What independent film budget is right for your production?


When you set out to make your independent film, at some point you will have to accept your budget. The amount of money you need to spend on your movie determines your shooting days, locations, and most importantly, your cast and crew.

In The Indie Film Blueprint course on MZed, educator Rubidium Wu provides a breakdown of what you can expect with the different levels of a film budget. Of course, this won’t apply to all movies, but it’s a good place to start when planning who you can hire.

Image source: Rubidium Wu / MZed

The $10,000 budget for independent films

The no-budget or micro-budget film starts at around $10,000. Whether you raise this with crowdfunding or with family and friends, this is where many filmmakers start to make progress.

What will that buy you? According to Rubidium, who has developed several independent films from idea to delivery, low-budget independent film usually means you’re shooting over a long weekend, maybe a week at most, with one or two locations. Your cameramen do their own focusing, and you might have two or three cameras to get quick coverage.

The shooting style is basic, almost documentary, with a shoulder or tripod capturing one or two actors. After rushing into principal photography, you quickly edit the film in six months or less, and then you’re done.

The goal of a low-budget film at this level is to have a good premise, a good script, and an interesting story. It’s not fancy but it does the job. Keep in mind that you will spend more time making this movie, to reduce overall costs.

Image source: Rubidium Wu / MZed

The $50,000 budget for independent films

At this level, you can expect more shooting days, such as a seven-day week or two five-day weeks, with more locations or a rented house with different environments.

Instead of asking friends for favors, at this level you hire a film crew of two or three people, and maybe five professional actors.

In order to keep the film workable, Rubidium recommends that you maintain a consistency of time and place, as if the story unfolds continuously in one location and unfolds over a weekend, rather than over a long period of time. This way, you can ensure that your cast doesn’t need elaborate changes to hair or makeup, or dramatic changes to set decoration.

The $100,000 budget for independent films

At this level of your film budget, Rubidium suggests that you can afford a star or well-known actor in your film’s genre. To recover such a high budget, you are going to need an actor capable of reaching a large audience.

On the logistics side, you can now afford to shoot up to 10 locations, over 18 days of shooting, or 3 weeks of 6 days for example. You may have a dozen professional actors, a set designer, and maybe an art director.

Still from “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” – a $1.35 million budget, but still an independent film! (thanks James Rogers for pointing out the error, we previously listed a much lower (bad) budget for this movie here).

The film’s budget of $200,000 to $500,000

At this level, you can have the same number of shooting days as before, but you can afford a bigger star actor, who could be paid around $75,000 for three weeks of shooting.

You can also hire a larger crew, complete with a light truck and transportation to move the cast and crew around. But even at this level of movie budget, you still might not be able to afford visual effects, or a stunt coordinator, or be able to build your own sets into the sound stages.

Don’t forget to pay yourself

Finally, it’s essential to remember that while you spend a year or more making your film, you must also pay for your life.

As Rubidium puts it, “If you’re young and living with your parents, or if you’re independently wealthy, you might only need $20,000 to get through the year. But if you’re in the middle of your career and have a family to support, it can cost $80-90,000. It’s just your time. That’s before you’ve hired a single actor, built a set, rented a camera, or recorded once.

Image source: Rubidium Wu / MZed

You might be tempted to try and fund your indie film on your own, but that defeats the purpose of doing something that will interest others to invest in and ultimately watch. Rubidium adds: “If you can’t convince at least one other person to invest their money, how are you going to convince tens of thousands or even millions of people to watch this movie so that it can break even? , so you can make another movie out of it?”

Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from making a movie on a low or no budget, and in fact, many have. But unless you’re sitting on a rare movie idea or hoping to get lucky, most studios or investors will want to see proper fundraising and realistic spending projections before investing in a filmmaker on one or more films. Even if they invest in a micro film budget.

Watch more Indie Film Blueprint by joining MZed Pro

There are plenty of tips in The Indie Film Blueprint that can save a lot of time and money for anyone embarking on their first independent film. If you want to avoid the same mistakes many filmmakers make, let Rubidium Wu guide you through the process, from idea generation to making your movie.

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