Read Hank and Jilann’s Sundance Film Festival blog,

written as they went through the rollercoaster experience of premiering a film at this world-renown documentary film competition for the first time.





Documentary Budgeting - I'm Dreaming!

How the heck are you supposed to know what your film is going to cost before you even begin shooting it? I am working on a budget right now for the film that we want to shoot this summer, STILL DREAMING, and it’s a bit like dreaming up your treatment when you don’t know how your film is going to play out. It’s a series of creative and educated guesses that can dramatically impact your film. (catch our free Budget Q&A call on Thursday March 25th - Register now!)

The way I start the budgeting process is to do my ULTIMATE-WISH LIST-OPTIMISTIC-I CAN RAISE ALL THIS MONEY budget. I put in every damn thing I want – the best cinematographer, the highest shooting format, first class travel (well, maybe not that, although it would be great!), etc…I also think through every possible shooting scenario that I can imagine – Do I want any aerial footage? Underwater footage? Will there be any re-enactments? Any special formats like 16mm or Super8 film? And if so, how much? This leads me to the question of what kind of special gear will I need? Which leads me to the question – Do I have to hire a cinematographer who specializes in that, for the whole shoot, or just for a few days? What will this person cost?

You can see that one question leads to another, but sooner or later, you will reach the end of the line and have a really clear picture of what your film will look and sound like.  Budgeting is as helpful in shaping the look of your film as writing a treatment because you really have to examine what your vision is in a very material, concrete way. Then you have to face what that will cost you. This is where things get creative-can you get that look or content in a way that will end in the same result but cost less?

While you’re asking all of these questions, you have to have a very good idea of your shooting and post-production parameters as well, such as how many shooting days or weeks will it take to gather all of my necessary footage?

I usually estimate ½ a day per main interview, which includes some time for B-roll. This would be an interview that needs some lighting set up, and is very in-depth – perhaps 90 minutes of actual interview time. If two interview subjects are at the same location, then maybe you can fit them both in during that ½ day.  But, if you have to travel to another location for a different interview, then I would budget a whole day for those 2 main interviews. You have to factor in travel time, set up time, meals, and wrap time. Usually a crew will work a 10 hour day before overtime kicks in. If you are using a set that you’ve created for interviews and the subjects are traveling to you, you can probably do 4 interviews or more a day, depending on their length and your stamina.

You can see that every film budget is wildly variable! It really depends on your unique needs and vision. For more about how to create an accurate budget, check out the DocuMentors Budgeting System in our Documentary How To section of the site.

So that “Ultimate” budget I created for STILL DREAMING? Well, it came out to over $600,000. Yikes, that’s a bit high for me. I don’t want to work that hard to raise all of that money. So, I took a second look at it, whittled things down here and there, and came up with one that comes out to just about $450,000. Guess I better start fundraising! --Jilann