How much do “low” and “micro” budget films cost?

In November I am leading (along with James Cotton) a four-month part-time programme around micro-budget feature films. I want to ensure we’re teaching what is actually happening in the industry today, rather than outdated ideas or common misconceptions. So, being the data-driven fiend that I am, I have performed a number of studies into the topic.

Today I’m sharing some of the results from a survey I conducted with 542 film industry business professionals who have attended Cannes, AFM or Berlin in the past five years.

(If you would like to join us on the course then there are still a few tickets available. The early bird discount ends at the end of the week so be quick. The line-up of speakers is really strong (and growing!) and we’re proud of the program the participants will complete. You can find out more at microbudgetmentor.com)

In summary…

  • Across 542 film professionals, $396,000 was deemed the maximum budget for a “micro-budget” film
  • The maximum budget for “low budget” films was $2.1million
  • Film professionals in Africa feel that a film must be budgeted at least $3.4 million to be commercially viable
  • The figure for film professionals in South America was just $1.2 million

What is a “micro-budget” film?

Currently in the UK, many people will regard £150,000 ($245,000) as the cutoff for a film to be classed as ‘micro-budget”. This is in large part down to the fact that £150k is the maximum budget for a film to take advantage of the SEIS tax scheme (which protects ~78% of investors’ money).  Film London’s Microwave “micro-budget” scheme caps budgets at £150,000 ($245,000) and Creative England’s iFeatures is a “low budget” scheme at £350,000 ($573,000).

I asked 542 film industry business professionals “In your opinion, what is the maximum budget for a film to still be classified as micro-budget?” The average was $396,000 (£243,000).

What is a “low budget” film?

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New film data visulisation tool – FilmTimeMachine.com

As anyone who regularly reads my blog knows, I’m passionate about film data. The numbers behind our industry tell us a great deal about who we are, what we make and what audiences are watching.

So today I’m really proud to be launching a fun, free online tool which visualises film data through the years: FilmTimeMachine.com.

See it in action

The FilmTimeMachine contains some data my blog readers will be familiar with and also as-yet-unpublished data.  Datasets include…

Most hired directors

Amongst the new data sources I created for the FilmTimeMachine is ‘Most Hired Directors’ for all films which grossed at least one dollar in the US box office between 2004 and 2013  (4,202 films in total).

You can view the interactive version at filmtimemachine.com/most-hired-directors

Director
Number of films (2004-13)
Tyler Perry14
Steven Soderbergh11
Woody Allen10
Clint Eastwood8
Michael Winterbottom8
Michel Gondry8
Priyadarshan8
Richard Linklater7
Lasse Hallstršm7
Steven Spielberg7
Franois Ozon7
Ridley Scott7
Jay Duplass7
Mark Duplass7
Stephen Frears7
Ethan Coen7
Joel Coen7
David Gordon Green7
Marc Forster7
Robert Rodriguez7
Dennis Dugan7

Wanna see more?

I’m keen to hear what other types of film data people want to see represented with this tool so drop me a line.

Epilogue

I’m grateful to Chris for his mad coding skillz, Dave for his mesmerising logo and to Sheri whose Facebook post about music industry trends sparked the initial idea.

What percentage of a UK film crew is female?

Last month, I published a report into what percentage of crews on the top US grossing films of the past 20 years are women.  I found that, on average, women made up only 23% of a typical film crew and in some jobs such as cinematography and composing, it was around 2%.

The results were reported widely and sparked a healthy debate about the causes and what, if anything, should be done.  One consequence was that I was asked by a number of people what the situation is in the UK.

Download the full UK report now, for free. This project was far too large to fit into a single blog post, so I’ve written it up as a PDF report. It spans 17 pages and breaks down the results in much more detail. The report is free and all you need to do to get it is sign up to my e-mail list.

I send out one e-mail every week or fortnight, to highlight new articles on this blog around film data and statistics. You can unsubscribe at any time, I won’t sell or pass on your email address, there’s no spam… it’s just me.

The UK results in summary

I studied 2,336 UK films to assess the gender of their crews.  In summary…

  • Between 2009-13, women made up 26.2% of crew members on British films.
  • This compares favourably with top US films over the same period (22.2%)
  • Of all the departments, the Transportation department is the most male, with only 7.7% women.
  • The only departments to have a majority of women are Make-up, Casting, Costume and Production.
  • Visual Effects is the largest department on most major movies and yet only has 16.5% women.
  • 6.4% of composers on UK films were women.
  • 14% of UK films had a female director, compared with 3% of top US films.
  • The percentage of women on British films has barely changed in the past five years.

