On receiving your script in Final Draft format*, I do a first read to get an idea of your project. We’ll also discuss a budget size and any other attachments to the project.
*Note: If you don’t use Final Draft, I can always convert it.
At this stage I may be required to edit the screenplay as many more creative writers will use non standard techniques that are unhelpful to production but seem right on the page. Usually it’s a page per minute to time a screenplay using eighths of a page to calculate out each scene. It’s important here to be accurate. There’s nothing worse that underestimating a scene. Time literally is money. So I will shuffle-edit the screenplay to get a better timing estimate for production and use that copy to refer to throughout for all departments. Why do I do this? Because in production, I’m no time lord (honestly) and I cannot make up time lost on tight budgets. So I try to be strict and realistic at the start. Without this master script locked down and agreed, doubt can creep in.
Advice time – if you’re a screenwriter, it’s a good technique to get into thinking about the page length like a video editor timeline on its side. Every word you put down has got to have a damn good reason to be there and function for the film story. Anything else is time wasted.
Back to film scheduling. At this stage, I’ll then either use Final Draft Tagger or go old style with some coloured highlighters to mark up the script before I import it/manually type in to Movie Magic Scheduling every script element, from cast to props to flag up for budgeting.
I then spend some time working out a rough schedule to see how many days it will take to shoot. I consider myself a very good film scheduler but once in production the schedule becomes in flux with inputs from the 1st assistant director and other departments.
Once I have a rough schedule I can then proceed on to Movie Magic Budgeting
I’ll ask the producer and if possible the director some hard questions about what they want in production. Also, about any existing cast or crew attachments and their demands. Sometimes a producer can want a ‘below the line’ only budget. This means I’m working out the nuts and bolts of production without worrying about cast, writer and producer costs which are defined as ‘above the line’.
This process can take four or five days for a low budget independent
film and obviously more for bigger budgeted films. It’s important here
to mention that every film is different, with its own set of requirements inherent to the story. It’s dangerous to assume that because your film
seems similar to another, the budget is the same. It never is. If you make the mistake of proceeding with your film by making promises about costs to investors without a proper budget, expect problems.
Some producers request their budgets delivered using Microsoft Excel which is doable but I insist on using Movie Magic to work with as it enables me to budget quicker rather than using a clunky Excel template. I can also apply changes easier and calculate things out like tax breaks etc within the Movie Magic budget which outputs a nicer top sheet that financiers request but am also able to provide a detailed budget alongside the top sheet. I can always output an Excel version afterwards.
Movie Magic is an old piece of software but it’s still the industry gold standard for good reason. As newer more cloud based software comes available, I do try it but I’ve never found anything as flexible or reliable
as Movie Magic. I also use Excel and Word to create ancillary production documents and use a cloud based file system to securely back up and hold documents and share with crew.
Once a budget and schedule is agreed, I deliver to the producer for them to proceed with financing.
The other part of my work as line producer is managing production which is a whole other set of skills based on 30 years of experience in film and TV production and professional business management. There’s no software for that and worth a blog post all of its own.