Most people agree that it is the budget, right? Wrong.

The budget is a key component of the film production process but there are many other factors which play more important roles in the success or failure of a film.

These factors are collectively referred to as below-the-line costs.

Below-the-line costs include all of the expenses that do not directly involve actors, director and writers, but are critical to the film’s success.

Below-the-line costs include pre-production, production, and post-production and marketing.

What Is below the line

What Is below the line In Film?

The term below-the-line refers to the various production costs that are not included in the budget for a film.

These are the expenses that are not directly linked to production but which, nonetheless, have a significant impact on the final cost and profitability of the project.

Although each film is different, there are certain categories of expenses which are considered to be below-the-line costs in most situations.


Just as above-the-line costs include all those expenses directly related to production, such as screenplay development, cast and crew salaries, special effects, and set construction. These costs also include all those which are necessary to produce a film but not considered part of its production budget.

Although many of these costs will be covered by an outside financing entity or studio distribution deal, some portion of these costs must be absorbed by the producing company itself. When this is the case, they are referred to as negative costs.

As with above-the-line costs, there is no one definition for what constitutes a below-the-line expense.

Generally speaking, it can be said that any expense which does not relate directly to producing a film falls into this category.

What Does Below-The-Line In Film Production?

Pre-production costs involve activities such as scriptwriting, location scouting, props, set design, and preparation.

Production involves the activities during actual filming including cast and crew salaries, location fees and permits, travel expenses for actors and crew, equipment rental fees, and supplies for the sets.

Post-production includes editing and special effects work. Marketing includes advertising such as television commercials and print ads as well as press kits and movie trailers.

An independent film’s marketing budget can be just as large as its production budget because marketing is essential to getting a film noticed.

Tallying up your below-the-line costs can be tricky, but you must get them right. You’ll need to know below-the-line costs if you want to produce your film n schedule and on budget. 

Here are some key points about below-the-line costs

You need to cover 90% of your total cost with 10% of your budget. How much does it cost to make a movie? 

The answer depends on who you ask and how they define cost.


Some people look at just above-the-line costs, which are made up of the actors’ salaries and production staff wages — and ignore below-the-line expenses like equipment rental, location fees, and special effects. If you’re hoping to produce your film for under $1 million, following this method will give you an accurate estimate of how much you can spend.

These costs can be either fixed (a certain number of dollars per day) or variable (based on what end ups being spent). These costs are paid to all the various department heads within a film production to help them pay their employees and to buy the necessary equipment for their departments.

The term below-the-line comes from the fact that these costs are below the line marked line producer or unit production manager in a movie’s budget. In today’s film industry, many companies hire outside individuals to work on films who may be relied upon for any part of a production.

For example, a make-up artist might be hired for his or her expertise in creating prosthetics, but later be asked by the director to create special effects (or SFX) for a scene, such as making someone look like they have been mauled by an animal.

Although this make-up artist would not normally be considered part of an effects team — since he or she is working in a field unrelated to effects.

What Is Above And Below-The-Line In Film Production?

The above-the-line names form a film’s creative core. In other words, these are the people who are primarily responsible for writing, producing, and/or directing the film.

This group of people will be credited on screen at the very beginning of the movie and may or may not be listed in more detail in the closing credits. Although they are considered above-the-line, they don’t necessarily receive top billing in terms of salary.

What is below the line in film production?

Whether you are a film student or an aspiring movie producer, it is important to understand the meaning of above-the-line and below-the-line in film production. 

Above-the-line costs are associated with the creative end of movie-making. These costs are part of the budget before pre-production starts. 

Below-the-line costs occur once shooting begins; this includes such things as set construction and location fees. 

The distinction between above-the-line and below-the-line costs has become less clear in recent years as studios have begun to bring actors and writers on board before they know if a project will be made.

Studios call these participants preferred talent, which means they are more likely to be hired for future projects, but they don’t have any guarantee of employment on a particular project. The concept of preferred talent is most often used by smaller studios that cannot afford to put big stars or writers under contract for multiple pictures at one time.

This practice has sometimes been abused by studios that will place desirable talent on short-term contracts to steer them away from competitors or hold their services until a project is greenlit.

What Is The Number Below-The-Line In Film Production?

Every production has a budget, and every budget must be allocated to specific line items. Budget line items are referred to as below-the-line. Every production also has several fixed costs or costs that do not vary based on the scope of the production.

Below-the-line refers to the relatively small portion of a film’s budget allocated for creative elements (pre-production and production). Below-the-line costs include the full cost of all crew members who work below the line during pre-production, production, and post-production.

This includes cast and crew salaries, as well as any fees paid to unions or guilds. If you have a large crew with many different types of specialized personnel, you may need to hire outside consultants to assist your production team with specialized duties.