On average, women make up 26% of crews on UK films

The only departments which have a majority of women are make-up, Costume / Wardrobe, Casting and Production.

Arguably, the roles which have the largest impact on the final story are writers, producers and directors.  Therefore, the fact that women only account for 15%, 27% and 14% respectively must have an effect on the representation of female issues and viewpoints on-screen.  You can see my research into whether audiences care about the gender of the key creative roles here stephenfollows.com/do-women-prefer-films-made-by-female-filmmakers

Has UK female representation changed over time?

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How to get hired in Film and TV

ShortRoundTo many, working in the film and television industry can sound a little nutty. Many job advertisements seem to read…

Compliant drone needed to work long hours for low pay under unpleasant conditions. Must be willing to drop everything at short notice in return for no job security, no pension and fewer than one lunch break per day. Must own a car and don’t bother applying unless you know someone who already works here.

And yet there are no shortage of new entrants. The number of media students has increased dramatically in recent years and the UK film industry is employing more people than it has in a very long time, possibly ever. The end result is that most industry professionals get asked on a regular basis “How can I get into the film/TV industry?”

To answer this I performed two surveys – one with 1,235 international film professionals and the other with thecallsheet.co.uk’s audience of UK television and film employers.

In summary;

  • Facebook is the most popular place for employers to post new vacancies
  • Having a driving licence is much more useful than a university degree
  • On average, UK employers receive 60 applications for each job.
  • Only 46% of those applicants meet the job requirements
  • Just under half of all film and television employers think that new entrants should work for free
  • When asked ‘What makes a perfect CV?’ 67% of employers used the words “short” or “concise”

Where can I find a job?

It would take a few blog posts to go through all the ways you could start your career in film or television so for now I will stick to the job boards.  The most commonly used site for new film and TV jobs is… Facebook!

I have previously analysed a year’s worth of jobs on Shooting People, which would be worth reading if you’re looking for film work.

Should you work for free?

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How many BFI funding applications are successful?

Today’s article contains new data that the BFI have released to me.  Following research I carried out about UK Film Council / BFI funding of short films, I wondered what the success rate was for feature film funding applications and put in an enquiry.

The National Lottery is the second largest source of public funding for films in the UK, and in 2012/13 totalled £65.4 million.  (Incidentally, the largest source is HMRC, who gave £206 million via the UK film tax relief). The vast majority of Lottery money is awarded by the BFI, and filmmakers are invited to apply for grants within development, production and distribution strands.

In summary…

  • In the past three years, the BFI has received 2,505 applications for funding.
  • Of those, 720 were successful, equating to 29% of applications.
  • Almost half of all applications to the BFI for development funding in 2012/13 were successful.
  • In an average year, the BFI receives 353 applications for development funding, 403 for production funding and 79 seeking support for distribution.

Development funding

In the graph above, the numbers for ‘applications received’ include the few which were later withdrawn. The figures for development applications cover film development, pilots, pre-production, supplementary funding applications and awards.

Between 2012/13 and 2013/14 the number of applications fell by 16%, leading to a higher overall success rate for the remaining applications.

Production funding

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Who dominates UK film distribution?

It is becoming ever easier to make a feature film, thanks in large part to new technology which is cheaper and more accessible. We are currently in a boom for feature film production, with more films made in the UK last year than ever before. However, the size of movie audiences and the rate at which we watch films is not growing at the same speed.  This means the ‘pressure point’ in the filmmaking process has shifted from “Will I get it made?” to “Will anyone see it?”

I’m going to spend some time over the next few months looking at the situation UK filmmakers face when trying to get their film sold and seen by audiences.  First up, let’s take a look at who is actually distributing feature films in the UK.  In summary…

  • There were 698 films released in cinemas in the UK and Ireland in 2013
  • The number of  film and video distributors has increased by 32% since 1996
  • In 2013, there were 470 companies focused on film and video distribution in the UK, only 127 of whom actually released a film in UK cinemas that year
  • The top 10 distributors account for 97% of the box office revenue
  • Just three companies (StudioCanal, eOne and Entertainment) control half of all box office income made on UK independent films.

More films in cinemas than ever before

The number of films being released in the UK and Ireland has doubled in the past 15 years.  Last year, there were almost 700 films shown in cinemas in the UK and Republic of Ireland.

And more distribution companies, too

Read more »

What percentage of a film crew is female?

Today I am releasing the results of a long-term project. For a while, I’ve been looking at the gender of film crew members over the past 20 years.

The results are pretty shocking, and should hopefully serve as a wake up call to parts of the industry.  I don’t believe that the majority of the industry is fundamentally sexist or anti-women but when you look at these results, especially over time, it’s plain to see that something is wrong and it isn’t fixing itself.

