Budgeting – pre production

This is one out of three blog series about budgeting a tv series. Actually there will be four blog posts about the matter: the first original blog was very overall view about budgeting and the three following posts will each focus on different parts of the budget and budgeting.

Budget is a relationship

Budget as a word means the amount of money one can spend on a project and how the money is divided during the project. Budgeting means the calculations one does to make it happen. I have said many times how much I love budgeting. This love-hate relationship I have with it is very much like a real relationship! First when we get to know each other, it feels a bit weird and awkward, but then, when time goes by, everything becomes easier. Once you get to know each others quirks, it gets more simple and comfy.

Every time I start a new budget, it feels the same. There are these empty rows which can feel scary and intimidating. It feels like you don’t know anything about budgeting! It’s like you have no idea what to put where and every single move feels like a huge mistake. If this doesn’t sound like dating, what does!

Day by day everything starts to move along a bit easier, you find a way to treat each other correctly and with a way where you understand each other. At some point you just need to be bold enough and try something, put a sum in a row, even if it’s a wrong one, just do it! You can change it later, the important thing is that you try it out. You can do it all over later, the most valuable thing is, you try. You try different approach, you try different ways to move around. Sometimes it gets easier fast, sometimes it takes a while. But trust me, every time same thing happens eventually: you will find the sync and when you do, wau! Everything just happens like you are not even there! It’s like a dance, where you both know how to move, what to do to make you and the other one feel good.

Get ready – set – GO

When you have your empty budget, you just have to accept, that it will be slow in the beginning and it takes time. But once it starts to move along, you just have to hang in there and try to stay on board!

In the beginning, when everything feels difficult, what to do? What I do is, I start to put in figures I know for sure will be there. I usually start with the crew wages because they are the biggest body in the budget. This is also good way to check you have every department there! I like to use a crew list here as a check list. From the crew I go on with budgeting the equipment. When I put camera crew in, then I put camera equipment in etc. Here the logic – at least for me – ends.

For me, the most difficult part comes after few days working with the budget. I have done something here and there. It is super difficult for me to work chronologically in the budget. In the beginning I do a little here and a little there. I know this is a weakness of mine. It can even come to haunt me. I dream about different department rows in the budget: do I have sound equipment there? Do I have prep days for Script Supervisor? Did I have enough recce days for everyone involved? For all this, there is one easy solution.

Production Schedule

I like to work side by side with the budget and production schedule. It can feel stupid to jump around and do a little this and a little that, but it really helps. Sometimes (well everytime!) when you are budgeting, you don’t know everything yet. You may know approximately the amount of shooting days and how long prep times you need for each department, but that’s it. To ease out this part, you should work with more detailed level on your production schedule. Especially you need to go deeper with the pre production schedule.

I have many ways how I work on my schedule. One is: I use a lot of post its! It’s nice to have each faces of the prep in an individual post it and you can move them around, if you see a mistake there. First I do the production schedule without a calendar. This is because the actual dates are really not needed at first, only the amount of time, and dates can even make it more difficult at first.

When I step in the calendar phase, I always work with both excel and printed schedule to move in deeper of the schedule. I have both vertical and horizontal version of calendars – each of them give me new ways to visualize the schedule. It is super rewarding to understand something when switching into horizontal calendar after staring at a vertical version for hours and hours without any solution!

When you think you are ready with the schedule, you have to understand: you are not. This is the phase where you need other people, at the latest.

HOD’s come along

”With A Little Help From My Friends” sang the Beatles already at 1967. This applies also in budgeting. The HOD’s (Head Of Departments) come to your aid – and they really need to. You should talk to every HOD and go through the budget. Every HOD should come up with an estimate for their department and they should commit to it. Together with the HOD you can have realistic estimates on your budget.

While you talk to your Production Designer, Location Manager and DOP, your 1st AD works with the shooting schedule and the breakdowns. (For this subject there will be a separate blog post later on : I will interview 1st AD and my friend Aija Ronkainen for the post.) The breakdown means, that every single detail from the script is moved as a note into the scheduling program: if the script says there are four customers at the coffee shop where the character walks into, the AD writes four customers into extras, the coffee shop into locations etc. These breakdowns are very much needed in every department to move forward. Also you to move forward with the budget.

Until this point you may have had only blocks in your budget. Now you have an opportunity to go deeper and more detailed level of the budget. You can use the breakdowns in every department to make your budget more realistic. It is stupid to have only blocks and ballparks there, when you can budget correctly instead. Budget should always be as realistic and accurate estimate as possible. If it is not that, it is only a guess and a guess is not good enough.

Enough is enough

While you have to make the budget as accurate as possible, you still need to be kind to yourself. You have to understand, what is required from you and when. When you are delivering your first draft of the budget, it really can and it should be an estimate. There are blocks, there are larger bodies there. You make the best estimate possible (never a guess though!) and at the time: this is what is enough.

After this point you move forward into the production phase and you have more and more information to build your budget on. Here is where your relationship begins to grow. Now you already call each other girlfriend or boyfriend. You have maybe even met the parents already! You feel confident and safe.

So: be kind. Be friendly to yourself. It is important to understand, that the budget is not ready yet. It has just become a living organism. Now it starts to grow.

The next phase is just that. Growing. Developing. It’s what we call Production. Until that: stay safe!


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