Beginners Guide: Build A Reliable Short Film Budget

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Short Film Budget – You have the perfect screenplay; you have the filmmaking gear in place, and you have friends to fill out your crew to make a short film, question is, do you have a budget?

Most independent filmmakers think that to make a short film, you just need an idea and some talent in front and behind the camera.

The problem with this scenario is without a well-built plan right at the beginning of pre-production, things can fall off the rails in a hurry.

How do I know? Because I have made a couple of short-films with no plan in place, and they turned into disasters, that I never speak about in public.

So if you are an independent filmmaker still learning about the craft of filmmaking, the first thing you should do before saying action is to plan out the whole course of the production to ensure nothing goes wrong before the cameras start rolling.

In this post, I will discuss the importance of the pre-production from screenwriting right up to blocking your first shot while maintaining a budget you set out during the pre-production phase of filmmaking.

So let’s look at the tips and tricks on building a reliable short film budget for your next film project.

On building a reliable short film budget

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Draft A Production Schedule

Plan your work and work your plan. 

That is something I say to myself every time I start thinking about shooting a short film. If you draft a schedule for your production right off the start, you will begin to understand what your short film budget will look like.

Right at the beginning of building your short film budget, you need to figure out the crew size, amount of equipment needed for filming, and the number of locations needed for shooting to understand what your production schedule will look like.

Have a look at the screenplay and figure out how many days are required to shoot the entire project.

Something I learned from film school, that works 90% of the time when scheduling is, to shoot 3-5 pages of the screenplay will require a full day of shooting. 

Now, this all depends on whether or not there are location changes during the day. If you have more than three location changes in a day, that could put you behind schedule even before shooting.

When I am trying to figure out my budget for my short film or feature film during pre-production, I like using a budgeting template like Celtx Budget or Movie Magic

Celtx is an inexpensive route for first-time filmmakers that I highly recommend. 

Movie Magic is an amazing software program that does everything but your dishes, but with such a robust program, it is pricey for new filmmakers. 

But, if filmmaking is your passion, and you are going to make a lot of short films or feature films, then get Movie Magic. You won’t be disappointed.

Figure Out The Equipment Costs

Now that you have a schedule in place, and the locations figured out, it’s time to figure out the costs of production.

The first cost you should look at is the equipment costs. 

If you are using your equipment, then you are ahead of the game. But you should still put in an amount in the budget, which you can use for contingencies if you have to.

For those who will be renting filmmaking gear like the camera, lenses, lights, audio equipment, and other filmmaking materials, you need your production schedule to figure out how many days are needed for all the gear.

If you need help on what filmmaking gear you should have to begin filming with, click here for filmmaking essentials for those on a budget.

Cast, Crew, & Food

On building a reliable short film budget

You are going to shoot this union or non-union? 

There are pros and cons to that question, that you will have to decide for yourself. If you use union actors, this will factor in your short film budget costs, because you will have to pay a day rate for each actor. 

But, using union actors means you are getting skilled performers, which can reduce the amount of shooting time for each scene. That can be a huge plus when you squeeze a 10-page screenplay into two days of shooting.

Plus, union actors legitimize your project more in the eyes of the industry.

If you are doing this alone, you may want to bring in another producer into the mix to handle other parts of the project that you may not have time for.

As for a crew behind the camera, if you are not going to shoot your short film like a flashy music video, you can get away with just a director of photography, 1st assistant director, 1st AC, sound operator, and makeup artist.

Once you figure out the amount of crew on set, you will have to figure out a day rate for each. 

And then there’s food. In the past, food costs would just consist of pizza and pop throughout the day. 

But in the age of a COVID free set, you have to plan on packaged food for each crew member, which can be pricey if you let it.

Side Note: Another thing you should add to your budget for the time being Covid safety protocols. Items that you will need on set are masks, sanitizing stations, etc. It’s just the new normal for now. Click Here on info for Covid safety on film sets.

Post-production

Editing is something that you either have the skill for or you don’t. I know that from the amount of YouTube videos I have watched over the years about editing, I still can’t edit to save my life.

There are many important parts of the film process that every filmmaker must pay attain to when budgeting for a short film or full features, but I think editing is the most important of all the parts of filmmaking.

If you have a great editor, they can salvage a poorly filmed project sometimes. 

I recently was involved in a short film called Return of the Raven in which the footage I was seeing on the monitor while filming, made me extremely worried about the final product was going to look like.

The project was rushed, and not scheduled properly, so many of the shots that I was we could retake, had to be kept to stay on schedule.

But when I found an experienced editor, at a reasonable rate, the editor worked magic with the footage shot and made it look festival ready. 

Who knows which festivals will select the film, but the footage we had before editing made me worried that we shot a horrible film.

If you are editing the film yourself, you need to pay attention to the amount of time the editing process will take.

Now this is from my editing friend in terms of who much time it takes to edit a film, so it is an estimate.

What you need to plan for in your budget is around three to five hours to rough edit at least five pages of script. Then another three to five hours for revisions, color grading, and any minor effects you want to add.

This is an estimate, but keep it in mind when you are budgeting your short-film timeframe.

Summary

When you look at the process of planning your short film budget, it’s extremely important on paying attention to the pre-production, production, and post-production phases of filming.

You need to plan your work and work your planDig deep into any hidden costs that may come into play during the whole production. 

There are so many many other things that are not on this list like location fees and insurance, that you should keep an eye on while building your short film budget.

Something that my father-in-law always mentioned to me when I was an outside sales rep years ago and that was “keep your chin up.” 

Why do I mention that? Because when you are a beginning filmmaker just beginning this fantastic joinery of filmmaking, mistakes will be made, and you have to accept them and move on

For each film you make, you will become a better filmmaker and have a better understating of how to maintain a short film budget.

On building a reliable short film budget

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