Niche it!
BobbyGs Info

GameStop, Inc.

Film budgeting


Film budgeting

Back | Home | Up | Next

Budgeting is one of the most important - and yet most secretive - aspects of film production.

During development of a film, a rough budget is produced by filmmakers in order to convince a producer/movie studio to give them a greenlight for production. During pre-production, a much more detailed film budget is produced. This document - which could be over 150 pages long - is used to secure financing for the film. Multiple drafts of the budget may be required to whittle down costs.



  • Story rights: The right to produce a film based on a play, novel, video game or as a remake or sequel can cost anything from a couple of thousand (Leaving Las Vegas) to over $10 million (the video game Halo). An original screenplay can cost from the WGA minimum of around $50, 000 (Quentin Tarantino's True Romance) to $5 million (M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable).
  • Screenplay: An A-list screenwriter can be paid $1 million to write the first three drafts of a script, with a further $1 to $2 million sole credit bonus. Once the story has been agreed upon and the script locked, script doctors may be brought upon to revise the final draft at $100, 000 to $200, 000 a week. Recently, Columbia Pictures have been offering the best screenwriters 2% of the gross profits (after the production and marketing budget has been deducted). Typically the development of a script consumes 5% of a film's budget.
  • Producers: A movie can have producers, executive producers and co-producers and all are well remunerated, with a top producer earning a seven-figure salary upfront as well as bonuses and a share of the profits. (Often a producer will be given 40% of the net profits). For Spider-Man, producer Laura Ziskin is estimated to have been paid over $30 million.
  • Director: The DGA minimum is about $14, 000 a week, for a minimum of ten weeks work. An A-list director can command $5 to $10 million a film. Traditionally, a director's salary is about 7% of the final budget.
  • Cast: An A-list actor can ask for anything from $20 million to $30 million, plus $3 million in perks (trailer, entourage, etc.) and 20 % of the gross profits. The rest of the cast, by comparison, can often come out much worse with many being paid just the SAG minimum. Sometimes an actor will accept a minimal fee in exchange for a more lucrative share of the profits (Bruce Willis is estimated to have made $100 million from The Sixth Sense).
  • Production costs: The cost of actually shooting the film including sets, wardrobe, location filming, hotels and transportation. The most prestigious productions will often employ the most talented - and therefore most expensive - crew, with the director of photography usually the highest paid at about $500, 000 to $1 million. Shooting costs could easily amount to $500, 000 a day for 100 days.
  • Visual effects: Employing a hundred employees of ILM for over a year can turn a big-budget film into a mega-budget film. The CGI heavy post-production work on The Hulk is estimated to have cost $100 million.
  • Music: The top film composers can ask for a seven-figure salary to compose an hour or so of original music. An original song by Christina Aguilera (Shark Tale) or Kanye West (Mission: Impossible III) could cost $1 million, and the right to use a song by David Bowie or The Beatles could cost $300, 000. (In addition, the artist may wish to see a screening of the film to see if it meets their approval; Bowie did so with the film Training Day, giving the film a good amount of pre-release publicity.). More recently, the rights to have Led Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love on the film Lords of Dogtown cost producers $3 million. Sometimes a film will turn to unknown or little known artists willing to sell the rights to their song for a small fee in exchange for the publicity. Typically, the music budget of a major motion picture is about 8% of the final total; Spider-Man's music budget was $4.5 million, including a brand-new song by Chad Kroeger.

Tactics for cutting costs

  • Eliminate night scenes. Shooting at night requires powerful/expensive lighting and the payment of nighttime rates to the crew. Broken Arrow cut costs by $90 million by getting rid of the night scenes from the script.
  • Avoid location filming in famous or commercial areas. Shooting a scene on, for example, the Golden Gate Bridge, requires stopping traffic with a resultant drop in revenue to the city of San Francisco. Filming such a scene for Interview With the Vampire cost Warner Bros. $500, 000. Shifting the location to the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge for close-ups could save hundred of thousands of dollars in location fees. Some locations are more willing to allow filming than others - commercial enterprises such as hotels and nightclubs. Some producers of low-budget features avoid paying location fees and seek to capture shots by subterfuge.
  • Film action scenes early on Sunday morning. Stopping the traffic for a car chase is easier in the early hours of Sunday morning when traffic is at its lightest.
  • Use unknown stars.
  • Ask above-the-line talent to defer their salaries. In exchange, for dropping their large upfront salaries, actors, directors and producers can receive a large share of the film's gross profits. This has the disadvantage of cutting the financier's eventual takings.
  • Use a non-union crew. Not an option for studios that have signed contracts with the unions (DGA, WGA and SAG). Using an inexperienced crew has its own disadvantages, though. Joss Whedon's Serenity cost just $37 million and still used a union crew.
  • Film in Canada. Actually, this is no longer as big of a savings as it once was. In addition, to get the most out of Canadian subsidies, you need to have a crew and cast made up mostly of Canadians. Many states in the U.S. now have tax incentives that are very competitive and attractive.


Though movie studios are reluctant to release the precise details of their movies' budgets, it has occasionally been possible to obtain (clandestinely) details of the cost of films breaks down. For an example of a budget for a $2 million independent feature, see Planning the Low-Budget Film by Robert Latham Brown (ISBN 0-9768178-0-2).

Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life

  • Story rights and screenplay: $4 million
  • Producers: $4 million
  • Director (Jan de Bont): $5 million
  • Cast: $17.25 million
    • Angelina Jolie: $12 million
    • Extras: $250,000
    • Other (inc. Angelina's perks): $5 million
  • Production costs: $67 million
    • Set design and construction: $17.8 million
  • Visual Effects: $13 million
  • Music: $3.3 million
  • Editing: $3 million
  • Post Production costs: $1.5 million

Total: $118 million

Source: [1]

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

  • Story rights (Carolco and Gale Anne Hurd): $14.5 million
  • Screenplay: $5.2 million
    • John D. Brancato & Michael Ferris: $1 million
  • Director (Jonathan Mostow): $5 million
  • Producers: $10 million
  • Cast: $35 million
    • Arnold Schwarzenegger: $29.25 million + 20% gross profits
    • Arnold's perks: $1.5 million
    • Rest of principal cast: $3.85 million
    • Extras: $400,000
  • Production costs: $58 million
  • Post-production costs: $4 million
  • Visual effects: $20 million
  • Music: $2 million
  • Other costs: $33.6 million

Total: $187.3 million

Source: [2]

Spider-Man 2

  • Story rights: $20 million
  • Screenplay: $10 million
  • Producers: $15 million
  • Director (Sam Raimi): $10 million
  • Cast: $30 million
    • Tobey Maguire: $17 million
    • Kirsten Dunst: $7 million
    • Alfred Molina: $3 million
    • Rest of cast: $3 million
  • Production costs: $45 million
  • Visual effects: $65 million
  • Music: $5 million
    • Composer (Danny Elfman): $3.5 million.
  • Total: $200 million

Source: [3]

Home | Up | Backlot | Breaking down the script | Cameo appearance | Camera dolly | Clapperboard | Closing credits | Development hell | Feature film | Film budgeting | Film crew | Film finance | Film industry | Filming location | Filmmaking | Footage | Front projection effect | Greenlight | Hollywood accounting | Movie ranch | Option | Pan and scan | Post-production | Pre-production | Previsualization | Principal photography | Screen test | Screenplay | Second unit | Shelved | Shot | Sound stage | Stand-in | Storyboard | Take | Test screening | Voice-over | Script breakdown

Movies, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.