Making a budget is probably one of the most time consuming and integral parts of getting funding. So making one thorough and accurate shows that you've done your research and even more importantly that your documentary can make money.
More often than not, budgeting can feel like one big guessing game. Too high of a cost and investors might get scared off. While an insufficient budget may have you running out of money before the production is complete. That's why knowing which software to use, where to find accurate costs, ways to lower those same costs, and how to put together a proper budget sheet can be integral to getting the funding you need.
The first place to start when making a budget is to choose the right software for your needs. Thankfully, there's a considerable amount of software available for productions ranging from several million dollars to almost none. Software such as Movie Magic Budgeting, Showbiz Budgeting, and Gorilla Film Production, have several versions available depending on your project size. Also, every-day programs such as Microsoft Excel and OpenOffice have templates that allow you to budget with a program that you are familiar with using plug-ins like Budget Forms Pro. The trick is to find the one that saves you the most time and is simple for you to use.
The next step is to estimate the costs of your production. This is the stage where things can get a bit tricky, but with enough research, this is an obstacle that can be overcome. For equipment prices you can use sources such as B and H Photo's huge online catalog or grab an MSRP from a manufacturer's website. Make sure you don't get prices from places like eBay or Amazon where prices are constantly in flux and may not be available after the budget is approved. For local crew prices your best bet will be to either ask for quotes from potential crew members or check out online job boards for the going rate. If instead you plan on using crew members that are part of a union, then a quick trip to the union's online rate cards should do the trick. When it comes to transportation and lodging your best quotes will almost always come from online travel sites such as Expedia, Travelocity, Orbit, and Priceline. As a bonus, many of these sites give significant discounts if you purchase both transportation and lodging at the same time. Lastly, for stock media, it may be a good idea to count the amount of stock clips and music used in similar documentaries. Then you can simply multiply that number by the average price of stock clips and music online.
Now that you've got a good idea on how much your documentary will cost, it's time to figure out ways to lower those costs. Believe it or not, there are cheap ways to do just about anything in a documentary budget, you just have to find them. For instance, you can usually borrow or negotiate rates from friends and family with equipment. For good prices on crews, you can recruit college students looking for production experience or draw members from film groups. As for stock media, you may want to consider using as much public domain material as possible since it is free of charge and is copyright-free. Lastly, since lighting takes a significant amount of set up, you can save a lot of money by simply using the natural light around you. This way you can cut down on crew costs and can be more flexible in the field. That being said, free crew and equipment is notorious for being unavailable when you want to shoot, so making sure you have contracts in place would help your investors feel at ease.
You've purchased your software and have estimated your costs, so now it's time to enter those numbers into your software. Though you only need a summary of your budget for a prospectus, you'll still want to show that you've done your homework by making a full budget sheet. The budget should include items such as research costs, crew fees, archival and stock media costs, talent fees, equipment costs, travel expenses, insurance fees, administrative costs, and promotional funds. Also, since it is impossible to be perfectly accurate with any budget, you'll also want to include a contingency cost of around 15% of your total expenses. That way you have something set aside to cover unexpected events.
Making an accurate budget takes years of experience, but with some tips and resources, you can make sure that your budget is affordable and attractive to investors.