number of considerations go into creating a budget for a documentary.
Who Is Paying?
The first consideration is who is paying to get the
documentary made.If this is strictly
your project and you are paying the bills, then what you are concerned with is
the out-of-pocket cost.If you have your
own camera equipment and editing facilities, you don't need to budget for these - or for your time, either - except to determine what the actual cost or fair
value of the documentary might be.
other hand, if you have either a sponsor, a client, or a funding agency, then everything becomes a cost, including
your time and the use of your equipment.You budget to be sure you don't spend more than you'll receive.
Small Crew or Large Production?
all of my experience is in making behavioral documentaries with a crew of three
or four people.And the production
budget is basically so much per day for crew, equipment, film or video, steaks,
sodas, and mileage.
if you are undertaking a reenactment, a historical documentary, or a biography
with re-creation of events, you'll need to budget like a feature film.The only way to do this is to get an
experienced production manager to do your budget for you, once you have a
Union or Nonunion?
Unless you are doing a large reenactment or are a signatory
to a union contract through other work that you've done, your first documentary
will probably be nonunion.
A union shoot probably will cost more due to union work
rules. You may be required to hire more
people than you would use in a nonunion, independent production.And you'll have to pay for travel time,
meals, and overtime, as well as union benefits such as health and welfare.On the other hand, using a union crew generally
assures a certain level of technical competence. But if you are a union
signatory, you undoubtedly already know this.
If you are nonunion and independent, then the cost of
everything is the best cost you can negotiate.
Live or Archive?
Where will the footage come from that will be used in your
documentary?Will you be shooting it
live?Or will it mostly be archival
footage?Live productions mean shooting
days, followed by review of footage, followed by editing.Productions based on archival footage replace
shooting days with the costs of finding, duplicating, and licensing the footage
that will be used.
In today's documentary milieu, it can cost far more to make
a documentary out of old footage, when you have to buy rights to it, than to go
out and shoot everything brand-new.
Above- and Below-the-Line Costs
The budgets for feature films and for some other
productions are divided into above-the-line and below-the-line costs.People accustomed to using this system of
budgeting tend to think in these terms.It won't be important in planning a documentary unless a funder or
sponsor asks you for an above-the-line and below-the-line break-out of your
Above-the-line costs are generally contractual expenses
that are negotiated on a run-of-the-production basis.These include the purchase of the script and
property rights and the salaries of the producer, director, and cast.
Below-the-line costs are all those costs associated with
the production that are calculated on the basis of use.This includes salaries for the crew, cost of
equipment and supplies, travel, editing, processing, and postproduction costs,
and salaries not agreed upon as above-the-line costs before production starts.
A Budgeting Checklist
Over the years I've developed a number of checklists to try
to be sure I account in advance for everything I'm going to have to pay for on
a production.I've consolidated these
into the checklist that follows.I have
tried to make this as comprehensive as possible, so there undoubtedly will be
many items on the list that you won't need for a specific production.More important, don't blame me if I've left
out something that you do need, because every production is different.Treat this checklist as a starting point and
a memory jogger and then add to it the specifics of your production to create
your own budgeting system.
8Furniture and equipment
1Contracts, releases, etc.
1Office and equipment
2Errors and omissions
4Production or negative insurance
5Completion bond if required
1Tax, benefits, workers' compensation, etc.,
throughout the production
12Cost of books, research materials, microfilm
reproduction, photocopying, etc.
14Cost of viewing and duplicating footage and stills
3Storyboards if needed
1Director of photography
b.Record casting sessions
a.Tax, benefits, workers' compensation, etc.
A.Crew and equipment (if
contracted as a package)
B.Crew (individuals as
2Director of photography
9Scriptwriter, if needed during production
11Editor, if needed during production
1Camera and support
d.Matte box, filters, etc.
e.Batteries and charger(s)
g.Dolly, Steadicam, crane, jib-arm, etc.
h.Special mounts (car, helicopter)
i.Special rigs such as underwater housing
n.Slate, connectors, etc.
e.Microphone boom or fish pole
f.Cables and connectors
3Lighting and grip equipment
c.Grip stands, sandbags
f.Clamps, gels, dichroic filters, etc.
h.Large color-correcting gels for windows
b.Communication (walkie-talkies, headsets, etc.)
c.Trailers, honey wagons, etc.
b.Vans or trucks
6Props and wardrobe
a.Props as needed
7Location and studio costs as required
a.Location fees, including “minders” such as
police officers when required
b.Licenses as needed
f.Storage and transportation
a.Laboratory processing of film
b.Transfer and sync sound
c.Work print or transfer to video
d.Video dubs for review
d.Shipping equipment and supplies
a.Film or video medium
c.Batteries for everything
d.Gaffer's tape, camera tape, shipping tape, etc.
11Meals and snacks
a.Cast and crew meals as required
b.Snacks and drinks available during production
A percentage of the production budget set aside to handle unexpected and
a.Tax, benefits, workers' compensation, etc.
A.Stock footage and stills
The director, along with the
editor (if the director is not doing the editing) and possibly the producer,
will want to review what has been shot to select the best takes, eliminate the
unusable footage, and begin to organize the structure of the documentary.Budget time for this.
The production company may have editing facilities available, or may rent a
film editing room or editing system or a video offline editing room or system
by the week or month until postproduction is complete.
