Bidding on a commercial production job doesn’t have to be a daunting task. The process may seem opaque, and the competition can be stressful, but it’s important to remember that the task itself boils down to the most fundamental skill for any producer:
Building a lean, responsible budget.
It really is that simple. And to simplify the matter even more, production companies and advertising agencies have come together to establish a standardized, industry-wide format specifically for submitting estimated production budgets to prospective clients.
They call it the AICP Bid Form.
In this guide, we walk you through the basics of how to fill out an AICP Bid Form, section by section.
The acronym “AICP” stands for the Association of Independent Commercial Producers.
Founded in 1972, the AICP is a not-for-profit trade association dedicated to creating industry standards in the world of advertising media production. In pursuit of that goal, they created perhaps their most important resource: the AICP Bid Form.
The AICP commercial bid form evolved as a response to widespread confusion among agencies, advertisers, and commercial production companies. There was no common procedure or standard during the bidding phase of commercial media creation, and, for that reason, the process was considered chaotic on an unacceptable scale.
The AICP Bid Form reduces that confusion by providing an agreed-upon template for production companies to follow in submitting their estimated project budgets.
The key to understanding the bid form (and why it works) lies in the fact that it’s just a budgeting tool, not a budget in and of itself.
Commercial productions come in more shapes and sizes than you can imagine, and- believe it or not-their budgetary needs are even more varied. The AICP Bid Form covers all of them by offering a standardized yet flexible format, designed specifically for ease of understanding industry-wide.
The original AICP commercial bid form was introduced in 1975 but has been updated many times since to keep up with the demands of modern production and advertising. Additionally, many people use commercial budgeting software like Hot Budget to do the heavy lifting of filling out the form.
Throughout this guide, we’ll be referring directly to the new AICP Bid Form Excel sheet, released for public use in 2019.
Before we dive into any details, your first step should be to check out the AICP Bid Form Excel download here. To get full functionality, ensure that you have macros enabled.
The AICP does provide a blank PDF version of the form, but the macro capabilities built into the current AICP Bid Form Excel download are invaluable when it comes to practical use.
Now, let’s get into it.
When you open a blank AICP Bid Form Excel sheet, the first thing you’re going to encounter is a tab labeled “Cover.”
Don’t be alarmed.
While the cover page looks like it has a lot going on, it’s relatively easy to approach once you know what you’re looking at.
Don’t worry about the section titled “Summary of Estimated Production Costs” or any other sections dealing strictly with estimated costs. Those values will be added automatically as you create your estimated budget on subsequent tabs, and you can return to double-check them after you’ve finished filling everything out.
Right now, we want to focus on the three remaining sections. Let start with the simple ones first:
When an agency reaches out to your production company asking for a bid, they should come armed with identifying information specific to the project. You’ll enter that information in the “Job Information” section in order to help keep everyone involved in the bid on the same page.
The “Production Information” section is essentially a contact sheet. You’ll list the names and contact information of all parties relevant to your bid.
On top of that, you’ll notice a few more blanks in the far-right columns of the section. Most of these are meant to form a quick reference for your pre-production and production schedules. It gives an at-a-glance version of how you plan to spend your time, if you’re awarded the bid.
The final blanks, labeled “Spot Titles & Lengths,” are reserved for the names of the commercials and their desired runtimes, both of which will have been supplied by the advertising agency.
If you’ve never previously encountered a commercial production budget, this section, at the very top of the AICP Bid Form’s cover page, is where things might get confusing.
Every line item on the bid budget has a certain percentage of mark-up above actual estimated value when it’s presented to an agency. These mark-ups are called “Production Fees,” and they’re designed to account for the production company’s overhead expenses and give it an opportunity to create a profit margin.
If you enter a percentage value in either of the corresponding Production Fee cells, the AICP production bid form will automatically calculate and add them to your estimated budget.
The same thing can be done with insurance fees in the corresponding “Insurance” section. This mark-up is intended to cover the production company’s production insurance expenses.
And the remaining cells for “Fringes,” “Handling,” “Post MU,” and “Post Tax” account for mark-ups intended to cover similar expenses that are correlate to other budget variables, like taxes and payroll fees.
The key differences between these percentages and the other budget line items you’ll encounter throughout the AICP Bid Form is that their values represent dependent variables and there is some degree of subjectivity at play in setting them.
In other words, the budgeted amounts associated with these items on the AICP production bid form cannot be calculated as flat fees, and it’s therefore possible that an advertising agency might attempt to negotiate lower percentages in an effort to shrink the estimated budget without decreasing the physical capabilities of the production itself.
