How do film budgets change as they grow?

One of many reasons it’s arduous to make your first film is that a lot of the knowledge you need is just not out there. Whereas we will all read granular box workplace figures online, it’s typically arduous to reliably uncover how a lot a movie value to make and it’s near unattainable to understand how they spent that money.

And so I’m fairly excited to share at this time’s analysis. It’s a collaboration with Wayne Marc Godfrey, film producer and financier of greater than 125 unbiased function films. Later this yr, he’s launching a brand new receivables and collections platform for creators and distributors referred to as  In the lead-up to’s launch, we’re working together on a number of articles to shine a light-weight on the financial aspect of unbiased film.

First up, we collated a dataset of 107 budgets, ranging from micro-budget films right up to Hollywood studio tentpoles, to provide you a sense of how budgets change as they improve.

A primer in function film budgets

A film’s finances needs to serve many masters. On the one hand, it has to predict each value the filmmakers will encounter in creating the completed film and permit for each penny spent to be recorded. Then again, it must be brief and straightforward to read for buyers and producers who need to give attention to the large image.

Subsequently, there are often three ways of presenting a movie finances:

  • The complete, line-by-line breakdown. This lists each value involved in making the film. Not solely are the prices cut up by individuals, but they may be additional cut up by when the work is being carried out, their fee, and so forth. The complete breakdown for The Village is 79 pages long and that is under no circumstances an unusually long finances.
  • The topsheet. This summarises every of the line gadgets into broad categories, such as Modifying, Costume, Sound, Lighting, and so on. Even some headings which look like for a single item shall be a set of associated prices. For instance, the ‘Director’ line will sometimes embrace all the prices concerned with the director together with their payment, their assistant, their travel, lodging, trailer, and so on. Prime sheets are often one or two pages lengthy.
  • The 4 sections. In the topsheet, all the costs can be grouped into certainly one of 4 classes:
    • Above The Line (“ATL”). These are the key creatives involved in the film, together with the writer(s), producer(s), director(s) and prime few actors.
    • Under The Line (“BTL”). This is everybody, and every factor, concerned with the filming of the movie that’s not already in the ATL.
    • Submit-Production. The costs concerned with taking the raw footage from the shoot and turning it right into a completed film.
    • Other. Costs involved with making the movie which are not coated above. This sometimes consists of insurance coverage, accounting, financing prices, overheads, publicity work carried out on set such as capturing ‘behind the scenes’ footage.

Word: This can be a easy summary of a posh matter, and precisely how individuals create budgets can differ between corporations, industries and places.

The main target of at present’s analysis is how the allocation of assets modifications as a finances’s general measurement will increase. To measure this, I’ve mixed 107 budgets and calculated what proportion of the full price range is allocated to each class.

Prime degree modifications

Let’s begin with the large picture – the four classes of costs.

Given the differences between the kinds and scales of flicks, it’s fascinating that broadly speaking, film budgets share an identical make-up.  Above the Line prices account for between 16% and 26% of the whole finances, Manufacturing is 56% to 74% and Publish-production 7% to 13%. Other prices show the most important variation, at between 1% and 8%.

Let’s take a look at each of these in just a little more element.

The Above The Line (ATL) costs are fairly static for movies beneath $50m, accounting for slightly below a quarter of the whole value.  The most important movies spend proportionally much less on the ATL, though bear in mind that if a $160 million film spends a quarter of its finances ATL, we’re talking about $40 million being cut up between a small variety of individuals.

Production costs are similarly flat, at simply over half the whole value, until we transfer into the bigger movies when it gets closer to three-quarters of the entire finances.

Submit-production is relatively the costliest for the smallest films, with post-production for movies over $5m sometimes being around 7% to 9% of the entire finances.  How the post-production finances is allocated does range quite a bit with price range scale (we’ll come back to this shortly).

The ‘Other’ prices differ significantly throughout the finances ranges.  This is due to a mixture of historic costs hooked up to the productions, and variations in project-specific points like authorized costs.

