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Film budgeting refers to managing the budget for a film during its production phase. During script development, a rough budget is produced by filmmakers in order to convince film producers and film studios to give them a greenlight for production. During pre-production, a much more detailed film budget is produced. This document, which could be over 150 pages long, is used to secure financing for the film. Multiple drafts of the budget may be required to whittle down costs. A budget is typically divided into four sections: above-the-line (creative talent), below-the-line (direct production costs), post-production (editing, visual effects, etc), and other (insurance, completion bond, etc).



  • Story rights: The right to produce a film based on a play, novel, video game or as a remake or sequel can cost anything from a couple of thousand (Leaving Las Vegas) to over $10 million (the video game Halo). An original screenplay by a Writers Guild of America member costs from a minimum of around $50,000 (Quentin Tarantino's True Romance) to $5 million (M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable).
  • Screenplay: An A-list screenwriter can be paid $1 million to write the first three drafts of a script, with a further $1 to $2 million sole credit bonus. Once the story has been agreed upon and the script locked, script doctors may be brought upon to revise the final draft at $100,000 to $200,000 a week. Recently, Columbia Pictures have been offering the best screenwriters 2 percent of the gross profits (after the production and marketing budget has been deducted). Typically the development of a script consumes 5 percent of a film's budget.
  • Producers: Film producers and executive producers are often well-paid, with a top producer earning a seven-figure salary upfront as well as bonuses and a share of the profits. (Often a producer will be given 40 percent of the net profits). For Spider-Man, producer Laura Ziskin is estimated to have been paid over $30 million.
  • Director: The DGA minimum is about $14,000 a week, for a minimum of ten weeks' work. An A-list director can command $5 to $10 million a film. Traditionally, a director's salary is about 7 percent of the final budget.
  • Cast: An A-list actor can ask for anything from $20 million to $30 million, plus $3 million in perks (trailer, entourage, etc.) and 20 percent of the gross profits. The rest of the cast, by comparison, can often come out much worse with many being paid the Screen Actors Guild minimum. Sometimes an actor will accept a minimal fee in exchange for a more lucrative share of the profits; Bruce Willis is estimated to have made $100 million from The Sixth Sense. Extras are said to be paid a wage of $50 to $100 a day.
  • Production costs: The cost of actually shooting the film including sets, wardrobe, location filming, hotels and transportation. The most prestigious productions will often employ the most successful, and therefore most expensive, crew, with the director of photography usually the highest paid at about $500,000 to $1 million. Shooting costs could easily amount to $500,000 a day for 100 days.
  • Visual effects: Employing a hundred employees of Industrial Light and Magic for over a year can turn a big-budget film into a mega-budget film. Computer-generated imagery (CGI) work in post-production can be expensive; such work on The Hulk is estimated to have cost $100 million.
  • Music: The top film composers can ask for a seven-figure salary to compose an hour or so of original music. An original song by Christina Aguilera (Shark Tale) or Kanye West (Mission: Impossible III) could cost $1 million, and the right to use a song by David Bowie or The Beatles could cost $300,000. (In addition, the artist may wish to see a screening of the film to see if it meets their approval; Bowie did so with the film Training Day, giving the film a good amount of pre-release publicity.). More recently, the rights to have Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" on the film Lords of Dogtown cost producers $3 million. Sometimes a film will turn to unknown or little-known artists willing to sell the rights to their song for a small fee in exchange for the publicity. Typically, the music budget of a major motion picture is about 8 percent of the final total; Spider-Man's music budget was $4.5 million, including a brand-new song by Chad Kroeger.

[Film Budget Terms Glossary]

