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Bare Minimum Feature Budget


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#1 Macks Fiiod

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Posted 31 December 2016 - 05:02 PM

I talk with friends and we always throw out different figures. May as well discuss with professionals from all walks of life.

 

Let's say the producer/director/writer knows how to do every part of the process themselves, but they need locations, a couple people behind the camera, and a few actors in front of it. A few indoor/outdoor locations not in LA/NY to shoot in, and they shoot digitally and already have a computer to finish an 80 minute digital product.

 

About 25 days of shoot time is needed.

 

The figure I threw out was $30,000.

 

What say you?


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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 31 December 2016 - 05:51 PM

Sure, that's possible, I've heard it done before, I've even heard lower figures.  You didn't say whether the crew would be paid though.

 

You just have to work out a more detailed budget and shooting schedule, like how many days do you need your location for, etc.


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#3 Macks Fiiod

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Posted 31 December 2016 - 06:57 PM

Is $50 a day low for low budget? Can you really find people who will do a 25 day shoot for free? Guess it depends on the market you're looking at.


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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 31 December 2016 - 07:08 PM

According to the internet, in New Jersey: "As of January 1, 2017, the minimum wage will increase $0.06 per hour, from $8.38 to $8.44"

 

So if you are doing a 10-hour shoot day, that's $84.40.

 

Think of it this way, if you have 10 people working for $100/day each, that's $1000/day in crew costs, so for a 25-day shoot, that's $25,000 right there.

 

This is one of the reasons why the ultra-low budget projects often involve voluntary labor, but what keeps someone working for 25 days for free is up to each individual.  This is also a reason why these really small features are shot more in 15 days or so, because three weeks is almost the upper limit for holding onto a volunteer crew.  Of course, you get what you pay for when it comes to free labor, but if you design a very simple shoot, it's possible to have a group of beginners pull it off as long as you don't skimp on safety.  I certainly did a number of short films with me doing the directing and shooting, and my friends helping me out, so you can imagine something like that scaled up for a feature-length project, but the script had better take your limitations into account.

 

At that small a level, you get into a legal grey area that you have to watch out for in terms of liability -- you may want to engage a producer who has done something like this before.  Or just keep the project to a student film level, shooting inside friends' apartments, etc.


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#5 Richard Boddington

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Posted 31 December 2016 - 08:02 PM

25 days of shoot time?  Not sure what planet you're beaming in from?

 

Hallmark shoots their movies in 12 days.  I have to shoot mine in 24 days, and that's with 1.6 million dollars.

 

R,


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#6 Macks Fiiod

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Posted 31 December 2016 - 08:34 PM

25 days of shoot time?  Not sure what planet you're beaming in from?

 

Hallmark shoots their movies in 12 days.  I have to shoot mine in 24 days, and that's with 1.6 million dollars.

 

R,

Let's say you work with not the best trained actors, which leads to loads of takes, and working on a low 5 digit budget, below average actors may be the only option. How many days of shooting can blunders like that tack on?


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#7 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 31 December 2016 - 08:43 PM

Think of it this way, if you have 10 people working for $100/day each, that's $1000/day in crew costs, so for a 25-day shoot, that's $25,000 right there.

 

Based on thinking like this, friends and I have come up with figures like 60,000, which probably works whether you're in pounds or dollars. This includes feeding everyone, mileage, insurance and some small amount of money for locations, which will often be the most expensive thing, if you need anything even vaguely specific.

 

Frankly I would not attempt a feature for less than £250,000, given the need to spend slightly more than absolute minimum wage on people, to eat food and sleep indoors during the edit process, and the need to employ someone to actually sell the damn thing, which will probably cost more than making it.

 

Assuming such people exist. Presumably they do. And assuming a market exists for whatever you've made. Presumably it doesn't, or people would do this, which they very rarely do.

 

In short, it's a catastrophic waste of time.

