Budgeting Line-by-Line: The Basics

Today brings a new class the second of three “starter classes”. This one is called Budgeting Line by Line: The Basics. If you’ve visited before, you know the classes are free and you’ll read the Disclaimer on the Course page.  You also know that to take the class you can go to that Course page from here. Now, a little background on this Course…

Over the years I’ve been invited to film programs all over the world, along with my wife and partner, Writer-Director Nancy Savoca, to teach a wide array of courses. They’ve ranged from full semester graduate level ones to one day Master Classes on a narrowly focused topic. Culling all of those choices down and selecting a handful to get started with was not an easy task. The natural place to start was a variation on a course that began my teaching career. It’s designed to be a general filmmaking primer centered around one of the things I know best – the budget.

Back in 1991, after wrapping my second feature film, Dogfight, I sat down with a budget for that show and a host of original documents, including Call Sheets, Shot Lists, Set Designs and more. I then took the actual budget – hiding what was confidential information (more on that in a later post) and making notes on the rest, creating a massive tome of a book – a couple of hundred pages in all. That was the core curriculum of my first all day Master Class which I would give at least once a year at NYU or for organizations like New York Women in Film. I would go line by line through a budget discussing the filmmaking process via this one document that holds every element used in the making of a movie.

I would use the other source documents to illustrate points and to demonstrate how those budget lines manifested themselves. The budget for “Rehearsal Expenses” would launch me into a discussion of the rehearsal process and how the actors were prepared for their roles and I’d use rehearsal schedules to demonstrate how that was worked out. The course evolved and I have been pleased over the years to meet some of my students who took it and were still holding on to that huge book. As I went from film to film, I updated the book with more current documents until finally, somewhere in the 90s I learned how to use Power Point and got myself a projector for my laptop. As I looked over all of the various curricula I had designed since then, I found that this was still a terrific way to look at a production – through the budget where it all comes together.

The reality of reducing these lessons to ten minute long video topics has forced some adjustments in that original design. Budgeting Line-by-Line is now a three part course with The Basics being the initial one. The series will sweep through a fictional budget multiple times, each course digging a bit deeper. The Basics is the starting point so it necessarily is the longest of the courses – 28 lessons in all – as we pretty much take the budget department by department. This initial course is meant as a high level overview of the process through the eyes of the budget, looking at each line and understanding what it means. Once the format and the “language of the budget” is established we’ll drill down into specifics. The thing I love about looking at a production from a budgeting point of view is that everything has to go through that document in one way or another. The problem of teaching that budget is that“everything” has to be covered in a budget!

This Basics class will walk through the format and the content of each account. The next class “Line by Line: Intermediate” will take selected groups of accounts and cover them in more depth. Finally, the Advanced class will pull the whole thing together providing a good illustration of budgeting techniques and an explanation of the “filmmaking reasons” that money is spent the way it is.

As with most of my courses you can jump around the Lessons if there’s one area that interests you more than others, however, I strongly recommend that you start with Lesson 1 – The Budget Organization. Also, there are certain aspects of budgeting that are repetitive so I will generally cover them in the early going, then move quickly through the same things in the later lessons.

I view these courses as evolving over time so please come back and comment on them so I can make needed adjustments and improvements.

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