Let’s Make a Movie!

By Shamus
on Dec 21, 2009
Filed under:
Movies

Look, I’ve got a couple of hundred bucks here, and a buddy of mine has a pretty good camera he can lend us. Another buddy of mine knows this one girl. She’s like a model or something. Anyway, she can act, and so can you. We just need somebody that knows about sound. And maybe some lighting? Do you need special equipment for that? We also might need some makeup or something. Oh. We need a place to shoot, too. You know anyone with like, a huge empty warehouse we can use for a day or two?

Anyway, we just need to work out these minor details and we can nail this…

Following the post on Panic Attack!, filmmaker Alexander Ibrahim posted a rather educational comment on just how much it costs to put something on film. I’m reprinting the entire comment, because it’s one of those rare looks into how the business works:

I’m a director & director of photography (DP)

Crew costs money. Lots of money.

Cast and directorial cost lots and lots and lots of money. A single star actor or director might earn more than an entire crew.

When you see things like this that “claim” to cost just $500 (or $300 depending on who you read) they are discounting all labor. If you paid everyone involved according to federal minimum wage laws the budgets would balloon.

Of course these are not minimum wage jobs. Most of them are union crafts. The main point of most unions is to protect crews from being worked to death, which is the natural tendency of any producer. I’ve been on non-union shoots where the crew was asked to work 24 hour days several days in a row. (they ‘revolted’ and good for them.)

Minimum crew for a 35mm camera (or a RED or the like) runs $2000 per day at union minimum wages. (That’s a DP/Operator and a first assistant) Then even for a very small film you need a sound recorder, and a couple of lighting people.

I usually keep a camer crew of three, I’ll DP/Operate, then I have a 1st assistant (to pull focus- i.e. to keep the lens focused on the correct subject as the camera and subject move- something most autofocus systems are incapable of.) and a 2nd assistant. On paper the 2nd reloads the camera, helps the 1st move the camera and does the slate and camera logs. (In reality the 1st and 2nd split the work however suits them.)

Then there is the director, the first assistant director- who is essential for a multiday shoot or really anything with a critical schedule. If there is a script (which neither of the films linked here have) a script supervisor a dialog coach. There is a 2nd Assistant director who handles background actors…. it goes on and on if you’ve ever watched the credits for a film you know what I mean.

I assure you they aren’t hiring people “just because” all of them have jobs that are fairly essential.

Also, remember the rates I quoted above are the union minimum wages. If you start hiring the best available crew you can spend a lot more.

Of course its all small potatoes compared to the salaries of celebrity actors, directors and producers.

Then there is the gear. The stuff you need to make an impressive picture on YouTube is far different than what you need to hold an audiences attention on a theater screen for 2 hours plus – or even to hold their attention on the LCD in your living room. Of course the most expensive camera gear is a tiny fraction of a big budget film. A RED camera with accessories and Cooke S5i or ARRI Master Prime lenses and a couple of zooms will run about a quarter million USD to purchase. It costs about $1500-2000 per day to rent such cameras, so they are usually rented.

Lighting gear is expensive too. I won’t get into details there, but for a week long independent SF film I just shot we spent about $4500 on rented lighting gear. That’s about 14 lights, stands and a pile of grip gear. Included there is a dolly and track, plus delivery & pickup. That’s an incredibly small package. It wasn’t quite enough for my picture and it would be entirely, jokingly inadequate for a serious feature.

Another project I recently shot, with an entirely volunteer crew, was budgeted near $30,000 for about 35 pages of shooting principally on a starship command center. That cost was entirely for rental of gear and warehouse space, and materials for set construction. We shot for about 6 days.

Have a look at http://www.starshippolaris.com

My rough guess at a crew&directorial cost, if we had paid the various union minimum wages, for the entire week would be about $60,000, cast would run another $30,000. The show is about half shot out, we have a green screen and two location shoots coming up.

Movie making is Expen$ive

I knew movie making cost a lot of money. (It’s now part of the marketing for big budget films: We spent two hundred million dollars making this thing! Go see it and feel guilty to experience such extravagance, you ungrateful clods!) But to see this breakdown of where the money all goes is very illuminating. When you start to look at how much lighting equipment costs, it almost seems like it’d be more economical to illuminate the set with a huge dollar-bill bonfire. (They don’t do this because you have to hire professional money-incinerators, and they all belong to the incinerators union, etc etc.)

