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35mm Feature Budget Question

Published : 26th Feb. 2008

A director friend is trying to raise some finance to shoot a feature - i haven't read the script yet, but he asked me if i could give him a rough ball park on the costs of a basic lighting, camera and film stock package for a 4 week shoot, so that he has an idea of costs.

I have never budgeted these things before so wondered if anyone had any experience they could share with me on this front - i am going to make my own enquiries and i know its a tough one without seeing the script as its going to add all sorts of things to the list but the script is a narrative no action movie based in New York

Cheers

Matthew Woolf
NYC DP
917 399 9565


>>>A director friend is trying to raise some finance to shoot a feature

Matthew,

Script aside, it really depends on what kind of a director he is. If he's the kind of director that's never satisfied, and likes to micro-manage everything, then he can take all day on one small setup and cost the project thousands of unnecessary dollars "because the DP couldn't get the light quite right."

If he's the type that only needs the DP to say "I think I'm ready", gets a quick peek at the setup and likes it, has done the walk-thru with everyone while the DP was setting up, and has full trust in his cast and crew's knowledge of the scene and the script, and doesn't roll film until everyone is in position and ready, then he's probably more likely to shoot on a very tight budget and actually finish it.

Believe it or not, we managed to produce an entire 82 minute action 35mm feature film for $10,000 (called Hunting Dragonflies - http://huntingdragonflies.com [the new version of the website will be up in a few days, which has more info]).

Before shooting, we managed to cut upfront costs by using recans; we were going for a "gritty western" look, so it worked quite well for our purposes. Other ways we saved money were to own our own cameras (we own two Konvas 1M's - MOS cameras, but we were shooting an action film, which was not dialogue driven.

See http://konvas.org for more info on the Konvas). We shot at a 2:1 ratio, and did our homework on everything. Oh - I personally loaded every magazine myself. BTW: The non-union actors worked for food and a copy of the DVD.

Tell your friend to contact me off-list if he is interested and wants a few pointers. But I can tell you this - it was some of the hardest work I've ever done in my life.

I've read all sorts of "how-to make a 35mm feature film" plans that have ranged from $30,000 to $300,000 for the cost of camera, lighting, and film - and not a one took into consideration that the director was the main key to making the movie on any given budget...

Peace,
---
Adam Frey
Producer
Crimson Chain Productions
http://crimsonchainproductions.com


Matthew Woolf wrote:

>>>he asked me if i could give him a rough ball park on the costs of a >>basic lighting, camera and film stock package for a 4 week shoot, so >>that he has an idea of costs.

I've done this a few times. Years ago the magic number was $250,000. Many people in the LA area were renting old warehouses and shooting 18 to 24 day features in 35mm and were fairly well guaranteed of making their money back.

A lot of these films were dogs that never showed here but were successfully sold to over seas distributors. Foreign countries, even those that don't appear to like us very much, love American films. They like seeing American cars, houses and Americans dressed in American clothing. Some action required. Fist fighting is cheaper then car crashes.

Equipment such as cameras and lighting can be had for some really great deals. Figure an older camera like a BL4 package can be rented for $2000 a week. OK, sometimes you'll have to cover it with a furniture blanket to please the sound whiner. One note- don't cheap out with the sound person-his/her work is very important and can save you thousands later on. That said, you can get crews rather easily BUT the less you pay them the more your project will seem the a workshop or film school project.

The single most expensive element, other than famous actors, is film. If you purchase it new figure a ball park figure of about $70,000 for purchase and processing followed with the same lab doing video rushes. (That would for a film shooting 4000 feet a day for 24 days) What you do with it after that depends on other factors. If you plan to market it to over seas distributors then you will probably have to offer 35mm masters to conform with the various languages. If the movie is for video release only then shoot Super 16. One of the biggest savings, besides free actors and crew, is the use of recanned film- the cost of which varies with stock type and age. Lab costs are pretty much a given. They will make the most money on your project... before the editing starts.

I might add that the cost of a digital intermediate has been coming down soooo if you shoot 3 perf then there are some extra savings to be made. Talk to a lab. They can show you the best path to a "successful" print. They want you to call.

I just read Adam Frey's response which is very good. He earns praise for a movie shot for $10,000. Many people here can tell you great stories about their projects and how much they cost. One thing I was going to mention but Adam beat me to it. The lower the budget the harder the work. AND you've got to work fast. Bad weather can be deadly.