 

P


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#8 Mark Kenfield

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Posted 31 December 2016 - 08:46 PM

Can it be done? Yes.

Are the results worthwhile? Rarely.

With a single camera, a couple of locations, no money for pre-lighting, and a skeleton (and often volunteer/inexperienced) crew it's tough to get anything resembling conventional coverage for a feature-length film in less than 15-17 or so days. 25 days of shooting would be a luxury (and I can't really see it being possible with so little money - people just can't afford to take that much time of work for freebies).


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#9 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 31 December 2016 - 09:02 PM

I wouldn't be so discouraging -- with $30,000 cash, something can be made, it's more than what some people have to work with.  Now maybe it would be better spent making a kick-ass short film as a demo and for festival recognition (but with no chance of financial return) rather than an impoverished-looking feature (with almost no chance on a financial return), but it all depends on the feature.  You can find examples of some extremely low-budget features that made some waves, though that was at the height of independent cinema in the 90's and early 2000's.

 

I do think, however, that if you haven't made a bunch of short films yet, making a feature right off the bat is not recommended -- everyone makes mistakes, so you might as well make them on short films and get them out of your system before you spend even more on a feature.

 

You really have to design a project around your budget limitations, maybe it's a matter of having a solid, intense 2-week shoot combined with small bits shot over a longer time on weekends, etc. to fill it out.

 

In terms of actors, it's not necessarily the case that the more you spend on them, the more talented they are.  If you have a short schedule due to budget limitations, then find actors who are enthusiastic enough to spend their time in rehearsal sessions before you start filming.  And find good actors, you don't have to hire the first ones that are willing to do it for the small pay, find an up-and-comer who is excited and wants to show what he or she is capable of (assuming you have a good script to excite them with.)


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#10 Miguel Angel

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Posted 31 December 2016 - 10:31 PM

One of the things that you want to do to have a good feature for that money is write the script according to locations that you can get for free, rather than writing a script and then trying to find unrealistic locations.

 

In fact, if you can find 1 location which can offer multiple ok locations inside, you have better chances to shoot something that looks cinematic enough in that location than using 4 stunning locations which are miles away but will leave you with no time to do anything.

 

Usually, what kills low low budget feature films is the distance between the locations, unit movements eat up all the time and the director is left with no time to work on the scenes. 

 

A good way to find actors is community workshops, you can find extremely good actors who are non professional actors if you take the time to set up community workshops to discover the raw talent.

 

Richard, shooting a Hallmark movie sounds like a challenge :D but if you have the resources you can make it!

 

http://www.hallmarkc...-a-royal-winter

That one looks good for it to be shot in 12 days! with night exteriors!

 

They seem to be an amazing place to hone your skills! 

 

Have a good day. 


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#11 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 31 December 2016 - 11:01 PM

Great words David, couldn't agree with you more.

I do think the best method of making a super tight budgeted movie is the 2 week burn-out schedule + some days pre and post to fill in. As a director and cinematographer, I'd pre-shoot quite a bit of the MOS material before the actual shoot.

I think the key to making a super low-budget feature is to have a great script, story boards and look book that encourages people to do a great job. If a project is good and it's got really good legs, you can probably find a decent crew for peanuts.

So what are the going rates? On small shows like this, the absolute minimal you should pay is $150/day for production staff. I know that sounds like a lot, but you won't be able to find serious creative people who know anything for $50/day. You MAY get some hits at $100/day, but $150 will secure you some "decent" people.

Script, locations, production design, prop's, cast and the "look" of the production, really dictate the budget. If you're ok with a hand-held look for every shot and are ok with augmenting existing lighting, then you can reduce costs substantially. Using friends/relatives locations instead of striking permits and paying for locations, also helps. If art direction and prop's consist of things easy to ascertain, you've got an even lower budget. If the cast is limited and background consists of friends/family, all the better.