It’s also a bit easier to see how Panic Attack! was made for $500 or $300, or whatever it was. They left out all labor and software costs, used a “cheap” camera, and they probably didn’t need most of the equipment a “real” film would need because there was no dialog, no indoor scenes, no real acting, etc.

Thanks to Alexander Ibrahim for the breakdown. I’m going to celebrate by watching Terminator 2 and skipping all the special effect scenes.

LATER: And done. That was a really fun two minutes. Moreso because I felt like I was deliberately wasting $100 million dollars.

Enjoyed this post? Please share!


201535 comments. Hurry up and add yours before it becomes passé.

From the Archives:

  1. neothoron says:

    You mean you will celebrate by… doing nothing?

    Very informative nonetheless.

  2. Benjamin Orchard says:

    That’s going to be a short film-watching experience Shamus. Cool breakdown though.

  3. rofltehcat says:

    Interesting.
    But I still think many big movies have a too bloated budget.
    This “we just spent more money on this movie than anyone ever has spent on any movie”-attitude is a bit strange imo.
    It makes the smaller productions seem insignificant and I guess it also bloats prices for them.
    It is a bit like a giant soap bubble and eventually it might burst when someone finds out that those 200 million $ could have been spent making like 3 movies and a 2 season series instead of 1 movie with beautifully animated landscapes and blue people (and a 20$ script).

  4. bloopy says:

    if you wanna see how to shoot a movie on the cheap, you should watch robert rodriguez’s 10-minute film school on his “el mariachi” dvd. . . he has 10-minute film schools on most of his dvds, but the one on “el mariachi” is a really good one. . .

    alexander ibrahim has a point, paying for labor costs money, but then again the scenario you were setting up at the beginning of your post sounds like a case where you wouldn’t have to pay for labor. . . he also has a point that a good lighting kit costs bank too, so, again, going by your scenario you just find a way to get by with the lights you already have (like the sun) and you can save on that too. . .

    i mean basically if you wanna shoot a film, money definitely makes things easier, but there are ways to lower and eliminate some of the costs. . .

  5. ngthagg says:

    This is pretty awesome. I asked on the other post why the big budget movies cost so much, and I guess this answers the question.

    Thinking about it now, consider the movie Primer. That’s a famous low-budget movie ($7000, according to wikipedia), but there are quite a few scenes where the lack of money shows, especially with the audio.

  6. H.M says:

    I never understood the term “wasting money”. I mean, they’re not tossing it into a furnace, it just gores back into the rotation again

    • Shamus says:

      H.M. If you spend money without getting something of value, you have wasted money.

      Yes, someone else got the money. It was not destroyed. But it is still useful to have a pithy term which describes: “We have spent money extremely poorly and have nothing to show for it”.

  7. AR says:

    Even if you look at the wealth of the entire community, the fact that the money is still there is meaningless; the labor and resources it was spent on are gone with no actual creation of wealth, so it was still a waste.

  8. Torsten says:

    Make it cheap, make it good and make it fast, pick any of the two it seems. The video in question was made mostly by computer so that lowers the costs.

    Still, it is great to see what people can do with skill and passion even when budget is small. There is a full length sci-fi film called Starwreck that was made by zero budget and amateur actors and is even distributed free. You can check out http://www.starwreck.com if you want some sci-fi parody during Christmas days.

  9. Owlish says:

    Well, yes, currently, if you want to make a big screen movie it costs quite a bit of money. Part of that is, movie film is expen$ive, so you want the “Rolling!” part of movie making to be as smooth as possible, so you have to have various people making sure their little section is going smoothly.

    On the other hand, I haven’t been to a movie in the theater in at least 2 years, and I don’t have a massive high def TV, so if something was shot on “not quite good enough for IMAX” video cameras, using cheap electrons rather than expensive film, I don’t care.

    And given the general trend of electronics, I’d guess it’s not going to be too much longer before they are good enough. And then maybe films will be made with actual actors, rather than pretty looking bodies who can [hopefully] recite a line given to them by a dialog coach.