Script, script and script. Those three things will determine more then anything else what your final cost will be. One simple little line can cost thousands. OK, add to that the director.

Edwin Myers, Atlanta DP


>>if you shoot 3 perf then there are some extra savings to be made.

So what is the percentage savings of 3 perf over 4perf - 25% or am I being thick.

Cheers

Matthew Woolf
NYC DP


>>>so what is the percentage savings of 3 perf over 4perf - 25% or am i >>being thick

No, you're being careful. Yes, 25% saving on film stock and processing-but, those 3 perf cameras are not going to be as affordable as a nice old Arri BL. Also, 3 perf doesn't easily go to a print. David Mullen or Dominic Case can explain that route better than I. A DI is a wonderful thing- and can make good 16 look like 35.

Also, talk to Kodak. They sometimes run deals on stocks slightly outdated or about to be discontinued.

Another tip- Consider tungsten instead of any HMIs.

Good luck with this. Have a good experience. Please tell us how it goes...if it happens...and how much it cost.

Edwin Myers


Let's assume this is a small budget but not micro budget feature. It's just a supposition but here goes:

This supposes a 4-week feature, which means you can get a nominal 10-day month rental charge for gear at most houses. Possibly 8-day after discounts. This also supposes that you won't be working with a Lowell light kit and an Arri 2C, but instead some decent but not-too-flashy gear.

$10K gets you a nice camera kit. Figure a Moviecam Compact with a set of primes and a zoom, videotap, support, etc. Nothing fancy, but it does the trick.

$20K gets you a well-stocked 5-ton grip/electric truck with some room for some HMIs, kinos, distro and a dolly.

$75K gets you a 10:1 shooting ratio (figuring about 100 page script), including stock purchase, developing and dailies transfer.

That's all you asked about, but one might want to consider some other necessities, such as sound ($5K), a camera truck, art department, production, hair & makeup, food, grips, electrics, SAG actors, script, insurance and a bunch more.

A producer told me this rule of thumb years ago that I think still applies : Divide your available budget into thirds. One third goes to production costs, one third goes to post-production costs, and the final third goes to people.

If you are a decent human being, that last one includes everybody. If you're an asshole it means 90% for a name talent on set for a week and 10% for everybody else.

The same producer told me how he was once asked to take a $1 million feature budget and rework it for a $10 million budget. He said he added a zero to the end of every line item.

Mitch Gross
NYC DP/TD
Abel Cine Tech


>>>so what is the percentage savings of 3 perf over 4perf - 25% or am I >>being thick

It saves you a little up front in buying the film (roughly 25%), a little on the backend in processing the film (roughly 25%), and it saves you time in loading magazines (with a 1000ft load, you can shoot roughly 12 and a half minutes of film versus 4-perf, which would only give you about 10 minutes. A quick rough estimate: 100ft of 35mm equals one minute at 24fps...

3-perf doesn't save money in telecine, which is a nice chunk of change. The telecine transfers are usually time based per video minute, so it wouldn't matter if you were shooting 4-perf, 3-perf, or even 2-perf. Also, you have to find a lab that does 3-perf.

A negative aspect of 3-perf is that if your DP is rushed and forgets to check the gate very often or doesn't see other problems while shooting, then 3-perf could give you some issues over 4-perf, since a hair/boom/other object may get into the frame by a smidgeon or more, which could potentially ruin a shot. In post processing 4-perf, you can play around with moving the frame up and down, and possibly save the shot.

With 3-perf, your only alternative is to zoom in and crop, which may make things seem a little out of focus. Which may make you want to go back out and re-shoot something, which may lead to excessive money expenditure....

Another alternative, which saves even more money on the negatives, is 2-perf, but again - you have to find a specialty lab that deals with 2-perf.

I had other thoughts on this, but my brain isn't working enough right now (I have recently been introduced to fatherhood, and although it is the greatest feeling in the world, it is QUITE tiring.

Peace,
---
Adam Frey
Producer
Crimson Chain Productions
http://crimsonchainproductions.com


The film budget is 25% less; processing is 25% less; video dailies are the same as 4 perf as is scanning.

