Screenwriting Blog
Posted on by Tyler M. Reid

Understanding the Budget of Your Screenplay

When you are writing your screenplay, most of the time you are not thinking about what it would cost to make what’s written on paper into a full film. That is okay, your first step as a screenwriter should be to only write a great screenplay. After you have written that first draft, before you dive into polishing the script for its second draft, you should also take the time to understand what it may cost to make your film.

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Films can cost a few hundred thousand dollars to make, up to millions of dollars to make. Sometimes a lot of that cost comes from Above the Line costs, Above the Line would refer to producer fees, director fees, actors, and even your fee as a screenwriter. It is best to not even think about those numbers. What you should think about when understanding the budget of your screenplay are the Below the Line costs, which are all of the other elements in making the actual film. This ranges from department heads like a Cinematographer and Art Director to renting locations. You can also refer to these costs as the production budget.

Understanding the Budget of Your Screenplay

Why Is Your Film’s Budget Number Important?

Why would this be important? First, you would already be putting yourself a step ahead of other writers because you would be able to talk about your film in a more logistical way with a producer or even your manager. If you can say you think the film would probably cost somewhere in the range of two million to five million, it will help producers understand the scope of the film and right from the beginning how they may think about financing the film.

Also, if you are a new screenwriter and trying to get your first films made, you may want to focus more on ideas that could be easier to get produced by indie film producers or smaller production companies. If you are writing films that have really large action sequences, or a lot of characters, or even a drama but with a lot of different locations, it could be much more expensive to make the film and potentially be more difficult for a producer to finance it or for your manager to find a producer or production company interested.

Lastly, around why it is important, your manager or a producer could come to you and say they are looking for a $1.5 million horror film, and you want to make sure that when you give them your horror screenplay, you know it fits within their budget constraints.

What Impacts Your Screenplay Budget?

Now, this doesn’t mean you have to know how to budget a film, it's just that you need to know how to look at your script and understand how all the elements can add up to make a smaller or larger budget. So, let’s look at the four core areas that can greatly affect the budget of your screenplay.


Locations: More locations mean more travel, permits, and possibly lodging for the crew. A single, easily accessible location is cheaper. The more locations you have the more it will cost. Now you need to look through the script and take note of how many locations are interiors and how many are exteriors. Interior locations will cost less than exterior because INT locations are controllable - this means you can control the weather, the time of day, and how long you can film for. EXT locations are not controllable because the weather can change, the time of day is constantly changing, and you may have to leave an EXT location by a certain time. For example, night exterior locations are some of the most expensive. To sum up for Locations: How many. Interior or Exterior. Day or Night.


Cast: The number of characters, especially speaking roles, can affect the budget. Scenes with many extras are also more expensive. Not only do you have to pay each cast member, even if they are an extra. You also have to feed them, so more food. They have to have a place to sit, so more chairs and tables. They need a place to go to the restroom, so more of those may need to be rented.

Special Effects

Special Effects: Visual and practical effects, stunts, and special makeup can significantly increase costs. Stunts involve more people and safety. If your horror film has a scary creature, that could involve daily costumes and make up, which becomes more expensive.

Period Pieces

Period Pieces: Films set in a different time period can require more budget for costumes, props, and sets to accurately represent the era.

Animals and Vehicles

Animals and Vehicles: Animals always have handlers, and usually animals don’t work as many hours as humans, so you may need the animal and their handler for more days. Depending on how many vehicles and if they are specialized, it can cost more money.

Go through your screenplay after the first draft and get an idea of all of the above. Even if you do not know what all of the above elements are going to cost, just assume that the more elements you have the bigger the budget is going to be. Understanding your screenplays budget helps you better understand the route to success for the finished film.

Tyler is seasoned film and media professional with over 20 years of diverse experience, specializing in production management and creative direction, with a rich portfolio spanning music videos, films, and documentaries, and a global network from the US to Sweden. Reach him on his website, LinkedIn, and X, and gain access to his free filmmaking templates when you sign up for his newsletter here.

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