    But, oh, that will require making films in ways that aren’t covered in union rules, so Bye California, Hello New Zealand, or Canada, or wherever.

  10. Factoid says:

    People make these kinds of fantasy calculations all the time.

    The most common one I hear is that “it’s cheaper to drive from Omaha to Chicago because round trip airfare is 150 dollars and it only costs me 120 in gas.”

    But that person is not including their time as a value. Certainly the extra 6 or 8 hours you’ll save round trip is worth something. And they never ever think about the cost per mile of operating a car. If you expect to drive your car for about 100,000 miles, you have to figure in the mileage you’re taking out of your car with this trip…around 1000 miles or so. Then there’s the fact that your car needs regular maintenance, so you need factor in a fraction of the cost of an oil change, a tire rotation, etc…

    In reality it costs somewhere in the vicinity of 15 to 25 cents a mile to operate most newer cars, before you even factor in gas.

    So the trip to Chicago that is only an additional $120 dollars out of pocket is actually costing you more like $350.

    These kinds of things aren’t really obvious and most people aren’t taught to think like that. It’s one of the major reasons that people get so infuriated with business types. They look at something like a movie budget and think “how in the world can X cost so much! They’re so wasteful!”. When in reality, of course, they’re probably just including “soft costs” that most people wouldn’t think about adding in.

  11. Unconvention says:

    … also catering, power, transport, script editors, make-up, costume, props, the actual film itself, processing, etc, etc, etc. And not to mention the fact that studio films have a truly colossal amount spent on marketing.

    It’s a shame that the system works the way it does. A studio film pretty much costs a minimum of a million these days. The studio wants to be sure to make that back, so they go with the tightly controlled, established formula of what works. Not disimilar to video games recently, and it’s why we see title after title in both indistries that’s either a remake or a sequal. It’s why innovation comes from the independents; not because those within established studios (again, in both industries) are incapable of dreaming up wholy new concepts, but because their bosses won’t let them take the risk.

  12. Lanthanide says:

    I couldn’t find any solid numbers while googling, but most sci-fi TV shows these days costs $1M+ per episode. Here’s a quote from wikipedia:
    “Star Trek was the first television series to cost more than $100,000 per episode, while Star Trek: The Next Generation was the first to cost more than $1 million per episode.”

    Remember that TNG started way back in 1987 and ended in ’94, so those $1M would be quite a bit higher now with inflation.

  13. Ermel says:

    Interesting figures. It’s also enlightening to see how even completely SFX-free, relatively pedestrian films (and I don’t mean that negatively at all!) like Driving Miss Daisy end up costing $7.5M. Or how they managed to spend $20M to film Wayne’s World — in just 34 days.

    Now, arguably, in bang for the buck these two fare better than hundreds-of-millions-of-dollars sinks like Avatar or whatever. But that’s not my point: looking at them, you get a feeling that it takes, oh, maybe $500K a day just to get the big moviemaking machine going. (Less than that with Driving Miss Daisy, but watch the DVD extras — they complain how they had to cut corners already.) Just look at the hundreds of names in the credits — they all need to feed their families.

    Which makes such hobbyist productions like Panic Attack all the more impressive, if you ask me.

  14. J Greely says:

    It would be interesting to see someone run the same numbers for porn, an industry that cranks out video product quickly on tight budgets. Asia Carrera’s blog used to offer quite a bit of insight into the nuts and bolts of that industry, but she’s focused on other things these days.

    -j

  15. Jonathan says:

    Union labor at over $1,000 per man per day? Even if there’s a 50% gross-up for benefits and administration, the union people involved in movie-making are massively overpaid. I’ve seen similar in the moving industry. Regular mover in Chicago $40/hr, union mover $65/hr!

    Generally speaking, unions in modern America act as cartels that artificially inflate the cost of their labor. They maintain this dominance in certain areas by a combination of:
    -Government backed rules
    -Captive markets (ie union buildings in NYC, American Airlines pilots)
    -Thuggery (see the SEIU beating of Gladney)
    -Not caring if they drive their employer out of business (autoworkers)
    They encourage an inefficient use of resources by hogging more in pay & benefits than the value they produce for their companies’ customers, the everyday consumer. We all pay to some extent (depending on geography and spending habits) for unions’ extortion tactics.

