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Film and Video Budgets - 3rd Updated Edition

My very first encounter with a full feature film budget was quite terrifying, simply on grounds of complexity and sheer weight and volume of paper.  There were lots of  “line items” all number coded, running down the left margin. Thousands of them. The bundled pages would pass muster for a telephone directory. I felt the urge to run, but I swallowed, stayed and sent for a book on film budgets. It turned out to be written by a film accountant. I am not a film accountant, so I was still baffled.

Film & Video Budgets – 3rd Updated Edition

 By Deke Simon & Michael Wiese

 Publisher: Michael Wiese Productions : Price: $26.99 : ISBN 0-94118-34-5

This book is written by people who are filmmakers first and accountants second, was what I really needed. Simon and Wiese appreciate where I am coming from. They know how to smooth the learning curve. Steep, but not too steep, so I don’t fall off along the way. 

Films are made on budgets first, long before a camera ever turns. No matter how creative a filmmaker you are, you will consume resources to make any film, even just your own time.

Then there’s time to edit, time to burn to DVD – already your film is consuming resources, has a cost and a value. The film budget is the tool that gives you control of that cost and ultimately, puts a cash value on the film and says if you have covered your costs or lets you know you are running at a loss and how much that loss is. If you are making a film, or just planning to, you need this book.

Film and Video Budgets is a financial toolbox, with a tool to fit every job, irrespective of budget  level or complexity. The book’s American credentials are not entirely appropriate in the UK. For example, advice on setting up companies in the US is not directly applicable, but equivalent UK company start-up advice is easily found here. Also, in the section devoted to pre-production, we are given US dollar costings. These slight irritations can be overlooked however, because the best budget advice given in the book is universal:  No-one can construct a budget for you, not even a template. You must research and construct your own. This book is your guide to doing just that

A well-detailed section on those line items helps us to distinguish our 31-01 Duplicate Work Prints from our 31-03 Developed Optical Negative. This budget book lists and numbers these line items sequentially. It gives a clear explanation of what the items are, but also, the meanings, the whys and wherefores of all of them. Also, what they cost currently and how they interconnect with other appropriate line items in the budget. This is the filmmaker credentials of these authors coming through loud and clear, giving readers exactly what a film budget should provide – absolute clarity.

Sample budgets follow, to show how the categories and line items might line up, starting with a $5M feature. An indicator of how thorough the explanations are, that follow, can be gauged studying the feature budget section number 25-00 - Location Expenses. These cover 25-01 Location Manager and 25-02 Location Assistants through First Aid, Fire Officers, Security, Police, Permits, Parking, Catering, Location Production Office Rent and Location Fees to

25-18 Location Survey, not forgetting 25-20 Miscellaneous Location Expenses. Each of these line items has an explanation of purpose and of the actual budget figure, if it seems to be relatively high. It is this background that helps make sense of the detail of the figures. That essential clarity, remember?

“Ah, yes,” I hear you say, “but this is for a studio shoot in California on 35mm film and I am planning a zero budget feature on digital.” No problem. That budget is example is here as well. So are a documentary-on-tape budget, a tape-to-blow-up budget, an industrial film budget, a  music video and a student film. Each with its own budget example and full line-by-line explanations.

The tape-to-film blow-up budget is particularly helpful, since this is a complex operation with many optional routes and standards, all with different costings. Athough producers still need to research their own budgets and establish current costs for the various options (not least because some costs are coming down!) this book lays down alternative potential strategies. Effectively Film and Video Budgets helps you get the biggest bang for your buck - which is not a bad set of  choices.

I could have done with this very useful book years ago. Even now, it has given me fresh insight in a number of areas and it is very straightforward and logical in its approach. The credential of both authors are impeccable. Deke Simon is a Hollywood-based writer, producer and director of documentary and Michael Wiese is an author and film book publisher as well as a being an American director who feels compelled to live in Cornwall rather than California. Well, why not? There’s no law says California gets to keep everything that’s good in film.

If you are serious about developing film budget setting skills, or simply need to understand more clearly how budgets are constructed, how they work and what they show, this book is the one that will help you do it. It is a very helpful working tool, written to spread understanding about film budgets and bring budget enlightenment to film practitioners working across all areas. Whether you pay in sterling, euros or dollars, matters not, this best selling film production title is worth every penny. And having studied it carefully, you can calculate exactly how much  it has helped you save in your budget…