Tactics for cutting costs

  • Eliminate night scenes. Shooting at night requires powerful/expensive lighting and the payment of nighttime rates to the crew. Broken Arrow cut costs by millions of dollars by getting rid of the night scenes from the script. Many directors choose to use the 'day for night' technique.
  • Avoid location filming in famous or commercial areas. Shooting a scene on, for example, the Golden Gate Bridge, requires stopping traffic with a resultant drop in revenue to the city of San Francisco. Filming such a scene for Interview with the Vampire cost Warner Bros. $500,000. Shifting the location to the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge for close-ups could save hundred of thousands of dollars in location fees. Some locations are more willing to allow filming than others - commercial enterprises such as hotels and nightclubs. Some producers of low-budget features avoid paying location fees and seek to capture shots by subterfuge.
  • Film action scenes early on Sunday morning. Stopping traffic for a car chase scene is easier in the early hours of Sunday morning, when traffic is at its lightest.
  • Use unknown cast members rather than stars.
  • Ask above-the-line talent to defer their salaries. In exchange, for dropping their large upfront salaries, actors, directors and producers can receive a large share of the film's gross profits. This has the disadvantage of cutting the financier's eventual takings. It has the further disadvantage of ambiguity. ''gross profits is customarily defined as the profits remaining after production and distribution expenses are subtracted from revenues. Disagreements over accounting methods can lead to audits and even litigation, as recently happened between Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema over dividing up the profits from the hugely-successful Lord of the Rings film trilogy, which grossed over 1 billion USD.
  • Use a non-union crew. Not an option for studios that have signed contracts with the unions—the Directors Guild of America (DGA), Writers Guild of America (WGA), and Screen Actors Guild (SAG). Using an inexperienced crew has its own disadvantages, though. Joss Whedon's Serenity cost just $37 million and still used a union crew.
  • Film in another region. For example, many Hollywood movies set in U.S. cities are shot in Canada. These "runaway productions" enjoy lower labour costs, subject to fluctuating exchange rates. As well, they take advantage of federal and provincial subsidies designed to grow and sustain the film and television industries in the area. Many U.S. states have responded with tax incentives of their own. The Czech Republic, Australia, and New Zealand are other countries in which Hollywood movies are often filmed.

The budget as an advertising tool

For blockbuster movies, high budgets are advertised to imply that the film will be worth watching. On the other hand, El Mariachi was advertised as having a shoestring budget of $7,000. El Mariachi's actual budget including the distribution costs far exceeded $7,000. (It should be noted that the festival print of El Mariachi was in fact made for $7,000 - the additional budget expenditures came when the movie was picked up for distribution by a studio.)

Going over budget

In the US film production system, producers are not allowed to exceed the initial budget. Exceptions have of course been made, one of the most notable examples being Titanic. Director James Cameron ran aground with the budget and offered his fee back to the studio. In other countries, producers who exceed their budget tend to eat the cost by receiving less of their producer's fees. While the US system is profitable and can afford to go over budget, other countries' film industries tend to be financed through government subsidies.


Though movie studios are reluctant to release the precise details of their movies' budgets, it has occasionally been possible to obtain (clandestinely) details of the cost of films breaks down. For an example of a budget for a $2 million independent feature, see Planning the Low-Budget Film by Robert Latham Brown (ISBN 0-9768178-0-2).



Total: $73 million[1]

Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life

  • Story rights and screenplay: $4 million
  • Producers: $4 million
  • Director (Jan de Bont): $5 million
  • Cast: $17.25 million
    • Angelina Jolie: $12 million
    • Extras: $250,000
    • Other (inc. Angelina's perks): $5 million
  • Production costs: $67 million
    • Set design and construction: $17.8 million
  • Visual Effects: $13 million
  • Music: $3.3 million
  • Editing: $3 million
  • Post Production costs: $1.5 million

Total: $118 million[2]

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

  • Story rights (Carolco and Gale Anne Hurd): $14.5 million
  • Screenplay: $5.2 million
    • John D. Brancato & Michael Ferris: $1 million
  • Director (Jonathan Mostow): $5 million
  • Producers: $10 million
  • Cast: $35 million
    • Arnold Schwarzenegger: $29.25 million + 20% gross profits
    • Arnold's perks: $1.5 million
    • Rest of principal cast: $3.85 million
    • Extras: $4.50 million
  • Production costs: $58 million
  • Post-production costs: $4 million
  • Visual effects: $20 million
  • Music: $2 million
  • Other costs: $33.6 million

Total: $187.3 million[3]

Spider-Man 2

  • Story rights: $20 million
  • Screenplay: $10 million
  • Producers: $15 million
  • Director (Sam Raimi): $10 million
  • Cast: $30 million
  • Production costs: $45 million
  • Visual effects: $65 million
  • Music: $5 million

Total: $200 million[4]

See also



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