Budgets and Costs

So, just to follow up quickly from that last post – I can’t believe it’s been a month, no wonder no one reads this shit – today, there are eight movies playing at the Cinema 16.  Iron Man and Prince Caspian seem to be taking up at least half of those screens, maybe more.  Speed Racer, which no one is seeing, is on two and possibly three screens.  Two of the movies have only one showtime, so these “blockbusters” may be taking even more screens.  I’m just guessing.  

Lately, I’ve been thinking about budgets for films.  The price of making a film is very expensive, and, while I’m sure it doesn’t have to be like that, every time I do a little math, the numbers go up quickly.  So, I’m going to think out loud here for a minute.  I’m not trying to make a film for free, but I don’t see any reason why a decent feature shouldn’t cost around 100,000 dollars.  It’s still a lot of money, but it’s not a million, which is simply unattainable without investors.

Starting with the basics, you could make a film with just your video camera and some friends.  This would probably cost you nothing but a few pizzas.  My little still camera takes better video than my hi-8 camera did (which was about 800 bucks when I bought it six years ago!)   

For this option, you need a script, a director, a DP, a sound person, some actors and a location.  The  script and director are probably the same person, and the DP could be too, but I don’t recommend that.  I’m sure some would argue about needing a sound person, but we’re aiming for something above the quality of home video here.  And then the actors.   And then someone to edit it (maybe the director again), and there are some costs involved there, which I’ll figure on later. 

I would add to this, a small art department.  And then you need some materials for them to work with.  So that’s a little more money, and the location will have a few costs, even if you don’t pay for it.    I would want a gaffer and a grip, with a swing, but now I’m pushing it, especially as renting lights and equipment is going to cost something too.  I’d rather spend it on the art department.

So how much would these people get paid?  They get paid what we can afford, but here’s the deal: we want them for a while.  A three million dollar movie will be lucky to shoot for twenty-two days.  I’m going to try a different structure and aim for a sixty day shoot, or three months, plus two months for prep.  Five months.   Now film people make a lot of money, so the first thing I need to realize is, I’m not going to get the Seven guy to shoot my movie.  I’m not even going to get the guy who shot the three million dollar movie, because they cost too much.  But at 200 dollars a day, that would be about 12,000 for the shoot.  Maybe 15 with a month of prep.  At that rate, if a DP worked every day, he would make about 48,000 a year.  It’s not a lot, but it’s certainly enough for a young DP, starting out, to live on.  

The Production Designer probably gets a little less, but I’m going to just pay everyone about the same, for the sake of speeding this up.  Basically, if everyone is getting about 15,000 for working on the film, including the director, you could probably get away with about 75,000 for salaries.  That’s reasonable, and it ensures everybody is paid and can focus on the work.  

That also leaves about 25,000 to do other things.  Feeding everyone would cost at least 10,000 and maybe more.  Equipment and supplies for the PD would add up, editing and music aren’t even in here, but I think, with this basis, this film could cost between 150,000 and 200,000.  This for a sixty day shoot.  Because, one of the things that costs a lot of money on a film is time, when you spend less money, you can get more time, because, in essence, people are working more for less.

I’m going to think about this a little because maybe I’m missing something, but these numbers look pretty good to me.  Nature documentaries go out with a camera and sound guy, with a director, for months on end, with specialty equipment, and those films do not cost that much.  But they do have a cost.

This is where I think the hole in the myth is.  I guess this is my point: There’s this idea that you need a million dollars to make a film, or you can do it for nothing.  Neither one is true.  But there is a very good spot, somewhere in between 0 and 1,000,000, which needs to be found.  As I’ve said before, the only way people are going to make any money on films is if they bring the price of them down.   

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