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Ben Yennie: 7 IndieFilm Budgeting tips from Debbie Brubaker, UPM of Blue Jasmine and Big Eyes

Creating a realistic budget is one of the most important steps in getting your independent film financed.  It’s a skill that takes decades to master, but you can’t always afford an experienced UPM to help you get the project ready to shoot. That’s why Producer Foundry teamed up with Debbie Brubaker the UPM of Blue Jasmine and Big Eyes, to bring you the Build a Better Film Budget Workshop.  The whole presentation is available here, but since our goal is to make this sort of information available to the masses, here are some important pieces of advice for creating a more realistic film budget. 

Tip 1: Make sure all character names are clear. While there are creative merits to having someone like a “Dark Figure” in your script that later becomes the regularly named villain, breaking those elements down can be a real headache.   If your screenplay has a similar element of mystery that is later revealed to be a major character, then create a separate copy of it to send to your UPM or Line Producer with the character name in parentheses next to the DARK FIGURE character name to avoid confusion.

Tip 2:  Properly label your scene headings by location This is one of the first things they teach you when you take a screenwriting class, yet many screenwriters still don’t quite grasp the concept of it.  Any time you change your location, then the scene heading needs to change.   This can be as simple as changing which room you’re in or even going from the bedroom to the hallway.  If it’s a small change like that, then labeling the larger location before the smaller location is really helpful.   For instance:


The bedroom and the hallway may well be different locations, real world locations, so you need to label them differently.  But in the event there are multiple bedrooms or hallways in the film, you want to make sure  that each one is clearly labeled.  Additionally, each individual scene in a montage needs to be labeled.  Again, this is because each part of that montage will need to be shot at the specific location where it takes place.

Tip 3: Some Elements in the script may not end up in the film. Sometimes a screenwriter will put something in the screenplay that really isn’t that important to the story, but will cost a lot of money.  i.e. If a flock of doves flies by or a spider climbs up the wall at a particular story beat.  Unless you want to hire the animal trainer or get lucky with a stock shot, then these are things that may not end up being included in the film.   In instances like these, you need to have a conversation with the director or screenwriter to figure out whether that particular element is really necessary. Debbie elaborates on this point further in this excerpt from the workshop:


Tip 4: Sometimes an 8th of a page is not the same as another 8th of a page. When you break down a script, one of the first things you do is break the script into eighths to figure out roughly how long it will take to shoot.  However all 1/8ths of a page are not created equal.  One example would be:

Another would be the Infamous scene from Gone With the Wind.

Obviously, one of those is going to take a lot longer to shoot than the other, so make sure you budget accordingly.  This is generally what script annotations are for.

Tip 5: The only way to get a good Topsheet is by creating a Detail Budget. A Topsheet needs to be reflective of all the details in the budget, and generally it’s only after you do a full Detail Budget that you can get an accurate Topsheet.  In order to build an accurate Topsheet, you need to know how the money will be spent.  You’ll also need to have a full Detail Budget available in case the investor or studio asks for it, and if the numbers don’t match the Topsheet, you’re in trouble.

Tip 6: You don’t always have to shoot at the actual location listed in the script. For a San Francisco example, McLarin Park could easily substitute for Golden Gate Park..  McLarin park is far less trafficked, and easier to shut down.  Just because it says it’s a certain location in the screenplay doesn’t mean that it needs to be that one in the actual movie.  If you can make something look like the location in the script that ends up being a cheaper location, then you can spend the money elsewhere.

Tip 7: Never underdo your Fringes. Fringes are taxes, agents fees, payroll fees, workman’s comp, and other fees that primarily affect payroll.  This is often the best place to hide money, and apparently studios do it often.  Again, Debbie can tell  you better than I can in the clip below.

As stated earlier, this information was taken from the Build a Better Film Budget Workshop hosted by Producer Foundry and presented by Debbie Brubaker.  There’s a lot more in the video than what’s here in these 7 tips!  To check it out for yourself, click the link below.

According to Debbie, ProductionNext is the future.  Apply for the Free Closed beta now, and do everything in this presentation and more.



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