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Create a Film Budget

How to Create a Film Budget

Guide to Film Budgeting

Creating a Budget is... well, boring

I’ve often said that Film Budgeting is the most boring and laborious tasks of preproduction. After all, there’s writing the screenplay, which is creative and exciting. There’s casting actors, which is my favorite part of the process – seeing your words come to life. There’s Location Scouting which is nothing short of going on a road trip with a camera to explore new “lands” and new “places” to be the environment where your story will be shot. There’s Stoyboarding, which, for any Director and Director of Photography is an extremely satisfying and creative experience as well.

Gees… even Craft Services, planning the menu for the cast and crew is more interesting than budgeting. Who doesn’t want to eat a yummy lunch?

Then there’s budgeting. Figuring out how much things cost, how long you need to rent a piece of camera equipment, what are the union rules for the Local 399 union, how much overtime is paid, and of course… is this within our budget?

Fortunately, there are film budgeting programs that come with lots of templates that can help you through this process, and I am going to go over the basics of film budgeting in this article to help you get started.

Schedule or Budget First?

Many filmmakers ask me what to do first. You would think you would have to do the budget first, but it is usually the opposite. Creating a film schedule determines how many shoot days the film will need. Each shoot day translates to $$. If you don’t create the schedule first, you have no idea how many shoot days are required to shoot the film.

This article doesn’t go into Film Scheduling, but you can check out some of our other articles about this topic.

Guide to Film Scheduling: Breaking Down Your Script

Once you’ve done a schedule, it’s time to start the budget. If you are creating a film budget for a major studio, you need to use one of their templates. Both Movie Magic Budgeting by Entertainment Partners and Gorilla Budgeting by Jungle Software (that’s us), have many of the studio templates you can start with.

The reason why the studios require their own templates is because the Account Numbers must match their particular accounting system. So, for example, for Warner Bros. the account 3300 might be CAMERA, whereas for a Disney feature the account number for CAMERA could be 4700. This makes it easy for the accounting department to look at a line item on the Topsheet and know which department that is for across all their projects.

If you are making an independent or non-studio picture, and your accountant (or Payroll company) doesn’t have a strict guideline about account numbers, you can use any numbering method you want to create your accounts.

Film Budget Topsheet

Topsheet View - Gorilla Budgeting

Once you’ve decided on a budget template, it’s important to understand the different SECTIONS of the budget. For the most part, a typical film or video budget will have 4 sections:


What is Above-the-Line?

In a film budget, any items in the Above-The-Line section include the creative time. This includes:


These costs are usually set, negotiated, spent and/or promised before principal photography begins. They include rights to secure the material on which the screenplay is based, production rights to the screenplay, compensation for the screenwriter, producer, director, and principal actors.

What is Below-the-Line?

In a nutshell, everything else. You would think that the Below-The-Line costs would be much greater than the Above-The-Line costs, and usually you would be right. But imagine securing an “A” list writer, director, and actor for a major studio film. These three line items could easily amount to millions of dollars.

Some of the Below-The-Line items you will see in the budget include:



This section includes all costs incurred AFTER Principal Photography (or Production) is completed. This usually includes the following line items:

Some of the Below-The-Line items you will see in the budget include:



The “Other” Section includes the following line items:


The 3 Levels of the Budget

Just as a film budget usually has 4 Sections (you can have more if you want!), it usually has 3 levels, which I will explain.

The Topsheet

The Topsheet is a summary of your entire budget. It is usually very simple, in terms of shwing the account number (i.e.: 3300), the description of the account (i.e.: CAMERA) and the total amount for that account.

The Account Level

This is second level of the budget. It allows a more detailed view of the account. Below is an example of what the CAMERA account might look like:

Notice that each account number is part of the 3300 numbering system. In this way, it is easy to see that all these items are part of the account on the Topsheet: 3300 CAMERA.

The Detail Level

The next level of the budget is called the Detail Level. This is where the rates are entered and the “details” of this line item will be.

Typically, the way it will work is that the column AMT multiplied by X multiplied by RATE would equal the SUBTOTAL.

So, in Excel for example this would be:

Film Budget Topsheet


There are many more factors that you need to include in the Detail line item for the account. Aside from the rate of pay (it can be a flat rate or a daily rate or a weekly rate), if the line item is for a cast or crew member that is part of a union, you need to enter their Fringes.

What are Fringes in a Film Budget?

A Fringe is an additional amount (usually a percentage) added to the rate to account for additional costs for the person being hired.

Some common fringes are: Health Care and State Tax.

Most unions make is easy for you and just tell you that the fringe for an actor is “X” % . You add that as a SAG Fringe to your total, instead of creating multiple fringe items for the cast or crew member.

Why not use Excel to Create a Film Budget?

If you open a spreadsheet in Excel you can create a row that has an account number, a description, an amount, a multiplier, and a subtotal, as seen below.

Film Budget in Excel

Sample Budget in Excel

This would be the simplest form a calculation which would allow you to create a rudimentary budget.

You can certainly create your budget using Excel, but there are many issues that can arise in doing so.

Let’s say that in creating the budget you entered a rate for a crew member, but in later revisions that rate changed. It could have gone up or down for any variety of reasons. In Excel, unless you are an Excel whiz and created the ultimate Excel budget, you would have to change that rate manually.

In a typical film budget program, such as Gorilla Budgeting, if you created that rate for the crew member as a global, you can just change the global and it will change the rate throughout the budget for any crew member associated with that global.

Other calculations such as add-ons (ability to add an amount to section by flat rate or percentage), contractual charges (ability to add multiple percentages to a budget), importing from the schedule things like props, costumes, cast, crew, locations, automatic industry-standard printouts of the topsheet and detailed budget, and more, would be additions you would have to manually create in Excel.

For these reasons, it is a good idea to use a professional film budgeting program.

For a complete working demo of Gorilla Budgeting click here for Macintosh or here for Windows.

The Gorilla Ratebook can give you up-to-date guild rates for SAG, WGA and all other Crew Titles.



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