Making a budget is one of the hardest and most intimidating parts of making a web series for filmmakers, regardless of whether this is their first project or their tenth. No matter how much money you have to make your series, though, I promise- preparing a budget is going to help you out a LOT.
Step 1: Make your breakdowns
Spoiler alert: you’re going to be making a lot of spreadsheets.
Step 2: Cut the fat, kill some darlings
You have to be ruthless when you’re making your budget. You also have to be really creative, because what you don’t want to do is cut and slash your script to a mere shadow of its original self. You still want to make the best project you can, you just need to make it within your means.
Don’t forget the power of making things- sure, you might not have access to a jail cell, but you do have access to cheap metal pipes and duct tape.
The hot glue gun, pipes, and other materials to hold these parts in place cost us only $42.38, and we used them all twice!
Using your script breakdown as a guide, think critically about what you can change or cut in order to lower the cost of the overall production.
How to cut locations from your script:
- Combine them. If you have a one-page scene in a classroom and another one-page scene in a science lab, can you dress a classroom to look like a science lab with some beakers, wires, and cast members in lab coats?
- Prioritize the importance of scenes. Is one scene really fun, but ultimately unnecessary for the overall plot? Cut it, but keep a version of it tucked away as a stretch goal for yourself, in case you get more funding than anticipated.
- Just…. Cut them. If your script calls for a conversation taking place in a bar, can you rewrite the bar scene to take place in an apartment, with a six pack? Think to yourself- how important is the location, and can the scene take place in an easier-to-acquire place? Usually… yes. Yes it can.
How to cut actor days:
- Shoot their coverage early. If you’re shooting traditionally, you might be able to film one actor’s lines on a totally different day than others’, in order to condense the number of days said actor needs to be on set.
- Move them off-screen. For found-footage shows, sometimes you can pretend an actor is in a scene without them ever being on camera. In my show, I had an actress unavailable for a certain scene, so I just changed all her lines to be behind the camera and recorded them with her at a different time. We had one of the crew members read her lines on set and then replaced them in post.
- Again… just cut them. How important is it for the character to be in every scene they’re scripted in? Seriously.
How to cut prop costs:
- Ask around. You’d be amazed what kinds of random things your Facebook friends have lying around, if only you’d ask them. I’ve had people lend me sweater vests, prop guns, machetes, science beakers, as well as a variety of posters and wall hangings for set dressing.
- Make them. Crafting and Photoshop are your friends, and often the raw materials to make something are less than buying a complete version. Just make sure you don’t spend so much time making something that it would have actually been cheaper in terms of manpower to just spend the money on a completed item.
- Seriously? Cut them. You probably don’t need them as much as you thought you would. What props do you absolutely need to tell the story? Focus on those and let the other things go.
Step 3: MORE SPREADSHEETS
4 in 5 indie filmmakers agree that a spreadsheet is the best way to keep track of your budget (the 5th one never completed anything so you probably shouldn’t trust him). For best results, you should make an individual sheet of said budget spreadsheet for:
- Props/wardrobe/set dressing
The “totals” page should just be the total amount each of the other sheets comes out to, so you can see where most of your money is going (hint: it will be crew).
Using the information you have from your breakdowns, your cast and crew documents will look something like this:
Person/role, day rate x number of days needed on set
The same equation/layout can be used for locations. Props and wardrobe are even more straightforward: Just list the thing and the anticipated price (after researching what you want on Amazon or, gasp, out in the real world) and add it all up!
I also make a spreadsheet for craft services, making the assumption that for each person on set I’ll spend $10 on a meal plus $5 for snacks and perhaps $5 per person for coffee/breakfast pastries if it’s a particularly long or early day. However, I’ve heard from a little birdie/possible warlock Kate Hackett @HackettKate that you should never, ever pay for food. “You can get great catered meals via food trucks for free – you need to ask, you need to offer good publicity, and you have to call like a billion places, but you can do it.” I’ve never managed to get this to work, but I also haven’t tried very hard, and possible free-food-warlock Kate Hackett has always struck me as reliable, so keep that in mind.
Step 4: I promise this is the last spreadsheet
I’m definitely lying. There will ALWAYS BE MORE SPREADSHEETS. But for budgeting and breakdowns, we’ve made it to the end.
This final budgeting spreadsheet will be your actual spending spreadsheet, meaning that you write down every single thing you spend money on in service of your show. This is everything from pizza at table reads, cast and crew payments, the actual cost of props and wardrobe, to film festival submissions and crowdfunding perk coordinating. This will keep you on track every step of the way, and give you an idea of how quickly you’re burning through your budget as the unexpected and expensive horrors of indie filmmaking stack up.
Here’s an example from Brains season 2:
please ignore the fact that I bought a new machete and bleach…
You’ll notice I list the department the charge ran in, then the item purchased, then the price. I do this so that I can easily sort the sheet by what categories we spent the most money on, which gives me a better idea about how to improve the predictive power of my budgets moving forward. It also makes it easier to track spending during production and move the budget around to course-correct as necessary.
You can read more details about my first experience with budgeting a web series here.
You can also read through some other filmmakers’ perspectives in this old Teach Me Tuesday thread.
And that’s it! You’ve made a budget! Any other questions/concerns/suggestions? Lemme know in the comments!