There’s not area to go through each single line item, but I do need to spotlight a couple of fascinating departments.

How the ‘Above The Line’ prices change

It will be affordable for a member of the public to consider that the price of writing a film wouldn’t improve with the finances as it’s still a small variety of individuals typing on a pc.  Actually, the prices do improve – significantly so.  Movies on the most important budgets spend proportionally twice as much as the smallest films to get their script ready to shoot.  This can be a mixture of:

  • Growing salaries, matching the talent and experience degree of the writers.
  • Further improvement personnel who might assist discover and safe source materials.
  • The cost of licencing the supply material, such as a e-book or play.
  • The cost of securing the rights to the film franchise. For example, the development finances for Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines comes to virtually $20 million as the producers had to buy the rights to the Terminator franchise.  They later bought the rights to the producers of the fourth instalment, Terminator Salvation, for $25m.

The price of producers also rises with price range scale, peaking at 18% of films budgeted between $7.5m and $10m, earlier than dropping again to around 6% for the most important films.  It’s value remembering that producers may additionally be paid in other ways.  Their production company might cost a payment, they can also be a writer or director on the undertaking and they are more likely to have a share of any income the film generates.

The price of the director (and their accompanying employees and unit) also roughly rise with the finances, albeit not persistently. Administrators typically tackle further roles such as producer or author.  This complicates how their complete paycheck can be allocated within the price range.  For instance, for The Village, M. Night time Shyamalan’s complete charge was just over $10 million however little of that appeared as a director’s payment.   He acquired $7.2 million for the rights to his script (plus $300,000 for re-writes), $2.5 million for his position as producer (plus $500,000 for his producing overheads) and just $233,384 for guiding.

How the Forged costs change

Sometimes, forged prices are spread across three classes:

  • Above The Line forged. These are the key appearing names on the manufacturing, typically referred to as the principals or the ‘marquee names’ as they appear on the cinema marquee above the title of the movie.
  • Different forged. In the Production section, under the line, you’ll find all the other actors who have characters and features of dialogue. This ranges from the secondary forged right by means of to bit elements who seem in just one scene.
  • Extras, supporting artists and crowd.  These are the folks who fill out the background of scenes, providing preventing soldiers, eating patrons or shouting crowds.

Sadly, there was little consistency between my budgets as to the place to attract the line between each of those three classes.  Some budgets simply listed “Cast”, some included extras within “Non-Principal Cast”, while others broke down all the differing types.  I’ve combined all the varieties of casts within the chart under.

How the Manufacturing costs change

Let’s take a look at the under the road production prices.  There are fairly a couple of so I’ve highlighted a variety to point out how they change as budgets improve.

The primary group is prices which improve together with the price range.  The artwork department, location prices (including studio area and set builds) and on-set particular effects take up a much bigger share of the price range as the full value rises.

The subsequent group is prices whose relative measurement shrinks as budgets improve.  Keep in mind that the full value in dollars should go up, as it’s the share of the full price range we’re measuring here.

The digital camera department goes from being round 5% of the costs of the most cost effective films down to only 2% of the costliest movies.  Grip and Electrical prices (i.e. lighting) also fall, as does on-set sound.

And the final group in under the road production is these whose scale roughly stays the same.  Travel and dwelling (overlaying all transportation, accommodation and catering), costume and hair & make-up all improve loosely consistent with the finances’s complete value.

Notice: The leap in hair & make-up costs for films costing $5m to $7.5m is a consequence of the movies I studied, somewhat than an industry-wide development.

How the Publish-Production costs change

The important thing elements of post-production (i.e. assembling, modifying and ending the picture and sound parts) shrink slightly, relative to the whole value.  The primary post-production component which grows with the finances is music.  This might be a mix of growing the fee and scale of the rating (i.e. a costlier composer who’s working with a bigger set of musicians) and a rise in using licensed music tracks from well-known artists.

How the ‘Other’ prices change

Lastly, we come to the last a part of the finances prime sheet – Other prices.  This is seize bag of costs which modifications significantly between budgets.  The two gadgets I needed to spotlight are both forms of insurance.

