need an animal wrangler. Remember if you go in the direction of “let me bring my friend Blake’s dog”, that you as the producer are responsible for the dog biting the cast and crew as well.
Animal wranglers charge port to port, which means you will be responsible for paying their mileage starting from where they keep their animals to your set.
Stunts: According to my stunt friends, “anything higher than running is a stunt” so look out for any moves that may need a stunt coordinator.
Special Effects: Explosions, pyrotechnics, weather effects (like rain, wind, snow) and other effects that you apply physically during production, are considered special effects and should be considered in your estimations.
Parasite (2019) – Korean movie Parasite filmed their flood scene in Goyang Aqua Studio. They build the house inside this giant pool.
Camera Specials: Sometimes the script or story can dictate shot types and you want to consider the equipment and personnel to achieve the vision as well. (Example: Drone Shot, Dolly shot, JIB, etc.)
Post Production related costs
Music: If the music is specified, it may mean licensing.
Remember, Budgeting music copyright is not like budgeting gear since the charges happen by the count of music playing.
To start, I recommend finding royalty free music or buying annual memberships. If the budget allows, hiring a composer can also be of great value for your project.
Sound FX: It can either be embedded to schedule or purchased from archival websites.
Visual FX: Understanding the needs for Visual FX and other post-production work is important to give a better estimate.
Before you finish your estimation
See if you have any special camera moves? Special Equipment? Drone? Additional Visual FX?
Will there be additional Labor needed, like security? Any special equipment? Other miscellaneous items? Mechanical FX? Special Props like weapons?
These are questions you would like to keep in mind as you are breaking down a script for budgeting.
Estimating Shooting Days
A Simple Breakdown of the time: In a traditionally formatted script, each page counts as a minute.
And 1 minute of film traditionally means at least an hour of shooting which can be stretched to 2 hours.
With 10 to 12 hours of filming each day Indie productions can vary – it can be filming 5 pages to 10 pages a day.
Rule of the thumb is considering the time of the script and budget your People (your cast and crew) accordingly. More days meaning more day rates.
For music videos and other types of commercials will be independent of the length of treatment or script.
Remember some things take longer to shoot. It is wise to imagine scenes in your mind to understand how few lines may mean complicated hour-long shoots 🙂
Keep these in mind when you are reading your script/budget estimation.
- When a project greenlit if you can afford an AD, a detailed script breakdown is what they do a scene by scene.
- When you hire department heads they will also do their own breakdowns as well.
- Director of Photography will breakdown the camera moves and equipment and personal needed
- Production Designer will breakdown set decorations and props etc. and see how many hands needed etc.
Part of being a producer is balancing the needs of your department heads to execute the vision.
With the budgeting tool I created, you can do it much easier. Leave me your email and I will send to you a lite version of what I am using right away.