Finally, you’ll notice three buttons on the far side of the section: “Clear Bid Values”, “Clear Bid Info”, and “Select Sections.”
The first two are self-explanatory. “Clear Bid Values” will clear all values from your budget, while “Clear Bid Info” will clear all the basic information that you’ve filled in on the cover sheet.
The third button, “Select Sections”, also seems self-explanatory, but it’s important to recognize why you might need to use it.
Again, the key is in understanding that the AICP Bid Form is just a budgeting tool, not a budget in and of itself.
You can use the AICP commercial bid form to craft budgets suited for many different bidding situations, from a production bid all the way down to a VFX bid. It just depends on what service you’re bidding on.
It’s a small feature, but it makes a big deal.
To illustrate, until 2018, post-production companies and professionals were represented in the advertising industry by the Association of Independent Creative Editors, an altogether separate trade organization from the AICP. Of course, AICP and AICE bid forms were also very different. They focused on very different sets of information by necessity.
Today, however, the new AICP Bid Form can be capably used as both a standard AICP production bid form or an AICE-style, AICP post-production bid form. The AICP and AICE bid forms have essentially been combined into one, highly flexible document that allows any kind of bid to follow the same basic format.
Once you’ve selected the right sections for your bid and finished filling out the rest of the cover sheet, you’re likely ready to move on to individual sections of the line budget.
Before you jump into specifics, however, make a quick pit stop by the “Bid Notes” section of the AICP commercial bid form.
If there are any special circumstances surrounding your bid, this is the place to point them out. The “Notes” section is one big blank for you to fill if the need arises.
You may not need to make any notes at all, but it’s worth keeping the space in mind as you work through your budget.
When you’re ready to jump into the meat of the AICP production bid form, click the next tab.
From here on out, the AICP Bid Form Excel document works the exact same way as building any budget. Section A is devoted to expenses associated solely with your production crew’s prep days, estimates that will be easier if you’re working with a solid payroll company.
If your Key Grip is pre-rigging a stage or your 2nd AD is prepping paperwork during pre-production, this is where you’ll account for both the number of days you’ll need them and the fees they’ll be paid for their time.
Keep in mind that you do not have to budget prep time for every crew position listed in Section A. Your set medic, for example, probably won’t need to be present for a simple location scout. Use your best judgment and don’t be intimidated by blank spaces.
And if you’re shooting in California, make sure you’re aware of how AB 5 might or might not affect your personnel classifications.
Beyond the basic days and rates, you’ll also notice columns labeled “Actual” and “Variance.”
For now, you don’t need to worry about either one. These columns exist to ease the process of actualizing your budget during wrap. When you enter a final amount (i.e. what you actually spent on the line item) in the “Actual” column, the “Variance” column will automatically calculate its difference compared to your original estimate.
These columns are going to be repeated for every section of the AICP Bid Form.
The numbers in these cells will be automatically generated as you enter estimates in the crew cells, but it’s wise to keep an eye on them. These values can significantly increase your overall budget.
Like Section A, Section B accounts for how much you’re paying your crew. This time, however, you’re estimating costs for the actual shooting schedule.
You’re almost certainly going to have a much larger crew working during the shoot than you will during prep, so be prepared to take your time thinking through this section.
In the upper left corner, you’ll also notice a button, “Match to A Rates”. If you click it, the AICP production bid form will automatically copy over any rates you’ve previously entered in Section A.
It’s a convenient feature but, if you use it, be sure to double check values in the new section to avoid any mismatches or accidental entries.
A similar button exists in the upper left corner of Section A of the AICP Bid Form, placed for your convenience in the case that you started building your budget with your shoot crew rates.
Section C is devoted to miscellaneous expenses associated with the prep and wrap periods of your production.
If you rent a room for casting during the prep period, you’ll enter that expense in the appropriate cell in this section. Similarly, during wrap, your production department will still require working meals. Enter cost estimates for that budget activity here as well.
Section D accounts for any expenses incurred specifically in the process of shooting on-location (as opposed to shooting in a studio), like transportation fees and additional security officers.
It can be a tricky section in that location shooting often carries unexpected costs. Exercise caution and be thorough in your estimates.
However, very rarely does anyone use the travel line items in section D, unless it is just 1 or 2 people traveling.
If you’re using Hot Budget, there is a separate travel page that breaks out line items for each crew member traveling: hotels, per diems, flights, transpo.
Using the AICP Bid Form, you can youse section P as a travel bid. Also be mindful of the federal guidelines for per diems by city, state, and country.
Oddly enough, Section E brings prop, wardrobe, and animal expenses together under one roof.
If you need to build a prop or dare to rent a trained cat, you can estimate that cost here.
