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Learning to Love Film Scheduling and Budgeting, For Writer-Producers

Paula Landry discusses the importance of learning the details of film scheduling and budgeting to elevate your writing.

Paula Landry discusses the importance of learning the details of film scheduling and budgeting to elevate your writing, even if you never want to be a producer.

Paula Landry, MBA, is a writer/producer and consultant helping writers create strategies to excel. Landry teaches film business classes at NYU, SVA, Wagner College and MCNY. She’s co-authored This Business of FILM; and Sell Your Screenplay; and is the author of Scheduling and Budgeting Your Film. Twitter: @paulalandry. Read full bio.

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As many filmmakers have, maybe you’ve decided to make your script into a film, or are considering that possibility. Many writers have transformed themselves into writer-producers. If you want to take matters into your own hands, and are going to produce a script you've written, whether it's a film, webisode or television series, it can be helpful to learn film scheduling and budgeting for your project. Many writers, for any variety of reasons, decide to produce their own work, and plunge into the process head on.

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Don't be nervous, not only CAN you do this, you might even enjoy it.

Learning to Love Film Scheduling and Budgeting, For Writer-Producers

The process of film scheduling and budgeting is one that anyone can learn, and even learn to love, depending on how deeply you want to get in. For most writer/producers, knowing the overall process will take the mystery out of it, and you can do much of it yourself. Some of the advantages to learning the process of scheduling and budgeting are that you will get conversant with the process, can more easily discuss it with your AD and line producer, and you learn ways of thinking about your script that could come in handy during your writing.

Script EXTRA: Crafting the Micro-Budget Thriller

Basic Principles Of Film Scheduling And Budgeting For Your Project

There are differences in scale and detail, based on the type of project you’re making, but the fundamental process is the same whether it’s for a webisode, short, feature, VR film, TV project, educational doc, industrial film, or marketing video. The main thing at the beginning is to take the whole thing one step at a time.

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The Process, From Script To Schedule And Budget

The process covers several steps, starting from your script, then to your schedule and budget. You can use a variety of different software created just for this process, or excel, or do it on paper. Here is a snapshot of the scheduling and budgeting process. We’ll cover a basic overview of what this work looks like, who may need it, tools you can use, and the process.

Overview: What Is Film Scheduling And Budgeting

Scheduling and budgeting are production management, which basically consist of RESOURCE management, in order for you to have all of the resources required to successfully create a film from your script. Production management is all of the administrative planning that will yield artistic freedom during production, because you’ve made sure that everyone will have what they need to make your movie.

So this process includes;

  • Identifying
  • Organizing & Scheduling
  • Locating & Pricing
  • Budgeting & Securing -
  • everything needed to create a film, so that each is available as needed, when required, for the best price.

Then you can drive more clearly envision how to get there. 

envision your project

Who May Need It - Titles, Credits, Roles And Goals

The different titles and credits include any of the following list. However, the important thing is to know and understand your role as a writer/producer and the goal that you have. Many writers will produce their movie out of necessity. Some writer producders do it for the control. Others work as writer/producers in order to produce as a means to understand how to become stronger writers. Others want to see their vision realized as it exists in their head, and feel they can work with a director to do so.

  • A UPM – Unit Production Manager (DGA) oversees the budget and schedule
  • Line Producer performs similar duties (not DGA credit)
  • On films with both, often the Line Producer maintains the schedule and budget, and the Production Manager locates resources and makes deals
  • Producer, Line Producer or Production Manager – are credits for the person handling production management
  • AD (assistant director) oversees the schedule – on behalf of the director, working in concert w/PM, LP

Script EXTRA: How to Schedule Your Screenwriting Time

Tools You Can Use

There are a variety of tools that you can use to breakdown your script, and create a schedule and budget including Final Draft, Jungle, Showbiz, Movie Magic, Celtx and Fade-In. Some of this software does everything or just a portion of the job. The benefits of using specific software is that it tracks and formats everything automatically. One of the cons to using specific software is that anyone on your team who doesn’t have it cannot make changes.


The process follows three steps, breaking down your script, which identifies each resource, then scheduling them, then creating the budget from the breakdown and schedule.

  1. Breakdown
  2. Schedule
  3. Budget 

Why is the Process important? These may seem obvious but the scheduling and budgeting process are important because the help you organize all of your resources, which is efficient, saving you money and time. When you do that, you're not working at cross purposes, and the writer side of you won't be warring with the producer side of you, like a couple of boxing cats.

The process also can help you create and maintain a system, ensuring that everything in the script makes it into the film. The process is a set of established steps, and once you feel that your script is in great shape, that, together with your schedule and budget, will serve as the foundation of your production. By taking the process one task at a time, it will keep from feeling overwhelmed, or like the project is running away from you.

It Starts With Your Script, and breaking it down so you know exactly what you'll need.

run away

Breakdown - identifying Resources

Creating a breakdown of a screenplay is the process of breaking down a script to its basic elements, identifying every resource needed, scene by scene to translate your screenplay information into a technical format for use in scheduling and budgeting. The breakdown process consists of these steps.

  1. Read the script completely through first.
  2. Identify each scene with a number, work through, 1 scene at a time
  3. Breakdown the script, one scene at a time, marking every resource
  4. Complete one Breakdown Sheet for each scene
  5. Transfer Breakdown Sheets to Strips on your Schedule
  6. Shift Strips (these are your scenes) for the most efficient order

Scheduling Your Film - Organizing Resources

Organizing your resources is the heart of the scheduling process, resulting in a timetable upon which the shoot is built. Scheduling has 3 steps:

  1. Transfer information into your schedule
  2. Group similar things (locations or characters)
  3. Arrange for maximum efficiency for your production

Budgeting Your Film - Pricing Resources

The budgeting process is locating and pricing your resources. Film budgets come in a wide variety of sizes, from no-lo, to micro, to millions. If you have filmmaker friends, ask many questions to see what they did with their film to get ideas. To some extent the film you want to make will depend on how long the script is, whether you will cast with stars, and how much money you think you can locate to make the movie. Budgeting has 3 steps:

  1. Identify & Obtain prices (from multiple sources) for: equipment (shoot); union rates (cast and crew); film commissions & studios (locations); post facilities; and include what you already know and money spent or committed so far. Build an initial budget at full price.
  2. Negotiate potential deals & refine budget with input from your team. Amend budget with deals.
  3. Lock-in your deals with signed contracts (employment contracts, location contracts, permits). Create alternate versions of the budget to find savings.

Hang on tight, and try it out, you can totally do this, and you might even start to enjoy film scheduling and budgeting!

It’s exciting to think that you can make your own film, and now, more than ever, writer-producers can take matters into their own hands and start producing their work. Learning to love scheduling and budgeting your own film will help down that road.

hang on

If you're interested in reading more about this topic, the new and updated edition of my book for beginners, Scheduling and Budgeting Your Film; A Panic-Free Guide, 2nd Ed.. Write to me and I'll send you a free sample! Thanks as always to photographer Ryan McGuire.

Rock your writing!

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