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HomeCraftsPostproductionSoftware Review: EP Budgeting System

Software Review: EP Budgeting System

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By Norman C. Berns
WHAT YOU SEE
At first glance, this studio standard looks like an out-of-the-box spreadsheet, setting its no-nonsense approach to budgeting.
Separate windows for items like fringes and globals float free so they can be placed anywhere, an ideal arrangement for dual monitors or a wide-screen, but annoying on smaller laptops. Unfortunately, the popup windows are identical in shape, color and font, with no option to change individual colors or skins.

WHAT YOU GET
EP is the industry standard in budgeting software, but it’s difficult to conquer. If you’ve come over from Movie Magic, you may feel more at home. Navigation has changed, though many commands are identical. (Missing keystrokes are slated for a future update.)
While you could use EP to budget any film of any size, it’s truly scaled (and priced) with Hollywood studio productions in mind.
Almost every budgeting tool is here, even a few you never knew you wanted. Popular doodads that are only peripherally connected to budgeting are conspicuously absent (with the exception of a reference calendar and a calculator). You can’t use EP to store crew names, track expenses or find festivals. If a tool isn’t intimately connected to the making of budgets, it’s not here. In look and feel, EP screams “SERIOUS.”

WHAT’S GOOD
Globals are sophisticated and easily crammed with virtually any production information. They can be moved into named groups and shifted or sorted with ease. Globals handle complex math (including global-by-global calculations) easily, as well as simple number entry (like PREP=8 Weeks).
They’re supported with a handy, though nonessential, formula maker to help merge globals with math functions. While the formula maker can remember its last ten entries, it forgets them the instant it’s closed.
If you like complex formulas, you’re better off creating reusable globals than having your hard work disappear with one errant mouse-click.
Navigation is a snap, using either commands or toolbar buttons. It’s easy to take a quick look at the top sheet and there’s even a button to take you back wherever you’d last been. But what, I wonder, happened to Movie Magic’s elegant four-way control?
I miss its wonderful ease and good looks.
Individual budget items can be excluded from contractual charges automatically. For example, avoid adding contingency to script costs and producer’s fees, no matter what those costs may be or how often they change.
EP has introduced a fourth level that’s quite different from its competitors. This is a full spreadsheet, linked back to the budget’s detail level. While a typical line of detail might show 50 room nights for 100 crew members at $175 per night, the fourth level can break out each of those rooms, costs and people, showing backup information to justify higher-level entries.
No doubt overkill for most budgets, it’s just right for those times when detail is essential.
While budget data can be exported to a spreadsheet or any accounting program, everything except EP’s own Vista is hidden behind a curtain labeled “other exports,” an odd deterrent.
While Vista is certainly a viable choice, it’s hardly the only one.
There are definable groups, of course, like most other budgeting programs. In brief, you assign details to different categories for a quick “what if” view of your budget, such as, what if you shoot with a smaller cast? Or, what if you include deferments?
Each sub-budget can be turned on or off with a mouse click. Any number of different groups can be created and any line items can be assigned to one or more of those groups. And any of those groups can be included or exclude in the budget totals, delivering endlessly complex views.
Isolation is also ideal for a multi-episode series or planned sequels. Each show can be viewed individually or the whole series can be seen all at once, with or without amortized costs.
Leapfrogging its own innovations, EP delivers subsets for instant miniviews of budgets. Select one or more currencies, locations, sets or groups, and then generate a new budget based solely on that data.
You could isolate all the costs associated with the back yard of the house in England. Or everything paid by Euros.
Of course you’ll have to identify each item as you make the budget, but once done, you can create an endless stream of ad hoc budgets almost instantly. And then save them in their own budgets without ever undoing the original work.
There are templates for more than 70 studio charts of accounts. And, like most modern budgeting programs, results can be saved as a PDF.

WHAT’S BAD
Setup and applying are done in different windows, so every change require an extra step. Globals, for example, cannot be created on the fly, although less used items like sets and locations can.
At a glance, it seems like a wonderful idea to isolate the cost of locations and sets (or anything you want to put into those columns). Although you get a running total of each, you can’t do anything with it. Or use it for anything but a subset. It’s just a numerical fact. It’s nice to have, but only half as useful as it should be.
The program insists on the full name of locations, even if there’s only a single entry. (Globals nicely suggest all possible entries.) I never could figure out how to change the name of a location once I created it.
Windows for setup items like fringes or globals can’t be resized or minimized. They’re either open to their preset size or entirely gone. The problem is critical with the formula maker, whose contents disappear when closed.
Although there’s an excellent manual and a quick-start guide, there’s no context-sensitive F1 help. There are no tool tips. The help files are in very small type, something akin to 8 point or less, with no provision to increase font size.
EP can’t import data from its own scheduling program, although it’s planned for an update. That’s a trick Movie Magic handled well a dozen years back.
The toolbar commands need a user interface overhaul. Some tools are under tools. Others, like globals and fringes are there, although they’re not tools at all. Fringe range might be considered a tool, but it’s tucked under data. Tools like subsets and budget comparisons are listed under file while paginate has been tucked under options (which it is not).
This latest version of EP also has some compatibility problems. Older files open in version 6.2, but they hit a dead end on the way out. Once saved, they won’t open in any previous versions. Not handy if your producer uses an older version, although the update is free.

A BIG BONUS
Movie Magic’s Magic Keys have survived and been enhanced, too. A single keystroke still adds or replaces fringes and group membership. It also marks the location, set and currency. Alas, the “Magic” is gone and the tool is now known as simply shortcuts.
View and compare multiple budgets on-screen, even copy contents from one to the other. While this obviates the library, the old standby is still there, ready to store named details for later use, putting an abundance of information at your fingertips.
Notes, either public or private, can be added to any budget line item, from the top sheet on down.
Unfortunately, notes can’t be attached to setup items like fringes or groups, where they might be especially helpful.
EP readily reads Movie Magic files and reverses the process, too. There are caveats, of course, because of new functions, but the difficulty seems relatively minor.
Budget comparisons have always been possible. Even in early DOS days, budget variances could be viewed before and after changes. With faster graphics, two or more budgets could open side by side.
Now EP has introduced the aptly named budget comparison.
Pick as many budgets as you like for a very fast view of the differences between them. Use it to look at different budgets side by side. Or compare this year’s shoot with the last. Nice tool.

WHO’S IT FOR
This bu
dget’s for pros. It’s complex and will take some effort to learn. It can be used by anyone at any experience level, for every kind of film. But it may be overkill (and overpriced) for simple indie projects or short crew documentaries.
This is straight-up hardcore budgeting, free of frills. Some users may do better with programs that jump through multiple hoops, like tracking actuals or tending crew lists.
Still, EP Budgeting, along with its progenitor, Movie Magic, is the studio standard, used on over 90 percent of Hollywood films. If your work is heading to a studio, odds are this is your only budgeting choice. You can bite the bullet now or redo your entire budget when the good times roll in.
Some indies may like EP’s added cachet for their productions. They certainly won’t short themselves on serious, tough-minded budgeting power. Filmmakers launching large-scale, big-budget films must give EP serious consideration. It’s far from perfect, but it’s a great budgeting program nonetheless, with every indication that it will continue to keep getting better.

HOW TO GET IT
Entertainment Partners
www.entertainmentpartners.com
2835 N. Naomi St.
Burbank, CA 91504-2024
Main Phone (818) 955-6000
Sales (818) 955-6299
$499 EP Budgeting v6.2
$299 Upgrade from Movie Magic to EP v6.2

Written by Norman Berns

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