What kind of equipment does an inexpensive filmmaker need?

Film Financing - What Does a Film Cost?

An expensive pleasure

Filmmaking is very expensive. The higher the technical effort and the larger the team, the more money the production company has to raise. The film "Avatar" with its elaborate 3D animations devoured around 237 million US dollars, "Pirates of the Caribbean 3" even almost 350 million. Extreme examples from Hollywood, where the world's most expensive films are produced.

A German feature film usually costs between one and ten million euros. Because German films reach far fewer viewers than international blockbusters, the budgets for these productions are lower.

As a rule, documentaries are much cheaper to produce than feature films. The costs for German documentaries in feature length (around 90 minutes) are usually between 200,000 and 400,000 euros. Only a few "outliers" are more expensive, like the film "Hell Tour" by Pepe Danquart about the Tour de France, which cost around two million euros.

There are also "no-budget" productions in which the filmmaker sets off with his or her own camera, alone or with friends, without a lot of equipment and finishes the film at home on the computer. "Low-budget" productions have a minimum of money for the most essential expenses, but in almost all cases the means do not cover the real costs. Documentary filmmakers often work with a lot of idealism and invest a lot more work in their projects than is ultimately paid for.

Producing a film to be shown in the cinema or on television takes a long time. There are many work steps between the first idea and the broadcast. And each of these steps costs time and money. The producer takes care of the cost calculation and the financing.

It starts long before the shoot

In the case of documentaries, the filmmaker has to research the subject matter well. This often takes many months. The filming locations are often visited in advance and interview partners visited. For the preparation, therefore, high travel costs can be incurred and filmmakers and film authors receive a fee for their research.

The team is much smaller in a documentary than in a feature film. The classic line-up consists of three people: a director plus one person each for the camera and one for the sound. They all receive a fee per day of shooting or a flat fee for the entire filming.

Sometimes you need additional people for another camera, for the lighting or to help with the organization on site.

In addition to the personnel costs, there are also costs for travel, accommodation and meals during the shoot.

A major cost factor when shooting is the technology. In order to produce a professional film, you need equipment that is many times more expensive than cameras or recording devices for private use. The acquisition costs are so high that it often makes more sense to borrow the equipment, for example a camera with different lenses, tripods and cables.

The sound engineer uses a recording device, various microphones, plus batteries, microphone protection and fishing rod. On some days, lamps or a special camera are also needed, for example for underwater photography. So a few boxes come together that have to be transported to the location every day. All of these devices - and the team - are also insured in the event that something is stolen or damaged.

With the help of the shooting schedule, an attempt is therefore made to keep the number of shooting days as low as possible. In the case of long-term observations or complex topics, however, it can quickly become very many. Every single person involved and every device has to be paid for every single day. If it turns out that the shoot takes longer than calculated, the costs quickly rise - logically.

And after the shoot it goes on

When the film is finished, that is, when it is finished, it is far from finished. The footage has to be viewed and edited. This is what an editor does on an editing computer in an editing studio that is usually rented for this purpose. Depending on the amount of material and the length of the film, the cut takes several weeks or even months.

If archive material is used in the film, i.e. excerpts from other films or photos, rights must be purchased and license fees paid. The costs also vary greatly here: It depends on where the material comes from and where the film will later be shown. Excerpts from Hollywood films are very expensive, while private, non-commercial archives sometimes even make their recordings available free of charge.

Rights have to be paid for music too - even if the protagonists in the film dance to a certain song on the radio. This can be extremely expensive, especially with well-known songs. That is why it is sometimes cheaper to have the music written by a composer especially for the film. More and more often, sound designers are hired for documentaries who take care of the optimal sound during post-production.

The finished cut film is color corrected. This is sometimes necessary because the scenes were recorded under different lighting conditions and now have to be aligned with one another. This is usually done by a designer, as is the design of the opening and closing credits.

After the film has been cut, the sound is mixed by professionals in a recording studio. Many documentaries have voiceover recorded by a professional voice over artist in the recording studio. He also receives a fee.

And finally, the film is played by the computer on a tape or a digital storage medium so that it can be shown on television. Films that are shown in the cinema are mostly still shown on celluloid. Therefore, film copies have to be made for the cinemas.