When you watch tv series at your sofa and have some munchies, you probably don’t guess how much money and planning there has been behind it, and it is okey not even wanting to know. So spoiler alert: this blog is all about budgeting tv series, so stop reading if you don’t want to know what it consists of.
So what does it consist of? Everything you see and everything you can’t see costs money. It’s easier to start from what you see: all the sets have been build, all the materials to build them have been bought, all the costumes on performers as well as all the cast and background extras. Then, there is the equipment that makes it possible for us viewers to see it all: cameras, lights, sound… And let me tell you, these equipment are not cheap.
It is obvious that A LOT of people work behind the camera. And of course before it is even possible to roll the camera, many things has to happen. To collect a good overall picture, let’s divide the subject into smaller pieces, which are also steps in production. The steps are planning and financing, pre production, production and post production. Let’s start from the beginning.
Planning and financing
There are different ways how a project gets started, depending on the production company. Some companies develop series in-house, some companies buy rights to an existing project and sometimes subscribers order a specific script to develop. I need to remind you that I am only speaking to you from my own experience and perspective, there is no one or right way how these things work.
It is obvious, that for the financing part of production some kind of finance budget is made. It is usually based on early phase scripts and bigger, overall costs. But as the production goes forward and gets so called green light, then more specific planning and budgeting activates.
From the financing phase there normally comes a budget total, a maximum what the budget total can be. Then it is quite easy just to arrange the costs and move them around in the budget. Sounds simple right?
In the budget it is very important to have every single cost in there and well thought. At this point, where you for example don’t have the crew yet involved, you have to evaluate the crew costs and department costs. Usually at this point at the latest a 1st Assistant Director comes in and does the first actual shooting schedule draft. Until this point the evaluation of the amount of shooting days has based on producers estimate. The actual amount of shooting days gives the guidelines to budget – well, everything!
All costs depend on the amount of shooting days: like working days, rental days for equipment and so on. But on the next phase even more specific information is needed.
Insurances and deductibles are important costs to have well thought, because if you haven’t thought of these and something happens, you don’t have the money to cover the costs. Also post production needs to be budgeted carefully, not just ballparks. During the pre production it is of course possible to divide the post costs as you move forward and get better understanding of the specific needs of the production. But if you don’t pay attention to post early enough, you will be in trouble later, I promise you.
In the beginning of the prepping phase 1st AD makes a breakdown of the script that gives all the department heads (HOD’s) valuable information. How many locations there is, how many actor days, how many cars, what kind of special effects etc – the list of details needed is long. The better the breakdown is done, the easier it is to budget. I personally like to be very realistic budgeter, because let’s face it: the budget is always too small, what ever you do! The more accurate you budget, the easier it is to run the show. Of course, it is important to have some room to move around, a buffer so to say, but more about that later.
So: you have the amount of shooting days and all the breakdowns – then you can start to work! It is important to go the budget through with the HOD’s and get the precise evaluation of the department costs. Also at this point you get to see, how long employments you need to have for the crew, so all the bigger overall costs drop into more detailed level and the numbers in the budget lines land into their conclusive places.
A lot of things already happen in this phase of prodcution very concretely, but it is important to lock the budget now before heading into production. This means, that after locking the budget every change you do, shows in the variation column. It is important to understand, that you can always make changes inside the budget, you just can’t change the total. You need to realize: the budget is a living, always changing organism that you need to cherish.
When the production starts – meaning: when the shooting period starts – and you have the locked budget, it is important to know your budget by heart, every line, every cost. If you don’t know where you have what and how much, you can not possibly know when you have room to play and when not. This is important because of the nature of a film production: things always happen.
It is in the nature of this kind of project work that involves many people, that surprises do happen. And they are not even anything big surprises, just basic stuff. Sometimes it rains when it shouldn’t, sometimes there is a building site where it wasn’t yesterday, sometimes the roof top of a car comes down on a motorway – just to name some. It is urgent that you have your buffer in the budget and you can play around when things just happen.
As the production goes on, it is really crucial to have a tracking budget along side of you in all times. With only well planned budget and very accurate and in due time tracking you can survive from the production with clean hands.
When the shooting period gets closer to ending, you can close different accounts and lines from the budget, as last invoices and salaries occure. I really like to start making the realization budget as soon as some account is finished. This is just me and the way I want to work. It gives me both the understanding where I am with the budget but also a satisfying feeling when you get to see how the realization costs match the budgeted.
During post production the realization budget is the thing. It is not so many things happening anymore and all the things that are happening are very easy to play with, cost wise I mean. It is important to have a good tracking and realization budget with you when the post starts, so you know where you are at and what still can be done. At this point also normally marketing and launching the series start to activate so more costs and needs start to come up. There is always something you have forgotten from the post phase: some translations, some voice overs, some festival participations and so on. So, if you have done your job well, you have stayed in the budget and maybe saved some from your buffer. Now it’s time to budget again those numbers and arrange things so, that the post surprises can be handled.
Now we have come from the beginning to the end, from the financing phase to the end of post production. This blog was about budgeting a tv series, what to take under consideration in what point of production. Hopefully you got something out of it, something to think about or something to question. As I said, I can only talk from my own perspective, my own know-how. If you remember only one thing, please let it be this: the budget is like a small baby, a living organism. It doesn’t know anything and it can’t take care of itself. You need to cherish it and let it grow. Remember to take good care of your budget all the way, from the very first drafts and financing versions until the very end of production.
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