20 things to consider when budgeting a film or tv project.

I often get hired to Schedule and Budget films and tv shows in development or pre-production. Before I begin the process of breaking down a script I typically have a list of questions I ask the writer, producer or company who has hired me to come up with a realistic budget.

Below I have outlined some of the questions that I have found important to discussing before I begin the scheduling and budgeting process.

  1. Is it funded? If not….is any of the project funded and how much is left to raise?
  2. Which state or country do you intend to shoot and are you attempting to go after tax incentives if that is an opportunity?
  3. Which unions do you wish to use if any? WGA (Writers Guild), DGA (Directors Guild), IATSE (Various Crafts), TEAMSTERS (Drivers and Location Managers) and SAG (Cast and Stunts) are the primary unions in the USA.
  4. When would you like to film this project (month and year) and does the weather effect any scene(s)?
  5. Are there any cast members that you are trying to consolidate in the schedule and shoot out for budgetary reasons?
  6. How many producers, what kind and do you have a goal for how much each producer should make?
  7. How many shooting days do you envision? If no idea are you open to however many days is best for the project?
  8. Does it matter if this film is based on a 5-day or 6-day week?
  9. Do you have any crew members such as a DP attached to the project already?
  10. What percentage of the cast and crew do you imagine putting up in hotels instead of sourcing locally?
  11. Are there minors in the film? If so are you open to filming during the summer to avoid schooling issues?
  12. Are there stunts or vfx involved in the film? If so would you like a detailed quote from a stunt coordinator or vfx house to be included in the budget?
  13. Are you hoping to attach an A-List or B-List cast member to your project and have you done any research to see what that cast person(s) might cost above scale? Have you spoken with a Casting Director?
  14. Do you have any additional materials that might help with the budgeting process such as story-boards, trailer, short film etc?
  15. Are you hoping to get the budget down to a certain amount? ie… 300K or 10M etc…
  16. Are you open to adjusting certain scenes to meet the possible budget threshold you are trying to achieve? This could mean turning a few night scenes into day scenes or adjusting some of the stunt/vfx sequences.
  17. Is there anything out of the ordinary that could make the budget go up in price? Ie… you want 10 original songs from a famous band
  18. How soon do you need this done by? Do you have any investors waiting to see this budget?
  19. Where do you plan to do post?
  20. Do you know if any of the locations in the script will be free or cheap based on connections you may have with a particular city?

10 things every Production Assistant should know:

When I first started working in the film industry I was working on very very small productions….the kind that didn’t pay or only paid $50 a day. I was still NEW to the industry at the time so I was essentially “paying my dues” as most people would say. I believed that this type of work was temporary but I didn’t necessarily know how I would get onto bigger and higher paying projects.  Below I have outlined a few KEY tips to getting that next big job.

  1. Realize that every job is an interview.

You may have landed your first job as a PA but have you landed your next one? What about the one after that? While you are working on set KNOW that almost anyone in the film crew can recommend a PA to the AD staff, Coordinators or Producers. If you work super hard, show people kindness and go above and beyond people will notice….and those “people” will recommend you on future projects.

2. Always show up on time.

Yes it can be hard to make it to set sometimes….especially if your call time is 4:30AM, you only got 5 hours of sleep the night before and you have an hour drive ahead of you. Don’t let excuses or your lack of motivation get to you. Do WHATEVER you have to do to be on time. Lay out your clothes the night before, set three alarm clocks and take a hot shower if you have to. Being on time is super critical in this industry and in some instances can get you fired if you walk in casually late. Always budget contingency time (10-15 minutes) should there be a wreck on the freeway or your car decides not to start.

3. Come Prepared.

Before you head to set STOP and ask yourself if you have everything you possibly need for that particular day. If you are shooting overnight do you have a flashlight? If you will be out in the desert do you have a hat and sunscreen. Even though it only takes a few minutes to hook up my walkie surveillance on set I like to do this at home so the minute I land on set I’m ready to go. Make sure your phone is charged and you bring a charger brick fully charged. Remember you could be in the elements for 12-14 hours so you don’t want to forget that ONE thing that will make your day less comfortable.

