Warning: Is Your Film Production Budget A Liability Or Insanity?

Creating a realistic film production budget is vitally important in prepping your project. But if you’re looking to attract investors, allocating the money for cast, crew and locations is equally important. While there is always inherent financial risk in making a film, there is a difference between a liability and full blown insanity.

Maybe you wrote your first script so you could direct it. Perhaps you’re an unknown actor, and you want to play the lead role. Or maybe you’re an experienced director the horror genre, and you decide you want to direct a comedy. And maybe you’re a marketable star known for comedy, and now you want to do a drama. These are all examples of “liabilities” and they can create extra challenges in getting your film financed.

I have an actress friend who was a comedy TV star. When I told her I was looking for attachments for an indie drama, she asked me to consider her. She got insulted when I told her it would be a tough sell. She said to a mutual friend, “What, he doesn’t think I’m famous enough?” The fame she had in the comedy world would actually hinder my drama. In fact, it would have been better if she were an unknown. That’s why comedy stars have a tough time making the transition to drama. People see their faces, remember the work they’ve done, and they expect to laugh.

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Film Production Budget: Liability Or Insanity?

Even if you do have a little cachet, you have to factor in what you may or may not bring to the project. You must consider your liabilities… Anything that would stand in the way of getting your financing. With all of this said, you can get around any obstacle if you just be realistic.

Real world example: Let’s say you have a script that takes place in one house (this is good) and you’re playing the lead role (and let’s assume you’re not a big star, so that’s liability #1). Instead of attaching a well-known, established director, you want your film school buddy to direct his first feature (liability #2). The budget for your film is $5 million (insanity #1).

The scenario above emphasizes the difference between liability and insanity. You can work around liabilities and still get funding. But insanity will prevent you from getting funding. So if you really wanted to make the above-mentioned film, why not try to shoot it for $200,000? With modern production technology and limited locations, this is possible.

I made The Attic for $500,000 and got the director of Pet Cemetery to direct it. And that was when making films was more expensive than they are now. Wanting your friend from film school to direct your project is okay, it’s just a liability. So drop the budget. If the script is good (and it has to be, even for $200,000), you may be able to eke out a little more.

Another real world example: Say you have a horror film (bonus), and you have three major roles all available for stars (bonus), but you want to direct the film and you’re a first-time director (liability). This scenario is not too bad, especially if the script is killer. It could be fundable if the budget is not too high.

Removing Risk From Liabilities

When I started raising money for films, I did so because I wanted to cast myself in the film. I went into the project knowing (because I’m not a big star, yet) I’d be a liability in the lead role. To work around this, I wrote The Attic and The Alphabet Killer with strong female leads and an ensemble cast around them. I then played the third biggest role in each film, and was able to surround myself with stars whose names would help market and fund the film.

For Love N’ Dancing, I trained in West Coast Swing for over eight years so I “job secured” myself into the role. As I said earlier, my pitch was, “You can cast Matt Damon, but he can’t dance like I can!” And it was still incredibly tough!

Liabilities are not insurmountable, but they do add headaches. So try to limit liabilities as much as possible. If you are starring in the film, hire an established director. If you are directing the film, hire stars. And if you have neither, drop the budget.

In independent film, most budgets are created by “backing in.” So lets say you want to make a film for $1 million. You would then create a film production budget for $1 million dollar film. This is not the proper method of creating a film production budget, but it is a common practice in the independent film world.

When I write or read a script, I get a general idea of the needed budget. However, that’s not always the amount that I try to raise. Sometimes you’ll derive your budget numbers via your knowledge of your investor. For example, let’s say I had targeted someone and felt that $500,000 was the most he/she could do. At that point, I would fashion a script around that $500,000, or, if I already had a script, change it (if necessary) to reflect a $500,000 budget.

You need a realistic film production budget in regards to what you think you can raise, and what’s right for the project. To eventually get the money, you’ll need to limit your liabilities, remove any insanities, and get as realistic a budget as possible! And if you liked this article, check out Bankroll Film Funding Training.

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Tom Malloy is a film producer, actor, and writer. Over the course of his career, he has raised over twenty-five million dollars to produce, and distribute multiple feature films. If you're ready to "level up" your film producing, make sure to check out Movie Plan Pro. The video training and downloadable film business plan template will provide you with the same tools Malloy uses when approaching prospective film investors.