D.Offline editing (video)
or rough cut editing (film)
3Offline (rough cut) editing equipment
a.Splicing tape for film, cores, split reels,
marking pencils, etc.
b.Mastering and work media for video -- today this
is videotape, tomorrow it may be something else
E.Graphics and special
2Computer graphics, etc.
3Special photographic or video effects
4Audiotape as required
3Looping if required
5Record sound effects
6Audio sweetening and effects (video)
7Sound mix (film)
9Audiotape and/or video media as required
1Online facility by the hour
1Dubs for review
I.Completion on film
5Release print from internegative
6Shipping and insurance
1Tax, benefits, workers' compensation, etc.
A.Prints for release as
2Television network standard
4Manufacture of initial quantity of release
copies, including labels and boxes
checklist as a starting point.Specific
items will change as the technology changes and as your approach to making
documentaries evolves.The most
important thing is to have a reference point for creating the budget for the
documentary.There is so much to do, and
there are so many different costs involved, that without some kind of checklist
you can easily forget to include something that could cost a lot of money you
didn't plan on spending.
And you'll have to live with that.
'Three Essentials in Making a Documentary'
(D = available on DVD. N = available for rental from Netflix.)
Film Clips Shown in the Session:
(2002) The definitive film of the World Trade Center disaster by Jules and
Gideon Naudet and James Hanlon, (D, N)
Franklin, (2002) Miniseries for PBS directed by
Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer. (D, N)
(BBC)(2004)Excellent dramatized documentary about the
evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk in May 1940,
directed by Alex Holmes. (D, N)
Education of Shelby Knox(2005)
Behavioral documentary, directed by Marion Lippschutz and Rose Rosenblatt,
about a high school girl trying to get sex education taught in the schools of
Lubbock, Texas. (D, N)
of Dodos: The Evolution - Intelligent Design Circus (2006)Documentary at its best; a marvelous
investigation of a controversial issue, written and directed by Randy Olson. (D, N)
in America (Demo undated)A
partisan look at the evolution of healthcare. (Not in distribution)
The Movie(2008) Attack film
produced by Davis Bossie, designed to prevent Hillary Clinton from being
elected president. (D, N)
Hobart Shakespearians(2005)Praise for a hero teacher, directed by Mel
Stuart.See it. (D, N)
Inconvenient Truth(2006)Directed by Davis Guggenheim.Al Gore's environmental message set to video.
Creatures That Defy Evolution(2000)Advocacy film claiming to
prove that certain animals could only have come from a divine creator, and not
evolution.Directed by Steve Greisen. (D, N)
Was a Wonderful Life(1993)They were women with a comfortable middle-class
life.And then they were homeless.Directed by Michele Ohayon. (D, N)
Kid Could Pain That(2007)Amir Bar-Lev directed this thought-provoking
documentary about a precocious 4-year-old artist. (D, N)
of the Megaflood(2005)Documentary for NOVA, directed by Richard
Donat that hypothesis that the deeply pockmarked terrain of eastern Washington
was not the result of slow weathering but rather of a catastrophic flood that
engulfed the area thousands of years ago.(D, N)
Jefferson (1997)Biography of
Jefferson directed by Ken Burns.(D, N)
the Bleep Do We Know(2004)New Age speculation on the nature of everything.
Directed by William Arntz, Betsy Chasse, and Mark Vicente. (D, N)
Mentioned but not shown:
Boys of Baraka(2005) Behavioral
documentary about a program that takes at-risk 7th grade boys from Baltimore to
a school in Kenya for two years to improve their academic ability.Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady. (D, N)
for Columbine(2002) A film by
Michael Moore.(D, N)
French Revolution(2005)History Channel reenactment, directed by Doug
Schultz. (D, N)
True What They Say About Ann?(2004) It's about conservative commentator Ann Coulter.Directed by Elinor Burkett and Patrick
Wright. (D, N)
Wal-Mart Good for America? (2004) PBS's Frontline takes on Wal-Mart and tries to be fair about it.Directed by Rick Young. (D, N)
of the Penguins(2005) A nature documentary directed by Luc Jacquet
under incredibly harsh conditions.If
you haven't seen it, go get it. (D, N)
Kamalei: Men of Hula(2006) A
behavioral documentary exploring the life of one hula halau (school) as it prepares for and competes in the Merry Monarch
Festival in Hawaii.
in a Cold Climate (on the DVD of The Magdalene Sisters)(1998)Documentary about Irish girls interred in
various Magdalene asylums and/or orphanages because of out-of-wedlock
pregnancies, being sexually assaulted, or just being "too pretty"
(believe it or not).Directed by Steve
Humphries.This documentary led to the
feature film The Magdalene Sisters
and is included on the DVD for that film. (D,
Sinking City of Venice (2002)An
outstanding science film in the NOVA
series and a primer on visual evidence, produced by Marco Visalberghi and Julia
(2002) Unquestionably the film that should have won the 2003 Academy Award for
documentary.Directed by Jeffrey Blitz,
it follows eight youngsters headed for the 1999 National Spelling Bee. (D, N)
Honor(2004)Carleton Sherwood's attack film aimed at John Kerry's presidential
campaign.Vietnam War POWs blame Kerry
for their harsh treatment.(D from http://www.stolenhonor.com)
Thin Blue Line (1988) A documentary directed by Errol Morris that agues
that a man was wrongly convicted for murder by a corrupt justice system in
Dallas County, Texas. (D, N)
The High Cost of Low Price(2005)
Robert Greenwald attacks Wal-Mart. (D, N)