4. Read the Call Sheet and Sides.

Take a few minutes when you receive the call sheet and sides to actually see what is happening and who is working. You never know when a crew or cast person may need information about the day that can be found on this very important piece of paper. This is your opportunity to save the day by knowing where things are and what is happening.

5. Carry Hot Bricks.

Hot Bricks are the industry term for “charged walkie batteries.”  The minute a crew person has a “Dead Brick” your job should be to zip in and replace it flawlessly. In addition to carrying hot bricks it is a good idea to setup a charging station at each location to keep charging the “Dead Bricks”.

6. Anticipate the needs of the SET.

There will be times when you are on a SET where you may find yourself standing around waiting to be told what to do by an AD. In general there will always be something to do in addition to lock-ups whether that’s throwing trash away, offering the crew water, setting up lunch, moving directors chairs…etc. When in doubt don’t be afraid to ask one of the ADs if there is something you can do.

7. Echo the ADs

One of the main responsibilities of a Production Assistant is echoing rolls. If you are doing a lock-up on SET and the 1st AD says rolling, cut, new deal, pictures up, background action it is expected of all the SET PAs to echo “YELL” one of the before-mentioned words. Don’t be timid. You want to echo so loud that the entire neighborhood hears you….well that is except for certain occasions when you need to be discreet like inside a working office building. Be loud and proud about these echoes because it assures the rest of the crew what is going on and they will know when to be quiet so that a take is not ruined.

8. Dress the part.

Consider wearing good tennis shoes that will be conducive to standing for 12-14 hours. Wear comfortable clothes but make sure they are useful and can hold a belt. Avoid being too casual like showing up in basketball shorts or sweat pants.  In many instances its helpful to dress in darker colors (black/grey) so that your bright yellow shirt is not seen as reflection on camera.

9. Learn proper Walkie Etiquette.

Now for many individuals that have never been on a set before this can be one of the most intimidating things to learn. If you aren’t sure how to use a walkie properly ask one of the ADs to show you.

Here are a few examples….

Instead of saying on walkie…does anyone know where John is? You might say does anyone have a “20” on John?

If someone asks where you are refrain from saying general terms like I’m right here. Be specific and say I’m next to the crafty truck.

10. Stay in your lane.

Yes you may have graduated film school and been a DP on numerous short films but if you are working as a PA for whatever set you are hired….make sure you are focusing on the duties and tasks that refer to PAs. Don’t touch equipment or help other departments without prior approval. Depending on the budget of the film will depend on what types of tasks you may or may not be able to help with.

How to make revisions to a script during pre-production

In this tutorial video I walk you through the simple steps to make changes to a script during pre-production.  This video can be used to guide a Director, Writer, Script Coordinator, UPM, LP, 1st AD, Producer or whoever may be making updates to a script using Final Draft and unfamiliar with the process or the latest program.

The main thing to remember is that you always want to keep your scene numbers locked to prevent confusion among Dept Heads!


The following items are covered in this tutorial:

  1. Adding scene numbers
  2. Setting up revisions mode
  3. Omitting a scene
  4. Adding a scene
  5. Moving a scene


The following items are covered in this tutorial:

  1. Using a folder structure and staying organized
  2. Updating the title page properly
  3. Using Revisions mode Page Colors
  4. Saving multiple versions (colored, bw, and clean version)

The Role of the 2nd 2nd AD

The 2nd 2nd AD (sometimes called 3rd AD outside the US) is primarily responsible for being the extension to the 1st AD on set. In general a 2nd 2nd AD works with background actors, supervises production assistants and sometimes wrangles talent.

The thing I love about a good 2nd 2nd AD is that they can really help the 1st AD with very complicated scenes that involve stunts, mass amounts of extras or scenes that take place in difficult shooting conditions.