    Yes, I actively avoid buying union-made products and services if at all possible. I’d have a “proudly anti-union” bumper sticker on my truck, but I think it’d be risking getting a window broken.

  16. Daimbert says:

    I won’t disagree with the assessment of costs, but will ask: do you really need to spend that?

    Here’s an interesting comment from Owlish:

    “Well, yes, currently, if you want to make a big screen movie it costs quite a bit of money. Part of that is, movie film is expen$ive, so you want the “Rolling!” part of movie making to be as smooth as possible, so you have to have various people making sure their little section is going smoothly.

    On the other hand, I haven’t been to a movie in the theater in at least 2 years, and I don’t have a massive high def TV, so if something was shot on “not quite good enough for IMAX” video cameras, using cheap electrons rather than expensive film, I don’t care. ”

    See, this is the thing: a lot of the big budget movies have big budgets because they have to make it to sell at high prices, either in a movie theatre or for DVD sales or whatever. Sure, we might notice the lighting and other issues if they aren’t there, but we’re going to be far more forgiving of it if we’re paying $2 than $13. But the question is: do you need those extras for general entertainment? I don’t think so, and I think that’s the attitude that hurts a lot of games as well; we need the flash-bang graphics because people will grumble if they don’t have them, even if it makes the games more expensive and gives less room to make a profit.

    So the question is going to be: can these cheap little things be as entertaining as the more expensive ones? I’d say “Yes”, or even more so, but good luck filtering the wheat from the chafe when everyone’s making the little things and sticking it up everywhere.

    Also this comment is interesting from Factoid:

    “People make these kinds of fantasy calculations all the time.

    The most common one I hear is that “it’s cheaper to drive from Omaha to Chicago because round trip airfare is 150 dollars and it only costs me 120 in gas.”

    But that person is not including their time as a value. Certainly the extra 6 or 8 hours you’ll save round trip is worth something. And they never ever think about the cost per mile of operating a car. If you expect to drive your car for about 100,000 miles, you have to figure in the mileage you’re taking out of your car with this trip…around 1000 miles or so. Then there’s the fact that your car needs regular maintenance, so you need factor in a fraction of the cost of an oil change, a tire rotation, etc…”

    While I’d agree with the maintenance issues, the “time” reflects an issue: some of these “soft costs” are subjective. For someone who likes to drive and might want to stop along the way, that extra time isn’t a cost, but is a benefit. To take a personal example, I have a tendency to walk to a certain shopping mall. It takes me about an hour one way. I could hop a bus and get there in at most half the time, from the same starting point. So is counting in an hour of my time worth the $5 less bus fare? Well, but I like to get the exercise, so that’s a benefit to me, and I stop at some other little shops on the way back, which is another benefit.

    It’s hard to count those sorts of soft costs effectively because they aren’t always costs.

  17. Bobby Archer says:

    Jonathan, union pay seems high (and there are plenty of people out there who take less on non-union jobs. I know, I work – when I’m able, stupid economy – as a theatrical lighting designer/technician), but it’s not as over-inflated as you might think.

    As you supposed, some of that money is taken out for administrative costs and benefits (people who work in movies need health insurance too). And the minimums take into account the role the person is paying. Everyone on the shoot doesn’t make $1000 a day. The combined pay of two important, essential technicians is $2000. A grip moving lights and running cable doesn’t get paid that.

    Also consider that a film technician is not working 9 to 5 (yes, even on a union shoot). They’re arriving early and leaving late. They’re working nights and weekends. Their schedule is dictated by the needs of the shoot: do we need night scenes? how long will it take for this rain to pass? we only have this location for two days. Even with the protections the unions give, these types of jobs are stressful, tiring, and long.

    The people in these jobs are (or at least the vast majority are) college educated with experience under their belts (it’s somewhere between hard and impossible to get into the union without a good amount of training and experience). We’re not talking about large men who are good at lifting boxes, they’re people who have spent a lot of time and money honing their craft.

    And remember, this is the livelihood of these people. They have to feed themselves and their families on what they make from this work, pay their electric bills and their mortgages, just like everyone else.

