The costs of producing filmed entertainment—whether television show or feature film—are broken down in the budget into above-the-line and below-the-line elements, "the line" being a very important signifier. It represents the separation between the principals in the film's creation, whose fees are fixed but who stand to share in any profits the film may accrue, and everybody and everything else. The producer, the director, the writer, and the starring actors are usually "above-the-line." All other costs are deemed to be "below-the-line." Overtime may result in more monies spent on salaries; weather may affect the schedule; a rise in the price of gasoline may unexpectedly cost the producers more—any cost that is not fixed goes "below-the-line," where it can be more easily controlled and manipulated.

"Below-the-line" is where a lot of Hollywood's unparalleled "creative accounting" occurs. Since high-priced "talent"—actors and actresses—seem to drive much of Hollywood studio production these days, it is not unusual to see 60% of a film's budget allocated to their fees. Usually the costs of "below-the-line" personnel—camera people, propmakers, grips, wardrobe specialists, set designers and decorators, editors, etc.—range between 10 and 15 per cent of the total budget. A very low-budget film may see workers come in at 8 per cent of the total and, conversely, a very expensive film with many special effects, say, or much computer animation, may see below-the-line personnel costs rise to 25% of the total budget. This is, however, rare.

Statistically, the lower a film's budget, the more money will be spent below-the-line. In the most extreme example, ALL the money goes to the shoot—to film costs, camera rental, splicing tape and cheeseburgers. The actors and everybody else work for free.

The task of budgeting any film is as much art as it is science. There are computer programs that help the production manager to remember everything that needs to be included, but there is no substitute for experience in the black art of film budgeting.

And speaking of black arts, Below the Line is the title of the novel that is at the top of my too-many works in progress. It is a socio-political-comical-historical romantic fantasy that contemplates the revenge of the Aztecs on a Hollywood movie company shooting on location in Mexico City. It is also a bloody nightmare and it makes me crabby.

Only a fool would try to get that one right, on time and under budget.

Below the Line starts here.

On Hollywood and filmmaking:

Below the Line

sex drugs and divorce

a little life, interrupted
  1. Hecho en Mejico
  2. Entrances
  3. Sam's Song
  4. Hemingway and Fortuna
  5. Hummingbird on the Left
  6. The Long and Drunken Afternoon
  7. Safe in the Lap of the Gods
  8. Quetzal Birds in Love
  9. Angela in Paradise
  10. And the machine ran backwards

a secondhand coffin
how to act
Right. Me and Herman Melville
Scylla and Charybdis Approximately
snowflakes and nylon

I could've kissed Orson Welles
the broken dreams of Orson Welles
the last time I saw Orson Welles
The Other Side of the Wind

Below the Line
Charles Durning
completion bond
Film Editing
Film Editor
Final Cut Pro
forced development
HD Video
king of the queens
Kubrick polishes a turd
movies from space
Persistence of Vision
Sven Nykvist
Wilford Brimley

21 Grams
Andrei Rublyov
Apocalypse Now Redux
Ivan's Childhood
The Jazz Singer
Six Feet Under
The Sacrifice
We Were Soldiers
Wild Strawberries

"The Line" is a term in film direction for the formula of framing the human form in the most visually appealing manner. In standard direction of a portrait shot (closeup of the human face) 'on the line' has the character's eyes framed 2/3rds of the way up from the bottom of the screen. With a full body shot of one or more people, the line is usually drawn through the face(s) of the focal character(s), again 2/3rds of the way up from the bottom of the screen. Framing the face in this way lends an air of symmetry to the shot, as it roughly matches the placing of the eyes in relation to the human head. Examples of this can be seen in almost any mainstream movie.

Framing the human face or form with the eyes 'below the line' is often used by alternative filmmakers as a method of unsettling the viewer as it unbalances the feel of the shot, a good example of which can be seen in David Lynch's 'Eraserhead' where Lynch often moves Henry's face to the centre of the screen in the more intense scenes.

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