However, note that Section E also accounts for less obvious expenses, like theatrical make-up and greens (rented bushes, shrubs, and other plant life for your set).
In contrast with Section D, Section F accounts for all expenses associated with working on a soundstage.
These expenses mostly break down the overall cost of renting the studio space into specific categories, like rental costs for build days versus rental costs for shoot days. This is meant to help your production estimate how it will spend money over time.
Section G is very similar to Sections A and B in that it accounts for crew rates, but Section G is specifically devoted to members of the art department.
But why is that?
The art department is broken into its own category because it’s frequently the most fluid department on the crew. It’s simply easier to account for an overall number of days employed per art crew member, rather than try to break their days out into prep, shoot, and wrap.
You’ll also notice that this section has the same payment calculation features as Sections A and B.
Section H of the AICP Bid Form estimates all material expenses incurred by the art department.
This includes items like hardware and set dressing materials, of course, but keep in mind that it also accounts for line items like art department meals.
Section I is exactly what it sounds like. If there is any piece of equipment that your production might need, estimate its rental fee here.
Notice, however, that the individual line items – save for a few exceptions – represent categories of rentals, as opposed to individually rented items.
It’s a small advantage that might help you build flexibility into your estimated budget.
Section J accounts for the purchase of your shoot’s physical media and the cost of certain handling services related to it.
If you’re shooting on film, the cost of the stock will be estimated here. If you’re shooting digitally, you’ll estimate your hard drive and memory card expenses here as well.
Section K handles miscellaneous production costs, all those pesky little (and sometimes not so little) expenses that the production department deals with that can’t rightly be categorized anywhere else on a budget.
This accounts for some obvious line items, like air shipping fees and petty cash estimates, but we all know how often the production department is forced to handle unexpected, occasionally bizarre challenges that frequently incur equally unexpected expenses.
With that in mind, note that there are two blank spots at the bottom of Section I in its default mode and that the AICP Bid Form Excel sheet allows you to add as many additional spots as you’d like.
This is not an accident. We’ll leave it at that.
When a client or agency approaches a producer or production company for a bid, they’re almost always doing so because the producer or production company is affiliated with a director who the company is interested in hiring. In other words, the director is the heart of a commercial’s physical production, next only to the creative supplied by the agency and client.
For that reason, the director has an entire section of the budget dedicated specifically to them. In Section L, you’ll estimate every penny paid to the director, including any extra fees mandated by the DGA.
Section M accounts for all expenses associated with the talent, including those associated with background performers.
The breakdown in the default Section M covers a wide range of potential talent needs, so don’t be surprised if you have a lot of blank spaces on your hands when you’ve wrapped your Section M up. It’s totally plausible that you might not need a hand model for your car commercial.
Then again, depending on the job, you might.
In either case, make sure that you’re up to date on current SAG rates before estimating talent fees.
Note that Section M also accounts for line items like “Talent Agency Fees” and “Talent Wardrobe Allowance”. These estimates will largely depend on how large are the public profiles of both your talent and your client.
All talent expenses, like an actor’s airfare or hotel fees, are estimated in Section N.
What does and does not belong in this section is straightforward, but the exact nature of the individual line items is open-ended. Keep that in mind as you’re calculating the overall cost of your talent.
Section O, as you might have guessed, accounts for production estimates that don’t fit cleanly into any of the other categories. You may enter a lot of line items here or none at all. It depends on the specifics of your production.
At the top of the page, you’ll notice a button labeled “Hide Page 2”. Clicking this will simply hide half of the default line item spaces, keeping your budget clear of visual clutter in the event that you don’t need to place many items in Section O.
The new AICP Bid Form allows you to add any number of customizable “P” sections, but it includes a single blank section by default, P1.
Sections listed as “P” plus a number (P1, P2, P3, etc.) cover special categories with their own individual line items. These sections either don’t break down in other sections or you might simply want to highlight a category as a separate entity for the sake of clarity.
The important thing is that any Section P is a budget category, not an individual line item.
For example, you might want to create a Section P that accounts for a celebrity glam squad. That category would include multiple line items to account for the separate day rates of the separate individuals who together make up the glam squad. The celebrity’s hairdresser would be counted as a different line item than their make-up artist. Beyond the basic concept, there are a few other specific procedures to keep in mind when dealing with Section P on the AICP Bid Form.
First, to add a new P Section, simply click the button labeled “Add New P Section” at the bottom right corner of the “Cover” tab, the first section of the bid form that we covered.
Second, be sure to change the name of the section itself. In the above example, you could use P1 for glam squad by simply changing the name from “Blank P” to “Celebrity Glam Squad”.