    And they don’t work every day. They can’t. Remember what I said about their schedules being dictated by their shoot? If their next project is two weeks away and they can’t find any work to fill that gap, their pay has to fill that gap. And they won’t be spending those two weeks sitting around playing WoW. They’ll be following up on contacts and setting up work in the future. It’s a lot of hard work and all of *that* is unpaid. Imagine having to go job hunting every other week regardless of whether you have a job at the moment and you get the idea.

    Yes, there are independent movies that have been made by talented individuals volunteering to create art. How do you think those people had the money to get them through those weeks of 0 income? They worked shoots that paid and paid a decent wage. Without those “wasteful” union wages, a lot of independent work wouldn’t be possible.

    I’m not trying to argue that unions are all wonderful, beneficent organizations that are free of corruption and waste and are the solution to every problem in every job market. I grew up in central Michigan and I watched the downtown areas around me rot and fester when GM pulled their plants and jobs because the UAW couldn’t act like intelligent adults. I’ve heard horror stories about the useless Teamsters at McCormick Place in Chicago from people I work with. Some unions passively hurt the people they’re supposed to be protecting with their policies. Union reform is, in far too many cases, necessary and overdue.

    The theatrical and entertainment unions are not perfect. They have their share of waste and stupid rules. But they are by far the lesser of two evils. The non-union scenarios Alexander Ibrahim mentions in his post are not unique and not unusual. I’ve heard their like. Without someone standing in between the large studios and the individual technicians, directors, and artists, these jobs would largely cease to exist as full-time professions. They’d be hobbies. And maybe you’re okay with that, but I can’t imagine the work these men and women do would not suffer as a result and I firmly believe that these people and this work is worth the extra cost.

    You’re welcome to your own opinion.

  18. Alan De Smet says:

    @AR: For anyone who decided that the article AR linked to was too long to read, here’s the summary:

    “Back in my day, we had to walk uphill, both ways, to see a movie! And it was in black and white and they were good! But kids these days with their hipping and the hopping and the widescreen and the color! It’s all crap! And it’s all the gub’mint’s fault, those damn revenuers! Get the hell off my lawn!”

  19. Mari says:

    Thanks, AR, for the link. The article was a good read. While I don’t agree with all of the author’s conclusions he had several excellent points.

    One of the things I have to wonder about in the budget of a film is the marketing cost. Is it absolutely necessary to buy a 3 mil $ spot in the Super Bowl to advertise your film? Or blanket the world with ads every 10 seconds for 6 weeks or more? I’m asking seriously. How much of the advertising is necessary and how much is just – overkill? I admit to having some bias on the argument. I’m one of those freaky people that A) does not own a television set that’s hooked to a satellite/cable/antenna B) has very effective ad-blocking software installed on my web browser which reduces the ads I see to – one a month or so? C) doesn’t read magazines and D) lives in the middle of nowhere where nobody bothers to put billboards so my exposure to advertising is pretty much limited to when I WANT to view advertising. Strangely enough, I stay remarkably well-informed on what movies are due out on a given week. This leads me to wonder what, exactly, the point of all that movie marketing is.

  20. Sean Riley says:

    @Alan de Smet;

    Heh. Thanks for saying it before I had to. I would like to highlight one part in particular here…

    BTW? Hollywood made 500 films in 1937. I daresay it was about the same two years later.

    They made plenty of crap back then, too. They just made more stuff, good and bad. Sturgeon’s Law kicks in.

  21. Maxie Zeus says:

    @Alan De Smet / AR:

    I’d be happier with that article if it demonstrated basic competence with facts. (E.g., First National Pictures was NOT absorbed by Paramount but by Warner Bros., which is why so many 1930s and 1940s movies on TCM carry the line “A Warner Bros.-First National Picture” at the bottom of the credits.) Carelessness with the small facts in this case also stands for carelessness with the larger facts.

    SHORTER THORNTON: The vertically integrated movie industry put adults in charge, and they could efficiently produce mass entertainment that could be enjoyed by all audiences. By busting up the system, the government unleashed economic forces (intra-industry competition between actors, producers, crew members, etc.) that sap efficiency and prevent the kind of self-regulation that allows intelligent cinema to flourish.