The first is the usual insurance coverage which productions want to protect their forged, crew, gear and places.  This falls as finances will increase but is roughly round 1% of the full value.  The precise value of insurance is usually pegged to under the line production costs, slightly than the films’ complete value, and so for those who’re used to paying a better proportion than 1% then this might be as a result of it’s being calculated in another way to my strategies for at the moment’s research.

The second sort of insurance coverage is the Completion Bond, which is effectively buyers’ insurance coverage.  A completion bond company will, for a charge, comply with insure the manufacturing in case of a failure to supply a remaining film.  They have hiring and firing rights and can step in if they really feel the finances and/or schedule are being missed.  They’ll take motion to get the production again on monitor and, if they fail, they will refund the buyers the money they put in.

The very smallest films will wrestle to get a completion bond as (a) they don’t have a lot money and (b) they are inherently extra risky productions and so few bond corporations might be prepared to tackle the danger.  I’m not solely positive why completion bond prices seem to decline on the most important budgets.  Perhaps a useful reader within the sector can add a comment or drop me a line to set us straight.

Further reading

If you want to explore these subjects in more detail then you could take pleasure in these past articles:


The uncooked budgets for at present’s analysis got here from leaks online and from industry sources.

The most important single source (and somebody who is completely happy to be mentioned publicly) is film producer and financier Wayne Godfrey. I am immensely grateful to Wayne for his generosity in sharing the budgets and his endurance in ready the months it took me to have the ability to turn them into helpful findings for the group.

It’s value noting that though this dataset just isn’t tiny, it can’t stand in for each film ever made. A film’s necessities can differ significantly from each other, which means that the figures shown above are simply averages of this dataset, not guidelines of thumb or the “right” quantity to spend. Line Producers spend their careers build up an understanding of how a lot issues value and even then will spend time and analysis building the price range of every new challenge they work on.

Subsequently, at the moment’s research is introduced as an help to new and emerging filmmakers who haven’t any scale of reference for a way line gadgets shift as budgets change.

The combining of all this knowledge introduced some challenges. Before this challenge, I was not conscious of simply how in a different way budgets could be structured. Virtually all match into the 4 main sections (above the line, production, post-production and other) however within each there are all method of approaches. These embrace how journey, dwelling and transport are accounted for. Typically this may be within department budgets, typically cut up into three classes and typically combined with each other.

When there were just some instances of various categories being combined (such as when each the director and producer(s) came beneath “Director & Producer), the place potential I requested the film’s producer to offer an inexpensive estimation of how the mixed line merchandise must be cut up.

The budgets have been principally in US dollars but a few quarter of them had to be transformed from local foreign money. I used historic change rates in this conversation, ideally based mostly on the film’s shoot dates but otherwise on the film’s release date.

Not all the cash paid to key creatives for their position in a movie will show up within the price range. If they have a participation deal then they will anticipate to get additional funds depending on how nicely the film performs.

I ignored tax rebate in these budgets. They’re usually an necessary part in calculating the final raw value to buyers but aren’t useful in this specific article. They threw the figures off significantly as they are listed as a minus value (in different phrases a credit score moderately than a debit), thereby making it seem like a department was creating wealth. Tax incentives and credit is a subject I can return to in the future and tackle properly. In the meantime, right here’s a primer of the UK Tax Credit score system.

I also removed contingency allocations.  This was completed partly because some of my budgets have been post-completion and subsequently didn’t have any contingency listed but in addition because the contingency shouldn’t be, in itself, a price.  It’s a portion of the funding that’s put aside to cover sudden further prices or over-spends.  Filmmaking is a highly unpredictable and inflexible endeavour during which easy issues like minor climate modifications can wreak havoc with even the best-managed price range. The contingency is there to be spent on virtually any area of costs which needs it (Line Producers are much more cautious and considered than this sounds!)

For the avoidance of doubt, that is true collaboration with been Wayne and myself. No cash modified arms, there was no influence on the results and I had full and last reduce of the outcomes.