Every good Line Producer knows the financial health or sickness of their production at all times. Knowing where you are financially helps you overcome the unpredictable. You know what I’m talking about – those moments when your Executive Producer tells you the water scene you planned to shoot from the docks will now be an aerial shot. Your cost tracker better be up-to-date, for only then will you know if it is something you can provide or if you will have to go to the nearest broom closest and scream.
What’s a cost tracker? It is the Line Producer’s spreadsheet that tracks your production costs on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. It is used by Line Producers to monitor every single expense, as well as expenses yet to be incurred. It’s a barometer that tells you if you’re on budget, under budget or headed for financial ruin.
There are several ways to keep a cost tracker, and I’ve yet to meet two Line Producers who keep track the same way. As long as you know what you’re keeping track of, where the money is, and you can intelligently work with your production accounting department – then your cost tracker is working for you. This is not a nice-to-have – this is an essential tool for any Line Producer.
Cost trackers are created by using an excel spreadsheet. As in the example below, your spreadsheet should include the following:
1. Account Number: Each line item in your budget is associated with an account number. The account number comes from your accounting department. If they don’t give you one, use the default given by your budgeting software program.
2. Description of Each Item: Self-explanatory.
3. Total Budget: The total amount allocated to that line.
4. Actual: What you’ve actually spent on that line to date.
5. Balance of Budget: The difference between what was allocated and what was spent.
6. PO’s: Purchase orders you’ve written for items that will be charged to your production. The PO indicates the bill will be coming.
7. Estimate to Complete: This is an estimate of how much more you believe it will cost before final delivery. For example, if you’re getting lots of network notes and post production is taking longer, you will want to estimate higher in your editing lines and see where you can move money so that the over all bottom line doesn’t change.
8. Estimated Final Cost: This is an estimate of the final cost – all in – for that line. Add your Actual Expenses to your Estimates to Complete and you will have the amount you are estimating it will cost for that particular line item.
In the example below you’ll see that we are over on many of the producer lines but we are saving money on the Supervising Producer and the Post Story Producer lines which gives us a savings on the bottom line.
The cost tracker is one of the many weapons in a Line Producers arsenal that allows them to win the battle and bring the creative vision to completion on time and on budget.