If you break-down a two week shoot paying 10 people $150/day, you're looking at around $18k per 2 week shoot, which isn't bad. If you can do post for "free" as in, at home on your own computer and assuming you own all the equipment you'd need, then I don't see any reason you can't make something for $30k.

The big question then remains, can you take that final product and do anything with it. Anyone distributing your project will want proof you had insurance, workers comp, permits for locations, rights to anything seen on screen including things in the background like signs/posters and of course, deal memo's for everyone involved. Anyone on screen would also need a paper trail of records proving they signed off on being in each frame of the movie. This paperwork trail is hypercritical to resale because anyone who risks selling your product, risks lawsuits if anything goes wrong. Heck, I've seen people sue distributors because they were put before someone else in the credit sequence. So this is one of the huge road blocks for small, low-budget features. You need a pretty well-rounded industry UPM (unit production manager) and line producer, to come in and do all of this work. Those people don't come cheap by the way and they aren't waiting for $150/day jobs to come around.

The other big problem with distribution is the final quality of the product. Today, to get anything distributed on iTunes, Netflix, Amazon, etc... requires a very strict QC process. This means, your picture and sound has to be perfect. No frame interpolation issues, no pops and clicks on audio, it has to look and sound like a real feature film. That may sound stupid, but lemme tell you, having just delivered my 3rd feature for distribution, it's a real pain in the ass to deal with. Even with top people doing the post, mistakes still happen and it's a pretty huge cost to go through the QC process every time you make a mistake. Most of the companies who do this work, charge upwards of $2200 bux for all of those platform deliveries.

Finally, you need money set aside to fight fires during production, post production and distribution. Since nobody will hand over cash for your movie to distribute it, you will need to pay for everything yourself. This means producing disks if that's what the distributor wants you do do. This means paying for festival submissions and screenings, these are all critical things and they're very expensive.


This is why most people, would consider $30k budget for a feature film to be crazy. Honestly, having just done a $250k movie, I think THAT budget is ludicrous as well. The amount of sacrifices you need to make during production and post, is insane. Honestly, I think the perfect number for low-budget indy movie is $360k. When you break down a $360k budget, you're looking at $200k for production, you're looking at $100k for cast (which is still very low) and you're looking at $40k for post + $20k for selling the movie afterwords. For $100k, you can get decent actors and lots of extras, which help fill-in the background and make everything more realistic. You can also slow the production down a tad bit and shoot over 3 weeks instead of 2, which helps greatly for shows which are more complex.

I personally haven't seen a $30k movie that's been made in recent years, that's been any good. There is absolutely something to be said about that, because on the surface it doesn't seem that difficult, but once you get into it, everything becomes way more difficult and MUCH more expensive then initially thought.

If you want me to send you some budget outlines, I'd be more then happy to do that. :)
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#12 Macks Fiiod

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Posted 01 January 2017 - 12:07 AM

I wouldn't be so discouraging -- with $30,000 cash, something can be made

David keeping the American dream alive.

 

If you want me to send you some budget outlines, I'd be more then happy to do that. :)

I think you sent me one for --I DIDNT SIGN AN NDA-- but I can't seem to locate it now. If you could send on Skype or something that'd be great.

 

It is 2017 and I haven't left my computer chair.


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#13 Richard Boddington

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Posted 01 January 2017 - 12:14 AM

Richard, shooting a Hallmark movie sounds like a challenge :D but if you have the resources you can make it!

 

 

 

I told them I couldn't work that fast.  My schedules and budgets are quite luxurious compared to a Hallmark film :)'

 

R,


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#14 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 01 January 2017 - 12:43 AM

Macks, you might want to check out other films made in that budget range, such as "Paranormal Activity" (2007), made for $15,000 on an HDV camcorder, or "Upstream Color" (2013), made for $50,000 on a Panasonic GH2.

 

At least today you don't have to spend all that money on a film-out to 35mm for prints.


