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Production Budget Template for a Documentary Special, 2016 Edition

By Elizabeth Ventura

Elizabeth is a Senior Consultant in Production Management with years of experience working on documentary and nonficton budgets for US and international networks. Her comprehensive production budget package saves producers time and uncertainty by immediately establishing professional credibility with network production managers. The package includes 35 account categories and many special features, including an Assumptions page and a Schedule Template.

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Every experienced network decision-maker, funder and producer ‘knows’ what it costs to deliver a particular genre or category of television programming at a certain quality level.

Examples are:

  • Primetime History flush with dramatic reenactments
  • Crime specials
  • Home makeover series
  • Archive-based clip shows
  • Science specials that are loaded with CGI
  • Fashion/elimination
  • Shark Week Wildlife Specials
  • Character-based Reality series…

All of these genres and categories are benchmarked for their expected total episode cost as well as for each line item cost.

But who has a handle on the benchmarks?

To find out what it costs to produce a representative hour of Factual television – and why – we contacted a highly-respected senior consultant, Elizabeth Ventura.

Elizabeth has worked for over 12 years as a Production Manager on programs for dozens of US networks. Documentaries that she budgeted have been approved by:

  • Discovery
  • Nat Geo
  • PBS
  • MTV
  • A+E Networks
  • ESPN, and many more such industry leaders

Elizabeth is a highly valued industry expert in budgeting international co-productions. Co-pro partners who have approved her budgets include:

  • Channel 4
  • ARTE
  • Parthenon
  • And more

Producers and networks call on her to draft reliable production budgets that meet the industry cost benchmarks for the on-air quality that all the parties involved in a production are agreeing as deliverables.

Elizabeth’s budgets also pass the ‘presentation test’. They are templates that US networks and production companies can read and understand immediately. They feel comfortable analyzing them and making changes, and attaching her budgets to their contracts.

Why Publish a Budget Template?

At, we receive a steady stream of requests from market entrants programming for line item budgets for their non-fiction and documentary programs.

Sadly, few of our leading film and television schools require production management as a core area of study. It is a tedious, costly time-consuming process to develop a budget. It can take several weeks to research the data, and then present the findings in an acceptable format.

Elizabeth’s budgeting package is intended to save our clients time and uncertainty. Along with a comprehensive Budget Template, she has included many special features, including a bonus Assumptions Page Template and Schedule Template.

Elizabeth’s budgeting package meets industry standards and provides everything you need to present to funders.


Here’s what you receive via PDF and Excel when you purchase the Elizabeth Ventura / Budget template package:

    • Budget Assumptions Template– Critical to a funder’s understanding of a budget but is often not provided. Using this template will show funders that you know what you are doing!
    • Budget Line Item Summary– A summary of total costs in each account for quick and easy reference. The Formula Check allows you to cross-reference and make sure your formulas remain in tact.
    • Budget Detail Template includes a Percent Cost by Category, which provides an overview of how the money is being spent. Funders want most of their money spent ‘on screen’. This gives you a quick assessment of where the money is allocated, allowing you see ‘red flag’ areas and adjust accordingly. The Budget Detail is organized within a fully formatted Chart of Accounts, which is itself very time-consuming to structure. The Budget is fully customizable with additional space provided for new line items. There are two areas for notes, and a BONUS Cost Reporting Function that helps you to track spending and stay on budget.


  • Schedule Template– An indication of when each phase of production will occur. It includes a look at when key staff come on and off the project.


There are 35 account categories:

Above-the-Line (6):

  • Development
  • Story/Rights
  • Producers/Directors
  • Talent
  • Casting
  • Travel

Below -the-Line (29):

  • Production Staff
  • Camera Operations
  • Electric Operations
  • Production Sound
  • Makeup & Wardrobe
  • Interviewees/Participants/Experts
  • Props/Supplies
  • Location
  • Memory/Media/Film/Batteries
  • Airfare/Train
  • Hotel
  • Per Diem
  • Transportation
  • Gratuities
  • Hospitality
  • Additional Expenses
  • Post Production Staff
  • Post Production Equipment
  • Final Finishing-Picture
  • Post Production Sound
  • Post Lab/ Media/Duplication/Tape Stock
  • Deliverables
  • Graphics/CGI
  • Rights-Music
  • Rights-Stock
  • Legal
  • Insurance
  • Administrative/Overhead
  • Production Fee

The budget is completely customizable: Add, delete, and change account information.

It provides benchmark rates for production staff, crew, travel, edit equipment, etc…


  • Elizabeth Ventura is a Production and Strategic Partnership Consultant with over 12 years’ experience in various aspects of production, outreach, and fundraising.
  • She has managed multi-million dollar production company operations, served as Production Manager on multiple broadcast series and managed complex outreach events.
  • She is also a skilled specialist in fundraising, developing strategic partnerships, and designing effective outreach campaigns.

Elizabeth is available as a consultant for hire and can be contacted at for further questions regarding this budget package.