Filmmaker Michael Moore told CBS News last year that the cost of a typical documentary film is “about $35,000 to $50,000 in salary [depending on whether it is made for entertainment or for education]. And the rest of the expenses are usually about the same.” (Though he had to change his answer, when asked the same question a couple weeks later). The American Film Institute states the median film production budget for a film produced from 2009 to 2012 was $18 million, which, adjusted for inflation, would make this the 14th year that it has been the highest, though it’s always been in a different order to the other years — so this might not be accurate.
But the number is also higher than it has been in recent years — so maybe it’s all a matter of how you count.
A new study from the American Film Institute and the University of Southern California finds that film production costs have doubled over the last 15 years, from $5.2 billion (adjusted for inflation) to $18.6 billion between 1999 and 2008 — the period in which the average film was a hit and earned hundreds of millions of dollars. (The study didn’t list how much each film cost, but it did say that at that time, an Oscar-winning film went for $6.1 million.)
Of course, if you include everything else you’ll wind up with quite a different figure, but for the purposes of the chart above, I’ve been using the highest-earning films in order to illustrate what I mean about the relative cost of producing a feature film. A number of years ago, I said there was a limit on how much you could make a film because it would be too expensive. But it turns out the total cost of producing a feature film is actually higher than it’s ever been before — and there’s no clear limit on how high it could go.
The chart below is based partly on an earlier version posted at Slate. It’s based partly on a chart from the study cited above, where the number of hits from 2007 to 2010, where there were the biggest number of movies being made, was $35,000, which means that for the first time since 2004, $35,000 has more than doubled. (It’s slightly different if you consider how much you’d need to make a movie for entertainment.)
It also comes from the 2014 National Association of Theatre Owners report, which noted that the average cost of a feature film to
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