For example, if you are shooting in foreign countries where you don’t speak the language fluently, you may hire someone who can translate on set. Or if your shoot requires equipment that isn’t readily available in that country, you may need to find someone who can arrange for transportation or equipment rentals.

Above The Line vs Below The Line In Film Production

The term separates those who are essential to a film’s production (above-the-line) from those who are not (below-the-line). 

It is most commonly used in Hollywood, where films tend to have multi-million dollar budgets. Titles, such as director, screenwriter, and actor are usually above the line due to their creative input into a film’s production.

Below-the-line workers, such as caterers, technicians, and cleaners are those that assist the above-the-line workers but do not have any impact on the actual production of a film. Production companies use this distinction for budgeting purposes because it allows them to better understand how much money should be allotted to each part of the film’s production.

There is also an implication that stars and other above-the-line personnel are more likely to receive higher salaries, because their work has a larger effect on a film’s success, while below-the-line workers typically receive lower wages because their contributions are not directly related to how well a film does financially.

The goal of this division between above-the-line and below-the-line is to categorize all expenses that go into making a film, so that each side can be responsible for their costs and therefore free to negotiate for better rates on their services.

The terminology has become standard in Hollywood and is a part of every contract negotiation between studios and actors, directors, production companies, and distributors—or anyone else who’s involved in creating a film.

Talking Pictures And The Line

The phrase originated in Hollywood studios in the 1920s when it was noticed that the executives and front-office employees who made the decisions about which movies were made were on the top floor or above-the-line of the building, while the creative talent was on the floor below.

The executives included producers, directors, and studio heads. The creative talent included writers (both screenwriters and playwrights), directors, actors, cinematographers, composers, costume designers, make-up artists, and sound technicians.

The line was also a way of separating those who made money from those who did not. Those above it could live off their salaries plus any profits; those below had to rely on salaries alone.

That was why they were called below-the-line workers—they had to be paid even if a movie lost money. 

What Puts Something Below The Line In Film Production?

If you’re working on a small independent film with a low budget and your cinematographer is also directing the film – he’s both above AND below you in terms of his role in making the film! So while we can break things down into easily identifiable categories it’s important to remember that those lines aren’t always so clear-cut.

What does it take to put something below-the-line in film production? Is it a certain monetary amount? 

No, it’s not.

It’s more of a creative and technical process than anything else. 

Truly independent films are below-the-line. A project that is financed by the producer or director himself or herself or with the help of a few investors is below-the-line.

The money to make the film was raised by these people themselves, not through outside investors. The term above-the-line refers to all those expenses related directly to making the picture such as talent salaries and crew costs. 

Below-the-line items are all other expenses including everything from catering to rentals and miscellaneous expenses. Even insurance falls under this category. 

Below-the-line costs are paid with non-film-related money and thus do not show up on a film’s budget statement when financing is sought from outside sources such as banks or private investors.

Even though there are no set rules for what can be considered below-the-line, there are some basic guidelines that have been established over time by filmmakers who have experienced bottlenecks in financing their projects.

Below The Line Example In Film Production

In film production, below-the-line refers to all the services related to film production that are not part of the actual filmmaking, sometimes called above-the-line work. The distinction between above and below is subjective, and different film producers define lines differently.

Tasks below-the-line are usually outsourced to service companies or individuals who specialize in such tasks so that a film’s creative team can concentrate on their specific area of expertise (e.g., screenwriting or cinematography).

Below-the-line covers many aspects of physical production, including:

  • Production design
  • Set construction and design
  • Carpentry
  • Props and wardrobe
  • Make-up and hair styling
  • Special effects make-up
  • Location scouting and management
  • Vehicle procurement or management (depending on the scale of the production) 
  • Catering services (though many productions prefer to contract this service out to an independent caterer) 
  • Transportation services for cast, crew, equipment, and/or location materials
  • Film editing (often contracted out to an independent post-production house) 

Grips, gaffers, and best boys are often confused with being below-the-line jobs. The difference is that, for film or TV production accounting, below-the-line costs are paid for by the production company and above-the-line costs are paid for by the distributor(s).

Below-the-line costs include items like:

  • The writer’s and director’s salaries
  • The cost of renting equipment
  • Costs associated with cast and crew (food, lodging, transportation)
  • Post-production costs: editing, color correction, sound mixing
  • Promotional materials like posters and trailers (but not printed copies of scripts)

In contrast, above-the-line costs generally refer to anything paid for by the distributor(s), such as cast salaries (if they’re not also part of the production crew), studio overhead such as building maintenance or security guards, transportation between locations, etc.