Allan Levine
Matchframe Digital Intermediate
1807 1/2 Victory Blvd.
Glendale, California 91201
Tel: 818 240.6404
Cel: 818 205.4792
www.hwdintermediate.com


>>>Also, you have to find a lab that does 3-perf.

All modern telecines handle 3 perf. My guess is that there are very few telecine houses that don't handle it, particularly because in some production circles - such as series television - it's now the standard format, 4 perf being the "oddball". As for the lab, it's 35mm film. No different than 4 perf, 2 perf, anamorphic, Vistavision or any other 35mm shooting format.

>>>A negative aspect of 3-perf is that if your DP is rushed and forgets to >>check the gate...then 3-perf could give you some issues over 4-perf, >>since a hair/boom/other object may get into the frame by a smidgeon >>or more, which could potentially ruin a shot.

Personally, I think that's kind of insulting to directors of photography, who are not the ones who check the gate. That is an AC's responsibility. Not to mention that professional crews don't "forget" something like checking the gate, whether the AD calls it or not. As for the issue you mention, it's no more "dangerous" than shooting 16mm. When you shoot film, you occasionally get a hair in the gate. That's the nature of the medium. Every medium has its own issues: with video you can have dropouts, with digital video you can have corruption in the data stream, and with files you can have corrupted frames. Nothing is perfect.

>>>With 3-perf, your only alternative is to zoom in and crop, which may >>make things seem a little out of focus. Which may make you want to >>go back out and re-shoot something, which may lead to excessive >>money expenditure....

Ahh, now I see the Producer title on your signature. That explains it. Seriously, blowups to get rid of a slightly dipping mic boom are usually pretty minimal, and the visual impact of this when using either optical or digital blow-up techniques is equally as minimal.

>>Another alternative, which saves even more money on the negatives, is >>2-perf, but again - you have to find a specialty lab that deals with 2-perf.

Once again, it doesn't take a "specialty lab." As far as the lab is concerned, it's 35mm. As far as telecine is concerned, any Spirit or Vialta telecine can already handle 2 perf. The only issue is setting up the keycode reader properly.

Mike Most
Chief Technologist
Cineworks Digital Studios
Miami, Fl.


Never meant to insult anyone Mike, especially not any DP's.

I was figuring for a "lower-budget" feature (I was assuming he was asking about a lower budget, because a larger budget probably wouldn't need to ask the "how much to shoot 35mm" question). If it is less than $150,000, then it's pretty low when using 35mm, no matter if it's 4-perf or 3-perf (at this point, we're talking a few thousand). So, lower budget probably means a 3-5 crew shoot, including the director, and probably all of them would be Non-Union - which means bare essentials, and probably no AC's. This means the DP is getting rushed and kicked and screamed at throughout the making of the film (all figuratively speaking, of course). If you work at a digital transfer house, then you probably deal with a lot of bigger budget shoots, and probably don't get wrapped up too often in the smaller budget films.

I'll be honest and say I'm not as up to date as I'd like to be with the 35mm market this year - we haven't shot any 35mm in the past 8 months (we've been shooting a lot of HD), and I know a lot of labs do their own telecine work as well (which is why I often say "lab" when talking about transfers).

Most facilities that do video transfers have been upgrading their setups over the past few years to stay in business, but last time I asked my local film lab (Colorlab) they were still doing only 4-perf on the telecine. I may be mistaken (please correct me if I'm wrong), but I thought Bonolabs, who use a Cineglyph, were also doing only 4-perf, but can't remember for certain and they may well be doing 3 or 2 perf. But I'm saying that if both of my local labs only transfer 4-perf, then 3-perf becomes a specialty (at least to me), which means I can't be there when the lab does the transfer, which means I have to leave my footage to be transferred by someone not involved in the project. I've done this before with varying results - but it's probably not the transfer tech's fault if he hasn't a clue of the goal and doesn't hand me exactly what I wanted.

Also, saying 4-perf is an "oddball" doesn't make sense to me – I though most transfer houses worked with 4-perf anamorphically shot film, or am I behind the times? Please don't tell me I need to throw away my anamorphic lenses and buy a 3-perf camera...

