For the next few Industry 101s, I’ll be delving into the world of film budgeting to discuss where all the money actually goes. I’ll also be taking a look at other things, such as cost-cutting measures and marketing blitzes in future articles in the series.
I want to start with a very general breakdown of a film budget to give you an idea of how the average Hollywood blockbuster spends it money. But, first, a pretty big disclaimer... Film budgets are a very fluid thing. Depending on the type of film being made, costs can be distributed in a variety of different ways. For example, a small indie film will usually pay its actors scale (the lowest amount possible based on SAG regulations), which allows them to put more money into hard production costs. I’m going to use the budget breakdown for a much larger film, Spiderman 2, partially because the numbers were so readily available from Guardian, but also because it's very easy to follow.
Films always incur costs before they even go into production. These begin with the script. Typically, a writer makes somewhere around 5% of the film's budget for writing and developing the screenplay. If there’s more than one writer, the studio usually tries to distribute that 5% amongst them. But, like all things, that 5% isn’t a hard figure and can vary from film to film. In the case of Spiderman 2, $10 million was spent on the script and its development. Sony also had to pony up about $20 million for the licensing to the webslinger from Marvel. So, the film’s budget was already at $30 million before filming even began.
But, the major costs of a big summer flick like this are almost always going to be associated with the salaries of the cast and major crew. Director Sam Raimi received an upfront payout of $10 million, while the producers made an estimated $15 million. The cast was paid about $30 million, with Tobey Maguire getting a huge payday of $17 million for the sequel. Keep in mind these figures don’t take into account escalators and backend deals written into all of their contracts. Add that all up and you have about $55 million dollars of the budget going to cast and above-the-line crew. For those of you that don’t know, above-the-line refers to costs are incurred before filming begins. Below-the-line refers to expenditures incurred during actual filming (basically the hard production costs), which can include non-star roles, catering, grips, locations, equipment, make-up artists, cinematographer, etc. The below-the-line budget for Spiderman 2 was $45 million. The everyday costs for a huge production are usually enormous. You’re talking about hundreds, or sometimes even thousands, of people being employed, most of which you not only have to pay but feed as well. In total, Spiderman 2 spent about $100 million on the actual production itself.
Finally, you have post-production. Spiderman 2 was heavily effects driven, which showed as they shelled out $65 million for special effects. The film's score and soundtrack came in around $5 million. All in all, $70 million was spent on the film’s post-production.
For those of you keeping score, this adds up to a budget of $200 million dollars. This number doesn’t include other major costs such as marketing and distribution. Those figures are never included in the actual budget, but I’ll talk about them in a future article. As you can see, movie making can be an extremely expensive business. Feel free to start up a discussion or ask any questions below.