budgets and costings
Working overseas is essentially a commercial prospect, so assume that any work you do must at the least break even and at the best earn some profit for the company. If it ends up costing you money, then you must question why you are doing it. Arguments for profile raising, getting known or getting a foot in the door may work as a one-off but is hopeless for long-term sustainability.
Before you tackle a budget, you need to know on what basis the work will take place. Assuming you are touring a ready-made production the most common is:
performance fee guarantee
The promoter (or any buyer):
- pays you an agreed fee for the presentation of your work
- pays for transport of people and set
- pays for accommodation
- pays local per diems
- pays costs associated with the venue
In return, you:
- provide press and marketing materials, including photographs according to agreed deadlines
- assist with finding competitive transport costs (as all transport originates in the UK)
- provide relevant information for passports, visas, customs declarations
- ensure the company and set is adequately insured
- provide any extras such as after-show talks or workshops (cost negotiable)
All revenue from ticket sales is the promoter’s (minus any royalties) as well as any sponsorship or funding deals he/she may have achieved. Your income is the fee plus associated benefits.
box office split
This is not so common but may still be presented to you as an option. It is not so uncommon in the USA. The split works in much the same way as in the UK, with an agreed percentage split on box office income.
top tip: Do not accept a straight box office split, it’s too risky. If no-one buys a ticket you are in serious trouble and the costs involved are much greater than those at home. If a split is offered you must negotiate a fixed guarantee before any split comes into play. Ideally that guarantee will be your break-even price so that any subsequent split is profit.
Obviously, if you are working collaboratively or co-producing the financial model is more flexible. Just be sure that any agreement is clear and that there are no surprises. You will want to ensure you cover your basic running costs – wages, insurance, for example – during the development of the work and you may also put your own money into a project; regard this as an investment rather than a loss.
top tip: if you can’t afford it, don’t do it!
There are still examples of this as an offer. It’s your call. If you feel the opportunity is worthy of investment and the outcomes are truly beneficial then you may wish to consider it. You’ll be responsible for wages but everything else should be covered. The above top tip applies most emphatically here.
Knowing how much to charge for your work is a common problem and there is no set rule for how to come up with a figure.
The British Council had a basic formula for a one-week outing which equated to £1000 per person on the road. So a show with five cast and two crew would equal £7000 for one week. With inflation and increased costs this may no longer be reasonable but at least it’s a start point.
Some things to consider when costing your work:
- research the buyer to get a feel for the sort of work they present
- understand the promoter’s costs (see previous, Performance Fee Guarantee)
- research the ticket costs; this gives you some idea of the promoter’s potential income
- research – or ask – what other, similar companies can achieve
- be prepared to share your budget with promoters; this is happening more frequently as they need to see the costs involved in what they’re buying
- know what your break even is (your basic running costs plus any pre-tour costs)
- investigate if there are any opportunities for saving costs such as having a set built locally
top tip: Always cost for a week. By the time you travel, get-in, maybe offer a rest day, the week is taken up and people need to be paid. Even a short Eurostar hop to France for a one-nighter will take a minimum of three days.
Finally, treat your promoter as a partner rather than a consumer of your product. Talk openly and honestly about pricing and negotiate a deal that both parties are happy with. At the same time be careful not to undersell yourself.
The basis of any budget is the standard one you prepare for making the work at home. This will have the solid structure of showing income and expenditure for a particular project. Then you can add the extras that come with international work according to the financial model you have accepted.
Don’t forget to be clear about who is responsible for which cost. There’s no point including flight costs if that is covered by your promoter but who is responsible for the cost of getting everyone to the airport?
top tip: beware of hidden costs. Ross Harvey, producer at Proteus Theatre Company tells of the extortionate cost of premium-rate phone calls when trying to make appointments at the USA embassy for visa interviews.
The Canada Council for the Arts has a useful blank budget sheet (Excel) for international touring that can be amended according to your needs. You can download it here
- use your domestic budget as a basis
- know your weekly running costs
- calculate any international extras according to the financial deal
- what hidden extras are there?
- build in a 15% contingency
- have a good idea of your costs and charges before speaking to promoters/partners
- check your fees with colleagues, a second opinion is useful
- be clear with creatives and crew about what is on offer for them
- also see ‘contracts’ for further information and tips