    SHORTER ME: The movie industry always adapts to most efficiently meet audience demand. The audience composition changed dramatically between 1950 and 1975, and the industry has adapted to serve an audience that is disproportionately young and male. The best way to serve that audience is to make movies that are … well, much stupider than the average movie made in 1939. Meanwhile, overall changes in the economic landscape since 1950 also means that it is more efficient for Hollywood to radically decentralize its production structures while simultaneously consolidating its control over distribution and copyright resources.

    Every major historian/analyst of Hollywood economics I have ever read has asserted that the Paramount Decrees that broke up the old Hollywood system were, at best, irrelevant to the changes that were already occurring, and may have benefited the studios because they quickly destroyed an economic structure that was coming down anyway.

    LONGER ME: Between 1910 and 1950 the movie industry had a captive audience with little better to do with its free time than go to the movies. During the 1940s especially, when government rationing left urban workers with lots of nominal pay but nothing to buy, they spent disproportionate amounts of their income on movie tickets. Because everyone went to the movies, Hollywood could make movies for everyone in the reasonable expectation that they would be financially successful, and adults (especially adult women) were far and away the largest audience segment, so movies that appealed to adult sensibilities dominated.

    After TV began to spread, audience attendance collapsed dramatically. Suburban flight and industrial decentralization also took its toll. (Before 1950, Hollywood revenues came disproportionately from urban movie palaces in the US’s largest cities.) Today, a family trip to the movies is a major undertaking, typically involving a lengthy drive time, dinner, parking, babysitting (possibly), all on top of finding something that everyone wants to see. And that’s before paying non-matinee prices for several people and then loading up on outrageously overpriced snack foods. Most adults would prefer to stay home, and most of them do just that.

    As a result, the movie audience today is disproportionately composed of teenagers and young adults, who have the time and discretionary income to spend on matinees, and who find it much easier to organize movie-going expeditions from among their friends. Exhibitors (who pay close attention to these things) have noticed and reported to producers that their key audiences don’t care for story, characterization or dialogue; they only care for spectacle. This is why contemporary movies are (to be brutally frank) dumb: because the people who go to see them are drawn by action- and spectacle-filled trailers and concepts, not by anything that could credibly be called a story. If you hype it, they will come.

    You can see that Thornton is mostly talking nonsense when you see that Hollywood has reorganized into something like the old studio system, and yet the benefits he claims for vertical integration have not materialized. Today the entertainment industry is dominated by a smaller group of conglomerates (six vs. the “Big Eight” of the 1940s) whose grip is even more far-reaching than that of Golden Age Hollywood, encompassing TV networks (Disney-ABC, NBC-Universal), cable networks (Viacom, Time Warner, Disney, Fox, NBC-Universal), TV stations, and cable systems. The only things they don’t (in general) own are theaters. They don’t because the exhibition business is now outside their area of expertise: A theater is nothing but a concession stand that covers its mortgage payments by selling cheap food at exorbitant prices, and uses a short-term licensed monopoly on film exhibition to attract patrons. For Paramount to buy a theater chain would make about as much sense as for it to buy Burger King.

    Again, this goes back to a change in audience composition: Studios make most of their money by selling to kids, and they actually make most of their money by selling ancillary stuff: all the toys and games and keychains and theme park rides. The Star Wars prequels are a case in point; apparently only about 15% of the total revenues collected off those films by Fox/Lucasfilm came from North American theaters, and only about 30% came from theaters worldwide. The rest of it? Well, go down to a store that sells books/CDs/DVDs/comic books and look around–that’s where almost 3/4 of George Lucas’s money comes from. And people buy it even though they HATED the prequels. You want to punish George Lucas for ruining your childhood? Stop buying his crap.

