Producing Animation: Building the Budget

Marie Beardmore details ways for U.K. animators, seeking to make their own works, can obtain funding in order to eat and animate!

You can purchase Producing Animation now.

You can purchase Producing Animation now.

Once a preliminary schedule and crew plan are in place, the producer can begin the task of building the budget. There are two levels to a budget: detail and summary. The summary is usually no more than two pages long, while the detailed budget lists each and every line item and the specific costs associated with it. The summary groups the line items into major categories to illustrate simply where the money is allocated from a macro point of view. On the summary sheet for example, there is one line devoted to the "storyboard" category and next to it, there is a sum total of costs for this phase of production. The detail budget is further divided into storyboard supervisor, storyboard artist(s), storyboard clean-up artist(s), overtime, materials and supplies, and fringe benefits. Each item has its own separate dollar amount listed, with the sum total matching the number under "storyboard" in the summary budget.

Most budgets are divided into two sections: above and below the line. The above-the-line numbers are commonly those numbers based on contracts. Such numbers include rights payments, options, royalties and script fees. Also included are deals and payments to be made to producers, directors and writers as well as any other key talent associated with the project (such as actors). These figures are considered the creative costs of the production. The below-the-line items are all other monies required to produce the project, such as the crew, equipment, subcontractors and so on. Such expenses are generally fixed in terms of what the production itself will cost in order to be completed. The distinction is made between the two categories because some of the above-the-line costs may be deferred. Above-the-line talent often participate in backend profits or have points. It also makes it easier for executives to review the budget and easily see the differences between the talent and actual production costs.

The producer also needs to establish what the fringe benefits or fringes will be for the project so that they can assign these costs throughout the budgeting process. Fringes are those costs above and beyond the actual contracted or purchase price of an item. Standard items are guild and/or union pensions, health and welfare contributions, FICA, employer matching contributions, Medicare, unemployment taxes, etc. Fringe rates must be paid and range between 20 to 30 percent of labor costs depending on the studio. The percentage charged for each individual item varies depending on the location of the studio, benefits provided and whether it is union or non-union.

Chart of Accounts

One of the most important steps to selling any show is a producer's ability to create an accurate and realistic preliminary budget. We built the following chart of accounts (C of A) as a template for this purpose. This all-encompassing C of A can be utilized for 2D, 3D and hybrid productions. It lists all possible line items including personnel, equipment, etc., to be budgeted for and their respective account codes (e.g., 0200 Producer's Unit). Once in production, these account codes are utilized by the production accountant and crew to assign and track costs for each line item. Depending on the studio, there may already be a standard numbering system in place, in which case these codes will need to be adjusted accordingly. No matter how your project is produced, the purpose of having all items included in the C of A is to remind you of all potential costs to be incurred on your production. As with all templates, the producer should tailor the information to suit his or her particular production requirements. There are different ways to create a budget. For example, you can build your own spreadsheets using software such as MicrosoftÒExcel. However, the most commonly used budgeting system in the entertainment industry is called Movie Magic. It is an interactive software application that is specially designed for production accounting. This chart of accounts, named the "Animation Budget Builder," is available on Movie Magic budgeting software.

Download your chart of accounts now using Adobe Acrobat.

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Here is a sampling of the type of response we have received in relation to the Animation Budget Builder:

You guys have made my day! Thank goodness for the animation add-on for Movie Magic!!!!! I have called them a million times asking why there was no such thing in Movie Magic! YOU'RE WONDERFUL!

Randi Yaffa Executive Producer Red Rover Studios Ltd.

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Catherine Winder has worked as both an executive producer in television and feature animation. Her background in development, as well as production with studios from around the world has given her a rare global expertise in the field of animation. In her present position as vice president production for Fox Feature Animation, she is overseeing production of the studio's 2D traditional and 3D CGI animated movies. She has co-written Producing Animation with Zahra Dowlatabadi.

Zahra Dowlatabadi, an award-winning producer, started her animation career in 1986. Since then, Dowlatabadi has worked in almost every major studio in Los Angeles along with many internationally acclaimed animation studios and talent. Dowlatabadi is the founder of an organization entitled Animation Team, which assists studios with production staffing needs ranging from qualified line producers to experienced production assistants. She also has co-written a book entitled

Producing Animation with Catherine Winder for Focal Press.

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