Budgeting is just about as far from the creative side of production you can get, but if you want to avoid the pitfalls of ‘creative’ accountancy then you’ll want to make sense of every cent.
Production budgets aren’t just used to keep a running total of costs. Showing you have everything accounted for is a key way of winning investment for the project in the first place.
How will you allow for overtime costs and pick-ups? Did you budget for loss, damages or delay? How much is the kit and the post work? Are you prepared to have acting unions sign off on your production payroll?
Laying out all the costs in prep is essential to understanding what you can and cannot afford, and where a trim here or there could help you achieve, say, a desired location shoot or camera rental.
Your budget will be constantly updated too throughout production so you’ll need one that’s user friendly and comprehensive to your needs.
What you don’t want is software that your clients can’t view or integrate smoothly into their systems. You don’t want something cumbersome or hard to use. You do want every last penny to go into production value and not into your budgeting software.
In this article, we highlight five of the key software solutions for film budgeting.
Movie Magic Budgeting
Movie Magic Budgeting (MMB) https://www.ep.com/home/managing-production/movie-magic-budgeting/ from Entertainment Partners set the standard and remains one of the most well-known programs, familiar to union reps and potential investors. It is most commonly used to streamline the whole process for scripted content (long and short) and generates reports that identify budgeting trouble spots.
Part of its successful adoption was due to including a full suite of apps for everything from scheduling to budgeting but, over time, this may also have led to some criticism as users came up against software bugs. It’s tricky to keep a lot of plates spinning, a point that EP candidly acknowledge, by calling the old version ‘clunky, antiquated and boring.’
Good news then that a comprehensive upgrade released in March addresses.
Among changes: the whole interface has been overhauled, the Find & Replace feature has been improved so that saved budgets are accessible even when offline and fringes, groups, globals and locations can be saved for use in future budgets.
Keyboard shortcuts are the same as in previous versions and budgets created with legacy MMBs can be imported.
The company hopes to entice new users with a free month trial (sign up by choosing a monthly plan from the website) and says it expects a little more critical acclaim with a reimagined suite “that finally answers the critics.”
You’ll need to register for an EP account to access its online store but expect to pay from $489.
Jungle Software https://www.junglesoftware.com/products/gorilla_bud_tour.php has been making software tools for film and video production since the early 2000s including modules for tracking cast and crew, rehearsal schedules, locations management, basic budgeting, scheduling, and expense tracking. Gorilla is its principal budget program and its main competitor is probably MMB which is one reason why Jungle has written a direct comparison between it and Gorilla– https://www.junglesoftware.com/great_articles/Compare-Movie-Magic-Budgeting-Gorilla.php although note that this doesn’t take into account MMB’s recent update.
For instance, in Gorilla Budgeting, when you first load a budget, you are taken to the Topsheet (which totals the accounts and contains potential costs), which is laid out very similarly to Movie Magic.
With Gorilla, you can attach fringes as flat rates or percentages to any detail line item, create globals for rates and amounts and re-use them in otherc budgets, add rates to production groups and defer line items.
You can tell it’s aimed at the larger indie show since it enables calculation for multiple currencies and for tax credits in different cities and states.
To help get your head around the various components, there are at least 30 video tutorials covering things like importing a sample template to creating fringes and exporting a budget to PDF.
It normally costs $249 for two licences (rising to $599 for 5 users) but add $40 to integrate the Gorilla Ratebook which gives you access to thousands of unions rates. I say normally because – perhaps due to Covid-19 and the production shutdown – Gorilla is currently being offered for just $99.
Developed by LA-based production kit supply and rental company Hot Bricks, Hot Budget, https://hotbudget.com/, is targeted at short form work: commercials, promos, and music videos.
Among its features is the ability to view the Original Budget, Running Budget, and Actual Budget simultaneously and side by side. No need to toggle the visibility of one to compare it to another.
Items like Purchase Orders, Petty Cash and Payroll Log can be imported from one Hot Budget into another without copying and pasting. You have options to completely replace the data or merge it with what already exists.
The latest version 2.0 has a currency converter and an integrated travel budget for applying cost of flights, hotels, transportation per diem [whenever that part of the industry gets back to normal]
Another handy calculator will give you a quick estimated cost of overtime. If your timecards were processed digitally and a compatible .csv file of the timecard data can be created, then the .csv file can be imported into the payroll log programmatically without the need to copy and paste.
You can download a copy directly from the website, after which a setup assistant will guide you through the licensing process. There’s a very comprehensive user guide in PDF form https://downloads.hotbudget.com/HBUserGuide.2.3.0.pdf and video guides including on insurance and importing images https://hotbudget.com/videos/
It costs around $100/ year.
Showbiz Budgeting from MediaServices sits between MMB and Hot Budget not only in price (it costs $399 for two installs) but in functionality too. It’s more geared to commercials but can be used for longer form scripted projects.
Aside from AICP and AICE forms for commercials, you can access budget templates for indie feature film and everything from reality TV and corporate video to documentary and even still photography budgets.
Version 9 of the software (released last year) allow you to track purchase orders, petty cash envelopes, payroll and other elements that impact your film budget. When production is complete, it will generate production reports to make your wrap package look sharp.
Undecided? A 10-day free trial is accessible from the right-hand sidebar of the product page https://www.mediaservices.com/showbiz-software/showbiz-budgeting/#tab-summary. When the trial period is over, you can purchase anytime and retain your data.
MediaServices offer one-on-one, ‘you-set-the-pace’ training on some of its software for $50/hr and private group sessions from $25 per additional person.
Good old Excel
Microsoft Excel has been a mainstay of accounting from shoestring indie features to studio blockbusters for over two decades. There is a move to wean the industry away from what is after all a manual (time-consuming) process into faster and potentially more accurate digital tools but Excel (or Google Sheets) remain a firm favourite and will likely be so for some time to come.
On the one hand spreadsheets are completely customizable and can be easily shared with other team members. On the other hand, ‘customizable’ can lead to all sorts of human error if you don’t have even a rudimentary understanding of how to create, build and read the format.
You could import a customized film budgeting template into Excel There are quite a few TV/film production specific downloadable templates to choose from if you have the time to leaf through them. One list is here https://www.template.net/business/budget-templates/sample-film-movie-budget/, most of which can be purchased for a small fee. Boilerplate, https://www.boilerplate.net/for example, offers formats from $50 which give you a headstart into Excel.
Excel itself comes free with any Microsoft account and should be good enough for most basic purposes – if you can manage the layout. A fully-fledged version of Excel needs a subscription to Microsoft 365 for around $7 a month of $72 a year.