    This, by the way, is why my reaction to “Panic Attack” is one of stark, staring horror rather than Shamus’s eager sense of anticipation. Hollywood tries to make movies that are (a) as cheap as possible while (b) as popular as possible with the typical moviegoer. “Casablanca,” to take a beloved classic almost at random, will never be cheap to make, for all the reasons Alexander Ibrahim has listed. And it will never be popular with today’s movie audience (14-year-old boys, mostly). But if you could take “Casablanca” and for only $500 add zombies and spaceships and giant robots and an asteroid crashing into the Mediterranean … Well, you’d ruin the movie, but now all those 14-year-old boys will rush out to see it because of that awesome shot in the trailer of Ilsa Lund (played by Megan Fox in the remake) surfing on the back of a Transformer and shooting Major Strasser with a missile launcher. The new Casablanca will be much more popular than the old, and not much more expensive. Bottom-line: The stuff that makes for a good story–script, character, plot development, acting–will be cheap, and will never get cheaper to put on screen. But the special effects that nowadays substitute for these thing have gotten cheaper and will get cheaper still, and will continue to crowd out the good “story” elements.

    You think I’m exaggerating? Everyone here loves to complain about how bad the Matrix sequels were. Yeah, but also remember how many box office records they shattered at the time. You laugh at the sequels now because it makes the pain go away for a little while. But Warner Bros. is still counting its opening weekend grosses, and they’re laughing (hard) at how well they rooked each and every one of you. And they know they can (and will) do it again with another stupid movie sold with a flashy trailer. Probably one that looks a lot like “Panic Attack.”

  22. cassander says:

    I don’t do it for a living, but I have work professionally in the arts. I mostly do musical theater, but I’ve worked with movie people, and the challenges you face are similar. Basically, labor is expensive, and movies are extremely labor intensive operations. You need to get literally dozens of people acting in concert at the same time, for long periods of time. Which means you also need a lot of people who aren’t doing anything but making sure everyone is doing the right thing, in the right clothes, at the right moment.

    Tech can make things less labor intensive, but it also expands what you can do. Take this one theater I’ve worked for. They used to have a traditional lighting system, meaning you have to fix each light with a color and angle, meaning you need dozens of lights for every show, and to program a complicated board to control them all. They just installed a sexy new automated system that has 6 moving, color changing lights that can do the work of dozens of fixed lights. But we still spend just as much time on the lights as we did before, we just do more complicated stuff with them moving around, shifting colors, and other stuff we could never do before.

    The same thing has gone on with Hollywood. We could make, say, Gone With the Wind today with a LOT fewer man hours than the original, you could also make it with more elaborate parties, a bigger burning of Atlanta, and more dynamic camera work for the same number of man hours.

    Of course, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of waste. Once numbers start ending in “illion” people lose all sense of perspective.

  23. Atarlost says:

    Here’s a question. What’s the price difference between a pixar or dreamworks computer animated film and a live action film?

    3d artists aren’t cheap, but you save on sets, cameramen, lighting operators. You never have to worry about the weather interrupting filming when you only have a location for a fixed amount of time. Does getting rid of all those highly paid union jobs pay the price of the 3d artists? Because it certainly sounds like not needing cinema grade cameras or lighting rigs would pay for a render farm these days.

  24. Sekundaari says:

    About Star Wreck: The fact that it’s a parody may or may not help with the costs. It’s actually very good, five thumbs up.

  25. Nalano says:

    Of course, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of waste. Once numbers start ending in “illion” people lose all sense of perspective.

    Pretty much. People are penny-smart and dollar-dumb, especially when it comes to policy decisions.

    Labor is expensive, yes, and unions are there to make sure that the folks are paid livable wages. I’m a union man, a computer technician, and while there’s plenty of reason to complain about my union – Short-sighted deals that screw new members, sticking to bad policy because it makes them seem strong, et cetera – I’ve worked non-union and union is infinitely preferable, if but for the simple reason that I like working within the confines of my job description on a regular day schedule without worrying about how I’m going to make rent and pay for all my education and training.

    Yeah, a cheap labor pool where everybody works on spec, wages are rock bottom and benefits nonexistent, you can get a lot of things done a lot easier, with less capital. Arguably, America was built on cheap labor. Of course, America’s also had a number of Gilded Ages followed by earth-shattering economic collapses.

    But they weren’t caused by unions. (@ Jonathan (17) & Bobby Archer (19)) GM wasn’t strangled to death by the UAW or the AFL-CIO. GM was strangled to death by its inability to predict the market for, effectively design or create fuel-efficient cars to compete with an import market. The market for cars hasn’t stagnated. Americans are driving more than ever. GM’s workers are simply the first place the company looks to “cut costs” to pay for its bad policies.

