A Realist Breakdown for Your Indie Film Budget

'Clerks'Credit: Miramax Films
It’s time to talk about our favorite subject in filmmaking: budgets. 

Budgeting for a film can be a headache, but it is necessary to set realistic intentions for your independent project. Otherwise, you’ll constantly be pumping money that isn’t yours into a project that isn’t going anywhere. It is a dangerous pit to fall into, and we want to be the voice of reason that gets you on the right track before $10,000 disappears from your bank account. 

Yes, there are huge benefits to having a larger budget, but most filmmakers who are making their first feature film start with a pretty small and tight budget. If you don’t know what you can and can’t do with a budget of $10,000, $500,000, or a million dollars, then don’t sweat it, because we are here to help you out.

Crimson Engine breaks down the budget ranges for you to know your limitations when making your first or tenth feature film. Check out the full video below.

$10,000 budget 

This is the budget that many new filmmakers start with. Realistically, the budget will be between $10,000 and $25,000. While it seems like a lot of money, you still have to be smart and cut corners so you don't spend a penny over. 

This budget range will get you actors, sound, cinematographers, and more that are not associated with SAG which means you can pay them around $50 a day. Since there isn’t enough money to purchase a script, the script that will be used is either your own or a friend’s, and it will all take place in one location. Locations used in the project will be the ones you can find for free like a friend’s house or a public park, if the city you’re shooting in doesn’t require a permit. 

Most films with a smaller budget like this will shoot the film within two weeks, and a good portion of the money will go to catering and one impressive location.

Since this is one of the first projects you will be doing, it is important to have other filmmakers who believe in your project help you out in whatever ways they can for free. Finding people who will do things for free will be the greatest benefit for your budget. Yes, asking for favors will extend the time it takes to finish the project, but you’ll be working within your budget. A lot of filmmakers do these types of low-budget feature films every year with some of them becoming breakout directors who are promised a bigger budget for their next project. 

Christopher Nolan's $6,000 budget film 'Following'Credit: Momentum Pictures

$100,000 budget 

Now we are getting into the real money. While this is a lot, you still should keep that part-time coffee job you have since you’ll still have to cut a few corners. All the blind spots you learned about in your first low-budget film will allow you to know what to expect and prepare for before writing that first check. 

Your cast and crew will now be associated with SAG, so ask for their rates for a feature project. You now have the budget to cast people from Broadway or TV that audiences recognize. The budget also allows you to rent cameras, lenses, and lights, but not at the full rate. Ask people who believe in your project for favors so you can get what you need without sacrificing your budget. 

Like many of your first films, you will probably still be the writer and director. Filming the project should only take about three weeks or 18 days, but the post-production process may take longer, especially if you are asking for favors. Hiring professional color graders, sound engineers, and editors at a reduced rate will cost a pretty penny, but you will have already figured out how much they will cost when putting your budget together at the start of your project.

'Eraserhead' was made with a budget of $100,000Credit: Libra Films

$500,000 to a million-dollar budget

When you have a budget of $500,000 to a million dollars, you are just paying for what you need. This is about the time you can step away from your part-time job and pay yourself as well as cast and crew. 

If you still want to direct the film, then you totally can, but you can also hire a director. You can also pay for a casting director to handle all of the SAG stuff while you get in contact with editors, cinematographers, and a producer. You don’t have to cut corners at this stage, but there are still some limitations. The project will still be bare bones, which means little to no visual effects. The cast may still be full of new and hungry actors, but you can cast one major rising star. 

At this stage, you should be able to pay for what you need rather than ask for favors. Paying for what is needed will get the feature film finished faster. It is important to remember all of the tips and tricks you learned with your previous budgets to save some money, but anything you spend should be reflected in the final project. 

'Cube' was made with a budget of $375,000 Credit: Trimark Pictures

No matter what your budget is, you can make a great feature film. Sure, the acting may be a little rough at times, but the project can show the potential you have as a feature great filmmaker. Limitations will always be present, but it is how you approach these limitations creatively and uniquely that will showcase your skills as a filmmaker. 

Do you have tips for those $10,000 to $500,000 budgets? Let us know what they are in the comments below!      

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1 Comment

Here's a look at how we made an action film for $2000.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHP4DthkCvg

And here's the actual movie with around 1.5 million views on YouTube. To date, the movie has made $7000 through ad revenue.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jZd-J7Ucn-c

September 8, 2021 at 10:23AM

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Chris Tempel
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