I said I was tired yesterday, and forgot to mention this :

Saving money up front with 3-perf doesn't take into consideration the back-end costs of film, since anything shot 3-perf should still be going through an optical or digital transfer to deliver standard 4-perf prints for most film festivals/theatrical distributions (not saying there aren't any 3-perf projectors, just saying you have a wider market with 4-perf). If you plan on doing a film-out, then once you add those transfer costs in, you will probably go well past your 25% savings on the 4-perf.

I think we need more info about where the person wants to take the film (straight to video, back out to film, 2k/4k for SFX work, etc) before giving any more advice...

Peace,
---
Adam Frey
Producer
Crimson Chain Productions
http://crimsonchainproductions.com


class="style9">>>...last time I asked my local film lab (Colorlab) they were still doing >>only 4-perf on the telecine. I may be mistaken (please correct me if I'm >>wrong), but I thought Bonolabs, who use a Cineglyph, were also doing >>only 4- perf

Fair enough. But I think if you added up all existing facilities, you'd likely find that it's the exception rather than the rule.

class="style9">>>If you work at a digital transfer house, then you probably deal with a lot >>of bigger budget shoots, and probably don't get wrapped up too >>often in the smaller budget films.

Au contraire. We do an awful lot of them. And sometimes we do run into the problems you describe.

class="style9">>>Also, saying 4-perf is an "oddball" doesn't make sense to me - I though >>most transfer houses worked with 4-perf an amorphically shot film, or >>am I behind the times?

Well, if you're shooting anamorphic, then you're 4 perf by definition. But I think I did say that my comments were related to television, where there is very little shooting of 4 perf anymore. It should also be pointed out, however, that with the rapid growth of DI finishing, 3 perf has become more popular than you might think for feature work as well, particularly when the shooting format is S35 for anamorphic release, with an intended DI finishing path.

class="style9">>>Saving money up front with 3-perf doesn't take into consideration the >>back-end costs of film, since anything shot 3-perf should still be going >>through an optical or digital transfer to deliver standard 4-perf prints

Absolutely true. I wish more people would realize this.

class="style9">>>I think we need more info about where the person wants to take the >>film (straight to video, back out to film, 2k/4k for SFX work, etc) before >>giving any more advice...

Also absolutely true.

Mike Most
Chief Technologist
Cineworks Digital Studios
Miami, Fl.


35mm Anamorphic is also very unforgiving when it comes to the gate (no "safety area").

Same with 65mm, IMAX, Vistavision, etc.

There can be no excuse for an AC not checking the gate. It's part of the job. It only takes a few seconds, and I am often finished checking before the AD can call it.

Doug Hart
1AC, NYC


class="style9">>>35mm Anamorphic is also very unforgiving when it comes to the gate >>(no "safety area").

Wait until the S35 2-perf revival heats up, then you can get excellent gate flares across half the frame as well, just like in 16mm...

Tim Sassoon
SFD vfx & creative post
Santa Monica, CA


Mike Most Chief Technologist writes :

class="style9">>>As far as telecine is concerned, any Spirit or Vialta telecine can already >>handle 2 perf. The only issue is setting up the keycode reader properly.

Yes, that is the point: get properly done FLeX lists out of the
telecine (FLeX stores the Video-TC/Keycode links established while transferring the negative).

Then, whatever the 4 3 2 Perf35mm or Super16 origination, you can mix the tapes on any NLE by simply opening a video project ignoring Keycodes. Once the editing is done, the NLE will just generate a standard Video-EDL (no more negative cut lists to spit out).

Drop that EDL plus the FleX lists into Edilite-2*.

Whatever the original film format __and whatever the video/data format__, Edilite will generate pull and cut lists handling direct and reverse keycodes (short ends), motion effects, fade-ins fade-outs, etc.

A current request :

"I want to transfer 4Perf and 3Perf originals (or 4Perf and 2Perf) to HD (at 24fps) while making a down-conversion to SD at 30. I will Edit in SD and generate a 30fps EDL in which I will have a lot of M2s (motion effects). Then I want my Discreet logic (Autodesk) to frame-accurately conform my
24fps HD tapes to that 30 EDL. Alternately I want to be able to retransfer my negatives to 2K or 4K DPXs and still be able to reconform the results... Nightmare you say?" NO, Edilite!

--JP

* Edilite-2 is an Aaton software written to ease adoption of three and two perf cinematography, e.g. the coming Penelope camera.

--------
Jean-Pierre Beauviala/Aaton



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