Production Budgets Demystified


I've spent over 20 years in media production from producer, to production manager working for broadcasters like BBC to indies such as Fremantle ... and I've heard many similar questions on often the most challenging aspect of the role BUDGETING. *(Not the crazy director who wants an elephant on the moon in a tutu by Monday!)


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So when I decided to step into my purpose and support up coming Production Managers offering Online Production Manager Training - I wasn't surprised when I heard and received the very similar questions.


So I'm sharing the answers below ...


1. When reflecting on crew costs in the cost manager, do we reflect net or gross? If NET, we pay crew Gross so there would be a difference between what we reflect and our accounts. How does that work? 1a. Same question for goods.

It depends on how the company you are working for manages their accounts. Speak to the accountant or prod exec (or your line manager) for every new company you work for and ask them what you should show in your budget. If unsure I always reflect gross so I have some fat if I need to change and show the net.

2. What happens to the money left over at the end of production?


Always best to communicate this with your line manager . Different protocols company dependent. For example they may want you to save 5% of the total budget so you check across your budget if this is possible and on a weekly daily or monthly basis keep track of this.

They may want you to spend the entire budget and if there’s surplus for this to be documented ahead of meetings. You have some say on this too if they ask for your opinion, be honest and state I have fat so we could save xx or this budget is already really tight and I will need to spend everything. You may have already added the production fee to the budget, again clarify this with your line manager as it may not be needed and could be taken from another budget.


3. How do productions profit from a budget? For example… if 1 crew member is working across 2 budgets. You reflect his costs on 1, on the other one it technically isn’t spent… how is it best to reflect this and is it possible to reflect this in a way where the production company profits from this use and doesn’t give the money back?


There is a production fee section on every budget template. You can set the amount based on the company requirements or some broadcasters have a set prod fee they allow. So once you have created the main budget you would add 10/15 or 20 % on top of the overall figure. This is one way productions make money on the budget. They could also negotiate a format fee and percentage with the channel and again this is something you would discuss with your line manager.

Regarding crew working across different budgets this is very common practice and again protocols are company dependent. I have often equally split a PMs cost across 3 budgets so we have true costs. Sometimes I was advised to show the PM full cost over the 3 budgets and again this would show surplus or profit as you mentioned above.

4. Do you have to submit invoices of the crew as part of proof at the end of the production? Is this a general rule or does it vary from broadcaster? If so, where can I find out?


I’ve never had to do this, but protocols are always evolving. The key thing is to ask the questions early on -what paperwork is required from us a prod company?. Many broadcasters have software systems that outline exactly what’s required when and how. PCs are very up to date with this!

5. If a PM is budgeted at 10.8 weeks @1200 + holiday pay 10.77% £1396. What happens when 1. Holiday is not taken 2. If a Holiday is taken, how do you reflect this?


Holiday pay is again company policy dependent. By U.K. law you must show on invoices the day rate and holiday split and this can be done in many ways.

  1. If you have negotiated with the PM that the 1200 includes holiday pay then the extra 10.77% is now surplus or profit again you may have some control in where you can spend this but check with the line manager and accountant. (as you may have a overspend on another item and can offset costs)

  2. When you reconcile your accounts either via a cost tracker or software system you will move the holiday pay to the spent column.


6. Generally, if you haven’t spent the money allocated in a pot, can you assign it elsewhere automatically or do you have to get permission from the broadcaster?


Once a fee has been agreed it’s your job as PM to best manage the costs so the production can be delivered to spec and on time. There may be some stipulation on certain items and again a convo to have with broadcasters to clarify.


7. What are ‘overheads’ and do I need to implement these fee’s in other areas of the cost manager or are they for reference.


Overheads are indirect operational costs to the company/production for example computers/WiFi/printer etc. Many companies have a set fee they charge across all budgets, some budgets have more accurate costs again depending on size of the company and how many productions they are running. A Head of Production will often have an overview on this and can advise.


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