While researching material for a blog post I wrote a week or so ago, I came across a term I had never heard before; reverse budgeting. It is an effective way production coordinators can keep costs down and ensure a film project stays within its budget.
The idea is that instead of assigning dollar values to each of your expenses line by line in a traditional budget to calculate the total, you would start with the total and then work out where you will spend that money.
So what is the total? Whatever funds you have immediately available without taking on credit card debt. Have you got $1,000? $4,000? Or only $700? Well, great. That is your budget.
And that is the beauty of the reverse budgeting model; it doesn’t matter how much or how little you have. You can sleep soundly knowing that what you have to work with is only what you can actually afford to spend.
The Upside of Reverse Budgeting
In addition to the above, another great advantage about working backwards is that it makes it easier to prioritise and allocate funds. For example, if your film was a horror, you would know to attribute more towards things like practical effects, hair and makeup.
You can then use this kind of information to weed out those line items that impact your bottom line unnecessarily. In other words, knowing what to include is just as important as knowing what can safely be cut from your budget.
The Downside of Reverse Budgeting
As discussed, arriving at the total is the easy part. But it comes with a caveat; that being that it can be all too easy to under or overestimate your subtotals. A way to avoid this prickly situation is to make your subtotals a percentage of your total budget.
Of course you may feel that what you have won’t be enough to account for things beyond filming; things such as post-production, marketing and distribution. You might be right, but understand that the purpose of reverse budgeting is to force you to prioritise.
The Realities of Reverse Budgeting
Once you have the film in the can, you can do a lot more with it. It is now a real product with real value and you can use it to great effect as a marketing tool.
El Mariachi (1993) from director Robert Rodriguez was made for only $7,000 and is a masterclass in using the reverse budget to its fullest. And I highly suggest you take a look at his book, Rebel without a Crew: Or How a 23-Year-Old Filmmaker With $7,000 Became a Hollywood Player if you are interested.
Rodriguez might have found success in a bygone era of filmmaking where independent directors were more commonly plucked from the talent pool, but with things the way they are now, the reverse budget could be seeing a comeback. If nothing else, this style of budget could be what the industry and those that operate within it need to make filmmaking sustainable again.
So the next time you have an idea for a film and before you think it would be too expensive to make work, try doing up a reverse budget. Or contact us if you need help.