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#15 Macks Fiiod

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Posted 01 January 2017 - 01:12 AM

Macks, you might want to check out other films made in that budget range, such as "Paranormal Activity" (2007), made for $15,000 on an HDV camcorder, or "Upstream Color" (2013), made for $50,000 on a Panasonic GH2.

 

At least today you don't have to spend all that money on a film-out to 35mm for prints.

 

See they list El Mariachi on IMDB as a budget of only $7000, back when film was the only good looking option for a narrative. Do you feel that number is falsified in some way for bragging rights? If not, that has to be the greatest dollar for dollar film ever made.


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#16 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 01 January 2017 - 02:08 AM

I don't know the accuracy of some of these numbers, but keep in mind that this $7000 was what got the movie to the point of getting screened for a distributor (an offline video cut) -- there was additional money spent after that.  He had some deal on stock and processing I believe (short ends?) and only shot one take on average.  When your budget is that low, obviously you aren't paying for everything at normal rates, which makes it hard for others to follow the same path since you never know what deals you can find.  And the stock, processing, and telecine was almost the only thing he spent money on -- he said something like everything outside those items was just $600.

 

"Primer" (2004) was also made for $7000 on 16mm.


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#17 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 01 January 2017 - 08:34 AM

I gather a considerably higher amount was spent on post production audio by the distributors on "El Mariachi".

 

If you've got broad enough range of skills at the right level, there's now extremely powerful software available for free or low cost that would allow a filmmaker to do more on less than ever before. 


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#18 Bruce Greene

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Posted 01 January 2017 - 11:57 AM

I have a friend who made a pretty good feature last year for about $7000.  But it took place mostly in one room, with one actress (wife of the director:).  Audio and picture post were done by professionals at no charge.  So, it can be done.

 

That said, we made a feature a few years ago with a small cast and very small crew.  19 Days schedule.  Camera department was myself, focus puller, and lighting helper.  Lighting and grip budget for the picture was $500 total.  There were no "name" movie stars.  So total crew was 9 people, including the director.  Everyone got paid at least minimum wage, but not much more.

 

Final cost of the film, out the door to the distributor was about $125,000.  Keep in mind... at the end you have Sound Mixing (we spent $10,000 I think), Color correction (we spent about $500), errors and omissions insurance (I think this was about $5000).

This film was released and made a small profit.  But cost a bit more than $30,000.

 

So you can do it, but it's going to need a very special concept to be made well for $30,000.


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#19 Tom Yanowitz

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Posted 01 January 2017 - 01:32 PM

A good related video


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#20 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 01 January 2017 - 02:59 PM

See they list El Mariachi on IMDB as a budget of only $7000, back when film was the only good looking option for a narrative. Do you feel that number is falsified in some way for bragging rights? If not, that has to be the greatest dollar for dollar film ever made.


First off, El Mariachi was made in Mexico, not the US. If you tried to pull the stunts they did here in the states, you'd probably get arrested. You would never be able to sell the movie because the distributor wouldn't want the risk if someone came and sued afterwards.

Second, El Mariachi had no audio, they used a Arri S/M I believe which is an MOS camera. So they had to add everything in post, which makes the movie look like some sort of dubbed foreign language film.

Third, El Mariachi was made in 1991, where $7,000 went A LONG WAY! I shot quite a lot in the 90's and $1 dollar went MUCH FARTHER then it does today.

Finally, El Mariachi isn't any good. If you made a movie like that today, it would never get sold. It just so happened that Rodriguez made something that was an instant cult classic, without even knowing. He got lucky and it paid off.

The Rodriguez filmmaking concept is good, but it's heavily flawed in 2017. His whole philosophy is to make movies with friends for peanuts and eventually if you keep making them, one of them will get bought and you will make some money back. It's also not the 90's anymore and the home video market is FULL of higher budget productions, some of them really good. So if you plan on recouping your investment, you have to be better and more unique then the other content around it.
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