We often hear about all the money spent at the box office, but not as much about the money behind the scenes. What’s it take to make and produce some of the biggest blockbusters? What about the average feature film or an independent film? Here’s a feature film budget breakdown that takes a closer look at how the money to produce a film gets spent.
Let’s start with some of the heavy hitters. James Cameron’s Avatar remains the highest grossing film of all time internationally (The Force Awakens recently surpassed its domestic grossing). With a whopping budget that should be no surprise. Avatar had one of the largest feature film budgets, at $425 million. That’s huge, even for a Hollywood blockbuster. To put that in perspective, many recent popular features end up costing somewhere between $200 and $300 million. Marvel’s Avengers movies, the two most recent Transformers, all three Hobbit movies, and many of Pixar’s latest releases are all great examples in this budget range.
Many film budgets come in a bit lower, ranging from $100 – $150 million. And The Hollywood Reporter notes that the average cost of a feature film is even lower, spanning between $70 and $90 million. In this range, we see a lot of movies many would consider… well, pretty average. A lot of comedies fall in this range (most of Adam Sandler’s latest), as well as your average action movies (around half of the Fast & the Furious franchise), and some animation (lots of DreamWorks films). But there are also some memorable titles in this range as well: Cast Away (2000), Seabiscuit (2003), and Steven Spielberg’s Artificial Intelligence: A. I. (2001).
Let’s break down the budget for the 2014 Annie reboot to get a picture of an average film’s cost:
Cast: $17 M
Rights and Writers: $8 M
Producers: $2.5 M
Director: $2.5 M
Production Costs: $34 M
Post-Production Costs: $9.5 M
A sizeable chunk of Annie’s cost came from acquiring the rights to the classic characters and music ($4 million) and paying two of its biggest stars ($7.5 million for Cameron Diaz and $5 million for Jamie Foxx). Most of the production and post-production costs fell somewhere between $1 – $2 million: Set construction, dressing, and operations; production staff, production sound, and film/tape editing. Location expenses and transportation were some of the biggest production costs, at around $4.5 million and $3.9 million, respectively. The film had a special effects budget of $850,000.
As you can imagine, independent film budgets are somewhat harder to pin down. They can be entirely self-funded, crowd funded, or backed by investors. Lena Dunham’s breakout film Tiny Furniture (2010) had a budget of $50,000, while Tangerine, the 2015 Sundance hit, had a budget of $100,000.
Whatever the budget is, many independent projects have a similar distribution. Production costs (cameras/equipment, actor salaries, crew, location) will probably be the most substantial, 50 percent or more. Post-production (editing, software, etc.) and distribution/marketing might make up 30 percent of the budget combined. Your pre-production costs will probably make up the remainder. Of course the beauty of independent filming is that your budget may be more flexible. Perhaps your stars are your closest friends who are willing to work for free—or maybe you cut down on camera equipment by filming the entire project on an iPhone… as Tangerine’s Sean S. Baker did, with the help of an $8 app! Look for creative ways to cut costs and spend money where it’s needed most. There are plenty of records showing how indie filmmakers have made it work in the past!
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