Below are 5 things to consider when working as a 2nd 2nd AD:

  1. Setting background actors is an art form. This is one of your main areas of responsibility so take it and run with it. Make it the most believable scene of extras crossing the street anyone has ever seen. When you are giving background actors direction…. consider giving them a storyline so they can get into character and come up with creative crosses that reflect everyday life.
  2. Delegate lock-ups to PAs and the Key Set PA. Think about how you can work with the Key Set PA to determine the best possible lock-ups at least 10-15 minutes before the lock-up occurs. Its too late to think about lock-ups once the camera is rolling…so always be thinking about this ahead of time.
  3. Accurate Production Reports are a must. As a 2nd 2nd AD you will most likely be responsible for filling out the Production Report or PR or at the very least managing parts of the PR. These documents can look different on various sets but the main thing to note is LUNCH TIMES and OUT TIMES of the crew. While it can be overwhelming to collect out times of a large crew, this can be made easier though using dept sign out sheets.  Many PRs have a place to put important notes like if someone got hurt or if a scene was missed. Throughout your day it is a good idea to keep track of important things like this so you can add them to the PR later in the day.
  4. Work as an extension to the 1st AD. The 2nd 2nd AD is oftentimes the only person other than the 1st AD on set that really knows what is going on in terms of “making the day”. If you want to really excel at this job always be anticipating what the 1st AD needs and delegate information to the PAs. You can ask dept heads if they are ready for the next scene, shot or day and even advance to various sets to keep an eye on the art department.   If the 1st AD is having to put out 10 different fires…then consider yourself as someone who is helping to put out those fires and lighten the load a little bit.
  5.  Backup the Key 2nd AD when available. There may be days with no background and one or two talent. Use this as an opportunity to help the Key 2nd with any work that may be piling up with future days coming up.

How to upload a Movie Magic Stripboard to Sethero

One program that I often recommend to Second Assistant Directors depending on the size and complexity of the show is Sethero. This program allows you to quickly make call sheets and even sends a text message to all the recipients (which can be really handy when they come out late at night).

When using Sethero. you have the option to enter every scene manually or mass export via excel. My suggestion is to do the mass export option. To do that it is best to wait till you are really close to filming and then follow this step-by-step video tutorial I created. Sethero has some basic tutorials…but I couldn’t find anything that would help me with transition my Movie Magic Data. I hope it helps!

Learn from the Legends

What do “Star Wars”, “The Godfather”, “Back to the Future”, “Batman”, “Goonies”, “Saving Private Ryan”, “Top Gun”, “Pirate of the Caribbean”, “Interstellar” and “Pulp Fiction” all have in common?

Simple: Amazing Assistant Directors.

A never been done before movie about Film heroes. These ADs have collected numerous stories from legendary films. These inspirational film veterans have the best advice and wisdom for those who strive to become film makers and stories that would intrigue any movie watcher.

Legendary AD’s of the most famous and Legendary movies of all time….


Visit the SITE


Buy the DVD

How to train PAs for the set

Your about to start a new project and chances are there will be at least one PA that is rather green or maybe has never even been on a set before. This is mostly the case in the non-union world. So its the first day of production you don’t have time to train them what do you do?  Well take one step back. What if you were able to train them before the film started?

Here are some easy ways you can train PAs before your next film.

1. Recommend they attend Quixote PA Boot Camp.   I highly recommend this Boot Camp to anyone that wants to be a PA in the film industry. The people that come from this workshop come out well equipped.

“Quixote’s P.A. Bootcamp is designed as a real-world, practical job training program. If you are going to your first day of work as a P.A wouldn’t it be better to know what is going on all around you?  Our goal is to prepare you thoroughly and completely for the job of Production Assistant, which is your first step into the entertainment business as it has been for many highly successful producers, executives, directors and others currently working in the industry.” – From their website

2. Recommend a good book. I recently created an ebook that is specifically for Production Assistants in LA.  Check out the book on Amazon HERE.

3. Meet with your PAs before the show. I don’t recommend this on every project, however if its a lengthy feature or a project of 3 weeks or greater than this may be worth the meeting. Typically in the meeting I am able to assess who has what experience, and do an abbreviated training that includes set etiquette and expectations for the week.

4. Do on the job training. If you have a PA who doesn’t know how to do something make it clear that it is okay to ask for help and either you as the AD or another PA will show him or her how.

5. Consider online training. A friend of mine recently crated a really cool video training curriculum for PAs specifically. You can check out the course HERE.