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Filmmaking Basics

How Much Does It Cost to Make a Movie?

April 13, 2021

What’s the actual cost of filmmaking?

Cost of Filmmaking

One of the things that used to keep me stuck was the idea that I could only become a filmmaker if I got financing. I was obsessed with the cost of filmmaking. Would I ever have enough money to make a movie!?!?! This plagued me.

I thought that to make a movie, I’d have to write a slamdunk script and then pitch that slamdunk script to a producer or group of investors. Or I’d have to get a grant from a government body, and then (and only then) would I be able to make my movies.

Well, this couldn’t be further from reality.

And thank freaking goodness I finally figured that out. But it took a while. I mean….a long while.

So in today’s email, I want to talk about money and movies. Grab a coffee, and let’s chat.

What’s the ACTUAL cost of filmmaking?

And what the hell does it cost to get started?

The true cost of filmmaking can’t be counted in dollars and cents. The true cost of filmmaking is your time. If you’re reading this, then you’re probably on the path to become a solo filmmaker or independent filmmaker.

In other words, you’re probably not aiming to become Hollywood’s next director darling in the next five years.

What is the cost of filmmaking - graph 1

In the world of solo filmmaking and independent filmmaking, time is the primary investment you’ll make in any project. The less money you have to get a project completed, the more of your own time you’ll need to put into it.

IS IT AN IMPOSSIBLE DREAM?

So for somebody who can’t commit any extra time to filmmaking, it’s an impossible dream.

These days, some micro low-budget filmmakers are making feature films for $10,000 or less. That’s money that most people in the developed world can get their hands on if given enough time and motivation. (I emphasize enough time and motivation become everyone has different circumstances. But given enough time, we humans can do almost anything!)

You can work an extra job, steal from your retirement account, stop eating sushi for a few years, or (this is risky-ish) get a line of credit. Or if it’s a niche film in service of social change, representation, or a genre that people get fired up about (like horror or sci-fi), you can do a Kickstarter.

You can even make a feature for less than $10k if you have enough people willing to work for free and you have access to gear.

As a solo filmmaker, your $10k is more than enough to make a documentary feature if that’s what you want.

But, to hack it in the world of micro low-budget feature filmmaking, you need to be a creator yourself.

You need to be comfortable wearing multiple hats because you’ll likely be directing, producing, writing, and editing. You might also be filming.

If this sounds exciting and liberating to you, then perfect! Keep going. Or if you haven’t started, get started! If this sounds exhausting to you, then be warned, filmmaking IS exhausting. It’s exhilarating and exhausting, perhaps in equal measure.

Just like running a marathon has its downsides, so too does filmmaking.

WHAT IF YOU’VE NEVER MADE ANYTHING?

I’m not writing this to dissuade you, but rather to encourage you to take whatever steps you need to move forward with your eyes open.

My recommendation to anyone who doesn’t have a body of work as a filmmaker but wants to make feature films in the future is simple: start with solo filmmaking on a small scale.

What is the cost of filmmaking - graph 2

Test your passion with low stakes.

Give yourself a margin of error. Let yourself take a deep breath and go for it without risking everything.

Crew-based filmmaking is collaborative and allows you to bite off bigger productions and grander stories. But it comes at a huge time and energy cost. For crew-based filmmaking, you need to be an excellent producer. You’re the one generating the project.

You’re probably also writing the script and directing the film.

You must have an immense wealth of knowledge and energy to complete a feature film to a standard that will make you happy. Either that or you need kick-ass collaborators who are willing to pull you along for the ride if you’re not that experienced.

(But hey, everyone starts out with zero experience, so please don’t let that stop you.)

Some unusual people do start off with crew-based filmmaking right away. Maybe they’re part of a group of friends who all want to make films. Or perhaps they just love massive projects and big goals. They’re usually in some kind of creative partnership.

But if you don’t have a filmmaking network or a body of work, then I recommend you start creating one.

IF I CAN DO IT…YOU CAN DO IT…

The most creatively liberating thing I’ve ever done for myself (aside from studying clowning—true story) is giving myself permission to create small solo projects.

My initial goal was to use these small solo filmmaking projects to train my brain and understand filmmaking from end to end.

But then it became more than that.

The total creative freedom and control that I could exercise over a project was insanely fulfilling (and, pretty addicting). I wasn’t waiting for somebody to greenlight my project.

I didn’t have to gather up a crew to tell a story with moving images.

Even while cursing my slow laptop while editing, learning solo filmmaking and committing to the process is something I’ve never regretted. It’s the thing I’ve been the most proud of for doing and grateful that I took the leap of faith.

This one choice changed my life and opened up a world of possibilities.

I wasn’t sitting in a world of “what if” and “someday” any longer.

Before I started solo filmmaking, I was stuck thinking that if I wanted to make movies, I’d need to get funding, gather a crew, write a rip-snorting script, and basically become the ultimate pro overnight.

SO WHAT IS THE COST OF FILMMAKING?

So back to the cost of filmmaking.

What does it cost to make a film or get started filmmaking? It’s all relative to which path you want to take.

If you want to make Lord of the Rings, you’ll need 2000+ people and millions of dollars.

Meanwhile, the average cost of making a feature film is $18,000,000.

But if you’re going to make a modern character piece about a local artist (or athlete, activist, philosopher, musician etc…), you’ll need a camera, sunlight, sound gear, storytelling skills, time, and knowledge of editing.

Is one work of art better than the other? Not really.

They’re different. But one is attainable for you this year and the other isn’t.

(Side note: stay tuned for a free masterclass coming up that’ll walk you through the process of filmmaking success and building a body of work.)

If you’re not convinced, that’s okay. Everyone has their own path.

But what’s true for all of us is that we find our way by taking action. When we take action towards our goals or dreams, we learn if we’re on the right path or not.

So what’s your filmmaking path this year?

Are you aiming to start building a body of work as a filmmaker?

Or do you already have one, and now you want to go bigger?

P.S. Interested in taking a filmmaking course this year? Read this coooomprehensive article about the Top Online Filmmaking Courses and whether you should take one or not.


About the Author

Hi, I’m Colette Nichol. I’m a story strategist, filmmaker, and entrepreneur based out of rainy Vancouver. Obsessed with personal development, solo filmmaking, and marketing, you can often find me attempting to read ten books at the same time. Join the inbox party: take my free mini course and start building your filmmaking skillset—take your starter filmmaking gear and make the most of it.

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