March 4, 2016

Shooting Ratios, From Hitchcock to 'Fury Road' to 'Primer' (and What They Mean to You)

The Birds
The "shooting ratio" of a movie is the mathematical relationship between the total hours of footage shot and the eventual runtime of the film.

The shooting ratio is one of the most important decisions a production can make. This is doubly true for an independent film with a low budget, like Shane Carruth's 2004 indie Primer. According to this graphic from our good friend Vashi Nedomansky via his blog, Vashi Visuals, the film had a ratio of 1:04 to 1, which means that for a film with a running time of 77 minutes, 1.3 hours (78 min) of footage was exposed. This means that the production used almost all of the footage it shot. 

Shooting Ratios of Films from Fury Road to Primer Vashi Visuals No Film School
Credit: Vashi Visuals

Since the DSLR revolution, shooting ratio has become less and less of a pressing concern for some filmmakers. The reason is simple: according to Kodak, as of February 1, 2016, a 1000' roll of KODAK VISION3 250D Color Negative Film 5207 costs $769.45; 1000' of 35mm stock, exposed at 24fps will give a filmmaker about 11 minutes and 6 seconds of footage (this online calculator is a useful tool for various formats and frames per second). A 400' of the equivalent Kodak stock in 16mm costs considerably less ($176.08) and yields the same amount of footage. Compare this to high-end digital video; for less than $100 you can buy an SD card that can be used continuously (the cost here is in storage increments rather than stock).

But shooting ratio is also determined by factors other than film stock and data storage. There are the lab fees, rental fees, day rates for the cast and crew, and everything down to craft services and beyond. Another consideration for movies shot on film is that, the lower the budget, the greater the percentage of that budget will be spent on film stock. On a film like Primerwhose initial production budget was $7,000, if 77 minutes were exposed, then about 7 rolls of 400' 16mm stock (exposed as Super 16) would have cost, in 2002 prices, in the ballpark of $135 a piece. That means the film spent about 13% of its budget on film stock. This worlds apart from a film like Fury Road, which cost about $150 million. A production shooting on film stock does have cheaper options, though, such as short ends and recans, which, though risky because they're secondhand, can drastically lower the cost.

"Alfred Hitchcock was known to have a 3:1 ratio so he could control the edit by leaving the studio with no other options."

According to Vashi: "In the Golden Age of Hollywood (1930-1959), it was normal to have a 10:1 ratio. A 90 minute feature film would have have shot roughly 25 hours of film. Certain directors like Alfred Hitchcock were known to have a 3:1 ratio so he could control the edit by leaving the studio no other options."

Hitchcock meticulously storyboarded his films before he shot them; there was no way for the studio to come in and change a film that had only one way to be edited. On the other end, a director like Stanley Kubrick was famous for his outsized ratios, sometimes shooting upwards of 80 takes. And effects-heavy movies like Fury Road will always, by necessity, have bigger ratios. 

Birds Storyboard Alfred Hitchcock NFS

Shooting ratio is ultimately a big decision not only because it affects the budget, but also because it impacts the entire style of production. On a film with a ratio of 2:1, the amount of mistakes that can be made are significantly less than a film with a shooting ratio like Apocalypse Nowwhich clocks in at 95:1.

The more you know about shooting ratios, the better you'll be able to plan your movie.      

Your Comment

11 Comments

Great article. I think it's very important to remember that shooting ratio depends enormously on whether you're shooting with multiple cameras or not. For example, I'm guessing a lot of the high shooting ratio for Mad Max: Fury Road is due to many cameras in different positions simultaneously shooting the same stunt. Which is terrific, but different from having many more whole scenes shot, or many takes of each shot in a single scene. I guess what I'm saying is that "shooting ratio" is too coarse a measure to really understand exactly what the editor has to work with. But still a fun and useful number to look at!

March 4, 2016 at 4:46PM, Edited March 4, 4:48PM

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Benjamin Reichman
Post Supervisor/AE/Editor
343

Great feedback; that's really helpful. Much appreciated!

March 4, 2016 at 4:50PM, Edited March 4, 4:51PM

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Justin Morrow
Writer
Writer/Director

Very true - they had tons of cameras running for the bigger set pieces on Fury Road (and well, the movie is one big set piece), where as Gone Girl is mostly people talking. I think it's safe to say Fincher "overshot" is movie to a much stronger degree than Miller, though the shooting ratio would indicate otherwise.

March 4, 2016 at 7:06PM

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This is simply the absolute truth.

March 7, 2016 at 10:15AM

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David R. Falzarano
Director / Writer / Editor
1204

Highly unlikely that Primer actually did have such shooting ratio.
Even if they did use practically everything they shot, the leading and trailing time of all the shots (slate to real action, and cut! to camera off) would amount to more than a minute...

March 6, 2016 at 4:23AM, Edited March 6, 4:23AM

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Ezi Seel
565

Don't forget the cost of processing film and then having it scanned to create a DI to edit with.

March 6, 2016 at 7:35PM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
30157

Yes it is a big decision indeed. It really depends very much on the count of cameras we are using and the type.

March 7, 2016 at 1:58PM

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Bluedart Parcels
Director of Photography, BlueDart Parcels
99

I am wondering if any filmmakers out there have experimented with artificially limiting shooting ratio to simulate a filmmaking experience with video that has limitations more similar to film? As in, "we only have X amount of cards or gigabytes, and we aren't going to dump them once they're full." I had considered doing this before, but have never actually committed to it. Some films might blossom under such pressures.

March 8, 2016 at 6:46PM

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Ryq
178

If you limited your takes it would have the same effect. Only allow three takes per scene, etc. It would certainly speed up the shooting and editing and make everyone more careful in their work.

March 12, 2016 at 3:48AM

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Ryan Gudmunson
Recreational Filmmaker
751

Depending on what you're shooting, this might actually be a necessary consideration in your budget. Raw (or lightly compressed) video takes up a lot of space, and hard drives can be expensive, once you factor in backups, etc. Plus, dumping rushes can take time if you don't have a DIT, and if you're not able to backup on location (e.g. wildlife films, some documentaries, etc) you might run out of card space very quickly.

October 27, 2017 at 7:20AM, Edited October 27, 7:20AM

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Rory Yeung
Filmmaker & NFTS Student
81

Would be interesting if there were some documentary ratios thrown in there too.

March 15, 2017 at 10:14AM

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Tom Lim
96