Ken Levine: Budgeting your movie

More fine advice/knowledge/humor from Our Hero Who Doesn’t Know We’re Alive (cuz we’re too darned lazy/ignorant/humorless to even think of this let alone write it ourselves):

Movie_Budgetsby Ken Levine

Lots of people are considering making their own independent movies. Or at least putting together financing. With High-Def cameras relatively cheap and editing that can be done on your MacBook Pro – suddenly feature films are way more affordable.  And there’s Kickstarter if you don’t mind competing with the Mamet sisters.  This prompted a Friday Question that is worthy of a full post. It’s from Liggie:

On various screenwriting forums, I’ve seen people’s pitches include an estimated budget (say, $4 million). How the heck do they come up with these figures? I figure an average sci-fi script would cost more than a rom-com due to special effects, costumes and the like. But wouldn’t there be a lot of other variables that throw estimates off track?

There are a gazillion variables. Your first step is to enlist someone to draft a budget who knows what the hell he’s doing. In other words, someone who’s done it before. If he’s any good (and that’s always a big IF) he’ll know what’s needed, what’s not needed, and where to get/rent/borrow/steal what you need. These are the line producers. Good ones know tricks, how to cut corners, when you can shoot without a permit and not get arrested.

And then whatever their projected budget is – add to it. There are always items you don’t figure in – like covering bail.

I once wrote an independent feature set in Bakersfield. I hired a line producer to come up with a budget. I almost passed out when I saw the final number. $10 million dollars. I was hoping for something like $40 thousand.

So I went through it line-by-line and saw that he approached this as if it were AVATAR. There were thousands allotted for plane flights… between Los Angeles and Bakersfield. First class yet. It’s an eleven-minute flight! Thousands were set aside for gifts. Towncars on stand-by, separate hair, make-up, and wardrobe people for each star.

And this was my favorite: There’s a half-page scene where a character comes out of a club at night following someone and discovers it’s so foggy he can’t see his hand in front of his face, and of course he loses the person. (Thick Tulie Fog is a Central California staple in the spring.) Again, a half page scene. The producer had it budgeted for $1 million. This was the conversation (almost verbatim):

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