What is considered low budget filmmaking these days

Analyze and understand film costs and calculations in next to no time

In Part 2 on Voodoo Accounting and True Costs, we delve deeper into the subject of film costs and calculations. As far as possible in an article like this, of course.

Part 1 of the series of articles on the film budget and the presentation of commercial costs (HU) and profit dealt with the type of presentation of costs in budgets and film calculations. Guideline values ​​with specific film costs can be found at Filmpuls in the article What does a film cost. We ask ourselves how to effortlessly understand a budget. And how to correctly handle numbers when making adjustments to quality.

You have to know that

  • An analysis of film costs does not start with the cost analysis. First of all, it is necessary to create a catalog with the most important specifications that the future video must meet. This includes impact goals, production values, but also technical specifications.
  • As part of the cost analysis, it should be borne in mind that deadlines, quality and budget form a triad. Changing any of these factors will affect the remaining two components.
  • In addition to the costs for the infrastructure and profit, the film costs can also include premiums for possible risks (weather, insurance, etc.).
  • It is important to note whether the costs for a film are shown as a flat rate, plus handling costs / profit or as markup. Depending on the type of representation, the analysis is more or less complex.

Analysis of film costs

The price for a marketing measure with moving images is easy to determine in the total of the video calculation, as long as one has one. It becomes difficult, however, when you don't see a budget as a necessary evil and a simple cost factor, but as a construction plan - and as the client want to take a look behind the scenes.

What do films cost? The correct analysis of a film calculation does not start with taking the calculation scheme in hand and studying it.

The analysis starts with the question of which points are relevant for the planned film. To do this, you have to know the film concept. If you don't know what you're looking for, you either stumble upon some finds (or worse: fragments) or you won't find anything at all.

That is why the reader of a film budget, regardless of whether it is for an image film, a CEO video or any other type of film, should ask the following questions in advance and - be it alone or with expert support from an expert - work out the corresponding answers independently. Ideally, this is not a lot of work, because the film costs can already be extracted from the briefing of the client and the re-briefing or the offer from the contractor.

Moving image content

As astonishing as it is, we repeatedly see cases in which a budget is assessed independently of the content to be produced. Anyone who does not know the message to be expressed using cinematic means or the storyboard to be filmed will confuse the production of a film with the production of screws. Admittedly, these can be manufactured in accordance with the German Industrial Standard (DIN for short). Movies and videos don't.

Budget allocation

The so-called production value in film is one of the greatest mysteries in commissioned films. As little as they follow a uniform definition in film productions, they are often used as an argument in budget discussions and misused as film costs. We use the term in this article and in connection with movie calculations as Part of the product quality:

Production values ​​are the drivers with which the desired quality target of a moving image communication measure can be achieved with optimal use of resources.
Kristian Widmer

In other words, it's about budget allocation.

  • Where do we use which means with which effect (always with a view to the given film concept)?
  • Does it make sense to invest in the performers?
  • Or in digital effects? Or better in the soundtrack?

Ideally, there are enough resources for all important positions.

Unfortunately, the ideal case only exists in film, not in film. Anyone who has been active in the film industry long enough knows what exponents in feature films also rumor: No budget is high enough to meet all of the director's wishes.

Anyone who knows the content to be communicated should think about the allocation of funds. Which priorities should be set in the calculation in order to achieve the quality specifications?

Quality specifications usually arise from benchmarking. Which quality level does the competitor use and which estimated or known effect does it achieve? Unlike the allocation of resources within a budget, the quality specification affects the calculation as a whole. It determines the level at which a video is placed. It says whether high end or low budget.


The production of moving image content is based not only on quality specifications and budget values, but also on deadlines. Sporting deadlines are compensated with lower quality or, if the quality requirement is sacrosanct, with higher film costs. That is why a schedule layout is always part of the budget analysis.


Films are projects. All types, whether CEO videos, image films, advertising videos or product films. Projects have a different potential for generating risks than standardized products that can be mass-produced by industry. Before studying the numbers, put the risks into words and numbers. This is the only way to determine whether critical success factors have been considered at all and how and where these are included in the calculation. It has to be clear: if a risk occurs, someone has to take it. Whether budgeted or not.

What must be included in the film cost

The answer to the question of what level of detail a budget should show is as varied as the type of film project. The only correct answer is: it depends.

Characteristic are not only the size and genre of the film project and the specifications communicated during the briefing, but also the type of commission. Those who work with a flat-rate budget do not necessarily expect the same information as when handling a project in markup mode.

Like reading notes

The budget analysis is like reading a music score for a classical orchestral piece. You have the target audience in mind, you know about the abilities of a professional orchestra and its soloists, you recognize the theme, the variations and you are happy about ingenious solutions. But what does a person do who cannot even draw a clef from memory? This is similar to the recipient of a film budget, who cannot benefit from any experience!

Nevertheless, two tricks will get you there:

Use the explanations listed under point 1 above to formulate the relevant questions and let the provider guide you through the calculation.

Or ask the creator of the calculation not for information on individual values, but for an explanation and representation of the interdependencies of the individual budget items. You will quickly recognize the competence that lies in the calculation and behind the calculation.

Determine film costs online

With the online calculator from Filmpuls it is easy to determine guideline values ​​for the prices for a video. Enter the length and genre and the calculator will show you a guideline for the costs as well as the time required for the production. This is calculated backwards from the point in time at which the cinematic work has to be completed.

Every budget and every budget item must be explainable. Creating the unspeakable is not part of the job of the line manager and production manager, but is the privilege of the director, whose artistic endeavors it may or even must be to use his talent to create more than the sum of the individual parts.

Target cost budgeting

The "backward calculation" mentioned earlier in this forum (known as reverse budgeting) elegantly prevents the aforementioned three effects in the budget analysis. At the same time, and almost more importantly, this way of dealing with a film budget (and also when discussing film calculations for moving images) directs the focus on quality and the associated allocation of the means of production.

Film costs: in summary

Finally, the conclusion of Part 1 of this series on the subject of operating costs, profit and markup should be returned: There the opinion was expressed that whoever has his budget turn through the meat grinder, consequently also have sausages to expect. While there is basically no change in this situation, for the sake of good order it should also be added that sausages of the highest quality can also be produced, and a meat grinder is absolutely necessary for this.

Sausages and film calculations have a lot in common in an almost philosophical dimension: where the expectations are openly communicated from the start (by the customer) together with the film costs (here the producer is responsible), (almost) anything is possible.

The series on budgeting is concluded with part 3 and practical examples (link: video calculation) on three easily avoidable stumbling blocks in the adaptation of calculations. To define "what is a video?" there is a separate article at Filmpuls. This explains the differences and history behind these two terms.