Finally, once you’ve entered your estimates in the section, return to the “Cover” tab to make sure the total is included in your production budget. You can do that on the lower right corner of the page, by following the instructions and simply marking your “Celebrity Glam Squad” with an X in the appropriate cell.
Not doing this could throw your overall budget estimate off by thousands of dollars. Be sure to double check your work before anything goes out to the agency.
The AICP post-production bid form really begins here, in Section Q. From this section forward, the AICP Bid Form accounts for post-production expenses.
Section Q, specifically, deals with both the physical costs and the service costs associated with the editorial processes. It’s a large, wide-ranging category usually prepared directly by professionals at a post-production house.
However, note that Section Q does not account for the wages of the post-production personnel specifically assigned to your project, like the editor or the assistant editor. We’ll cover those expenses in a later section.
Section R covers expenses associated with pulling content for social media from your production’s material.
Section R might, for example, estimate costs associated with re-formatting your commercial’s aspect ratio so that it plays smoothly on Instagram.
This section is complex and relatively new, but its purpose is straightforward.
It’s best to clarify social media expectations with your agency up-front, if possible.
Section S covers all your audio post-production needs.
From voice casting and ADR recording to mixing and music licensing, if your audio is altered in post, you’ll estimate the fee for that here.
Again, it’s important to remember that this section is not part of what you might call the AICP production bid form. Unless you specialize in post-production, there’s a good chance you won’t have to deal directly with the specifics of these line item estimates.
With that in mind, note that Section S does not cover the wages of the sound department you’ll employ during production. Your sound mixer and boom operator are accounted for within the production budget, and you’ll estimate their pay all the way back in Section B.
Section T accounts for all expenses associated with finishing, the final set of processes endured before a commercial is fully wrapped and ready to air.
Depending on the nature of the job, this section can cover a wide range of expenses. On one hand, it covers tasks as straightforward as archiving. On the other, it can also cover more involved tasks like motion graphics generation or a last touch of rotoscoping.
If you have to make any estimates here, pay close attention to the creative demands of your individual project.
Like production, post-production can generate many miscellaneous expenses.
Section V accounts for all the editorial expenses that don’t fit neatly in any other category. There are obvious line items, like the purchase of stock footage, but there are also line items for expenses associated with travel, like airfare and hotel costs.
Section W is where you’ll account for the wages and other fees associated with your editorial personnel.
Given that editorial wages are based primarily on days worked (with associated overtime), it’s important to coordinate your estimates in this section with your post-production calendar.
Section X looks intimidating, but it’s actually built to make your life easier.
As the title suggests, Section X covers visual effects, design, animation, and interactive components of the commercial. However, what makes Section X unique within the AICP Bid Form is that you can break it down in any way you want.
For instance, you could create a box for an abstract category of expenses, like “3D Animation”, but you could also create a box for costs associated exclusively with one, specific VFX sequence in your commercial.
In any case, they’re all contained within Section X.
You can also remove any box that you don’t use and make specific notes for each box.
All of these features exist to create a more flexible, more streamlined budgeting experience.
Once you’ve filled in your AICP Bid Form, it’s time to take a breath…
Then dive right back in. Double-checking your estimates now can save you from an army of migraines later.
Your estimated budget will evolve over the course of pre-production and production, but it’s going to be a vital source of information the entire time. On top of that, you can plan on being held accountable for your estimates by the advertising agency.
In the case of commercial production, it literally pays to be thorough.
After you’ve finished submitting your bids, be sure to keep a record of what you’ve quoted and to whom.
Be sure to keep bids consistent for clients. If you are bidding a job for a client you have worked with before, use the same line number descriptions, and generally speaking use the same rates for crew and equipment.
This, of course, is subject to the needs of the job for instance. However, the more consistent the budget layout you send to that client, the easier it will be to get an award (not taking into account the creative bid).
When it comes to bidding, a great rule of thumb is think like a cost controller.
When you submit a bid to an agency or client, vigorously question not only the total, but also why every line item is so high. From there, you can assess whether you need specific equipment or if the creative can modified.
When you’re satisfied with your estimated budget, it’s time to output your AICP Bid Form in PDF form and submit your bid. With a little luck, you’ll be awarded that bid and find yourself in pre-production in no time flat.
As producers who have bid on several commercials will tell you, the AICP form and line numbers can be used as a guide.
All line number descriptions can be changed to suit each individual job and crew member positions. While some have remained mostly consistent since the dawn of the line number (112 is almost always meals, 119 is almost always fuel) they each change within most budgets.
For more information about the AICP and their influence on the commercial bidding process, check out their official bidding guidelines.
If you still have questions about the AICP Bid Form, reach out to us anytime.
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