Download the full report now, for free. This project was far too large to fit into a single blog post, so I’ve written it up as a PDF report. It spans 16 pages and breaks down the results in much more detail. The report is free and all you need to do to get it is sign up to my e-mail list.

I send out one e-mail every week or two, to highlight new articles on this blog around film data and statistics. You can unsubscribe anytime, I won’t sell or pass on your email address, there’s no spam… it’s just me.

The results in summary

I studied the 100 highest grossing films at the US Box Office for each year between 1994 and 2013 (a total of 2,000 films). Additionally, in order to see how a film’s genre affects gender employment, I also looked at the 100 highest grossing films for each genre.

In summary…

  • Women make up only 23% of crew members on the 2,000 highest grossing films of the past 20 years.
  • Only one of the top 100 films in 2013 has a female Composer.
  • In 2013, under 2% of Directors were female.
  • The only departments to have a majority of women are Make-up, Casting and Costume
  • Visual Effects is the largest department on most major movies and yet only has 17.5% women
  • Of all the departments, the Camera and Electrical department is the most male, with only 5% women
  • Musicals and Music-based films have the highest proportion of women in their crews (27%).
  • Sci-Fi and Action films have the smallest proportion of women (20% and 21% respectively).
  • The films with the highest percentage were “Mean Girls” and “The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants” (42%).
  • The most male crews were “On Deadly Ground” and “Robots” (10% female).
  • There has been no improvement in the last 20 years. The percentage of female crew members has decreased between 1994 (22.7%) and 2013 (21.8%).
  • The three most significant creative roles (Writer, Producer and Director) have all seen the percentage of women fall.
  • The jobs performed by women have become more polarised. In jobs which are traditionally seen as more female (art, costume and make-up) the percentage of women has increased, whereas in the more technical fields (editing and visual effects) the percentage of women has fallen.

On average, women make up 22.6% of a film crew

On average, over the last 20 years, women have made up 22.6% of film crew members. The average for 2013 was actually lower, at 21.8%.

Read more »

What is the average budget of a British film?

I spoke at The Data Summit last week and gave a room full of technology experts a by-the-numbers tour of the UK film industry. It’s always fun to give non-industry people a glimpse into the film industry as it’s a healthy reminder just how bizarre some of our practises are.  I spoke to the accompaniment of sharp intakes of breaths (at the chronic mis-match between supply and demand), the sound of jaws dropping (at the success rate of films) and even a heckle of support from The Guardian’s technology editor Charles Arthur (when discussing the “originality” of Hollywood films).

One question that came from two different people was: What does it cost to make a film in Britain? So I thought I’d look at this on my blog this week.  The numbers below relate to films shot in the UK, as defined by the BFI.

In summary…

  • Across all films shot in the UK in 2013, the average budget was £6.2 million.
  • Adjusted to 2013 pounds, the average budget in 2012 was £4.2 million, 2011 was £7m, 2010 was £5.4m and 2009 was £6.9m.
  • 43% of films shot in the UK in 2013 cost less than £500,000
  • All of those <£500k films account for only 4% of all money spent on films in 2013.
  • The average budget for <£500k films in 2013 was £150,000

The Overall Average

The average budget for all films shot in the UK in 2013 was £6.2 million.

This is not very revealing as there are so many different types of films made in the UK that it’s akin to asking what the average cost of a restaurant meal is – it depends what you’re eating.

Drilling Deeper – The Films We Make

In order to uncover a more useful answer we should start by looking at the types of films we make in the UK.  By number, two thirds are budgeted under £2 million.

But when we look at the amount of money spent we can see that these low budget films make up just 13% of the overall spend.

So it’s clear that stating one average budget across all films is not very useful.

Average Budget by Budget Range

With this in mind, I grouped the films into six budget ranges and calculated the inflation-adjusted average budgets.

The final chart is of particular interest.  With most of the other graphs the average budget is towards the middle of the range; such as the “£10m – £30m” range where the average in 2013 was £14.6m.  However, in the “Under £500k” range we can see that the 2013 average is just £150k.  This suggests that further segmentation is needed at this lower level to reveal more (sadly that data is not yet available).

Methodology

The initial data points came from the BFI’s Research and Statistics Unit. From there I extrapolated some data, combined with others and adjusted for inflation. I chose to focus on films shot in the UK as defined by their production year.  An alternative course open to me was to study the films passing the Cultural Test.  This was a slightly smaller number of films, so I opted to study production over certification.

In a future blog I may return to this topic as in some cases the number of films made in the UK differs significantly from the number of films passing the Cultural Test.  I feel there is something of interest to be teased out of these differences.  Stay tuned, campers.

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