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The Realities of Film Production

Let’s just get to the bad news first. The biggest production reality facing filmmakers is cost. Film is an expensive medium, partly because it is time and labor intensive and partly because the technology used to make films, while becoming cheaper at the consumer end, is still quite costly if one is looking to produce a feature film. Other factors (such as name talent, which is just a fancy way of saying “famous actor,” location shooting, the number of shooting days and other factors) can drive the costs up even more.

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Filmmaking in the United States is usually talked about as one of two extremes, Hollywood studio projects and independent film projects. The assumption is that one is expensive and the other is cheap, but you can find very low-budget studio films as well as independent films that cost as much to make as the average studio film. Production models (studio vs. independent) are not the sole determining factor, though they can be a general indicator.

On average, studio films cost hundreds of millions of dollars to make, and therefore have to attract large audiences in order to make back their money. The Hobbit films were originally estimated as costing $270 million each, putting them among – but not at the top of the list of – the most expensive films produced so far, though that initial estimate was based on their being two rather than three films. By comparison, the last two Harry Potter films ( Deathly Hallows: Part I and II , Warner Bros. Pictures, 2010, 2011) were each budged at $125 million. Either way, though, Hollywood films are often expensive to make.

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Independent films can range from microbudgets (less than $50,000, like the first Paranormal Activity , Paramount, 2009) to low budget ($50,000 or $100,000 to 3 to 5 million dollars, such as the first Saw , Lion’s Gate, 2004) to moderate budgets (3 million to 80 million, such as Reign of Fire , Buena Vista, 2002). Sadly, even though their budgets are smaller, independent films are no less dependent upon audience and box office. (All budget information from , accessed July 4, 2012.)

This need to recoup the negative costs (or all those costs associated with producing and shooting the film) has a huge impact on how films are made, the kinds of stories chosen to go into production, the way films are marketed and distributed, and the ways in which they’re thought of as either failures or successes. Add in the costs related to distribution and promotion, and filmmaking is clearly an expensive venture.

Excerpt from Storytelling Across Worlds: Transmedia for Creatives and Producers by Tom Dowd, Michael Nierderman, Michael Fry, and Josef Steiff © 2013 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.

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