    After all, Honda pays their workers, too – decently, I might add – as do Toyota, Hyundai and Volkswagen. Germany, Korea and Japan have very good labor laws, pay their workers similarly and are by no means third world countries. They simply have the most fuel-efficient sedans on the road. Why, then, is the debate in America over how obstinate our unions are and not how short-sighted our CEOs are? Where’s our next Lee Iacocca?

  26. Shandrunn says:

    Re: The costs of lighting

    When Kevin Smith made Clerks, the location he filmed at was the store he worked at during the day. Filming was limited to the nighttime. The store lights were completely inadequate for filming in color, and lighting equipment was out of the question on a $27k budget.

    And that is the entire reason why Clerks is in black and white.

  27. RYard says:

    Alexander had me up to this point: “I assure you they aren’t hiring people ‘just because’ all of them have jobs that are fairly essential.”

    Oh yeah? Then explain all the producers!

  28. cassander says:

    Nalano> The big problems with unions tends not to be wages, but work rules. They often write into the contract that job X must be done by N employees, using Y machine, in Z hours. This means that the management is bound by contract not to innovate. They also tend to make it very hard to fire employees, even incompetent ones. Ronald Moore’s Galactica podcasts mention this sort of thing a lot in passing. One of the reasons they had so few planets in the show was because shooting in relatively rural areas was astoundingly expensive because of union work rules about things like off studio shoots, maximum work hours, and commuting.

    Atarlost> What I said about tech applies at least triple for animated stuff. Up could have been made to the standard of Toy Story for a lot less money, but instead it’s made a lot more complicated. Just look at, say, 2012. Lousy movie, but the disaster scenes are works of art. Since at least Independence Day we’ve seen plausible city destruction in real time, but in 2012 there’s a shot of most of LA falling into the sea with enough detail that you can see individual cars getting crushed. Totally unnecessary, but really cool.

  29. I’m in the middle of production on an independent feature. Our total budget is… well, I don’t know, but I know that the producer took out a loan for roughly $5,000 CAN to fund it.

    The original movie was $700 by a rough back-of-the-napkin estimation. This one’s being stepped up; all told, it’s being kept under $1,000.

    No, this doesn’t include such expenses as actors or anything; it’s a complete volunteer effort. But nor does that account for expenses such as gas (I and the producer drive four to five hours to the location) and catering, and of course the massive time investment – we all have day jobs.

    So, comparing an independent film to something professional is indeed comparing apples to oranges. I don’t know if that was Ibrahim’s point; if so, well, mostly ignore my post. But his post can also be read as, “There’s no way it was done for that little amount of money,” and to that I say, “Wake up.” Films like this are a wake-up slap to the face of Hollywood, where people make films to make money. Independent films are here, and we make films to make them. And frankly, you see fresher stuff out of people who are making films for the fun of it, for the love of the craft, for the art, than you see out of big studio-backed films. This is the mindset that brought us District 9 – and if something similar happens for Panic Attack!, then awesome.

    (I and my peers also think that there’s more to this story than is told; no matter how impressive the effects are, a studio doesn’t give someone a metric f—ton of money to make a movie. There’s no story here, unlike Alive in Joburg, just a generic disaster/invasion movie with really good effects. (And even I can pick out some compositioning errors on the first viewing.)

    I was going to go somewhere with this comment. I got lost along the way :S Sorry about that.

  30. Carra says:

    *Hollywood* movies cost tons of money.

    Some of the best movies are made with a tiny budget. Take a look at our own Dardenne brothers (l’enfant, le fils, la promesse,…)to see an example. A lot better than e.g. Transformers with a budget that wouldn’t even pay for Transformers afterparty.

  31. Thank you, Carra. You said what I think I was trying to much more elegantly :)

  32. Daimbert says:

    The problem with a lot of the tiny budget movies is that they’re made by people trying to be “artistic” … and so lose their entertainment along the way.

    I watch these things for entertainment. If I wanted political or philosophical commentary, I’d go out and read it …

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