film budgets

How to Get Big Production Value Out of a Little Budget

For independent filmmakers and those just starting out, managing production value can be tricky. You want your film to look and sound great, and that often takes a lot of money — but it doesn’t have to. In this previous NYFA article, we offered a zero-budget checklist for filmmakers, which included some great advice on how to spend your time and resources. Today we offer advice on getting the most production value bang for your buck.

Choose Your Set Piece Scene Wisely

In a low-budget film, one or two high-production-value scenes can really make a difference to the overall effect. It is important to choose those scenes carefully, with thought to the characters and what is vital to their trajectory in the film, as well as what is logistically possible in your circumstances.

In this guest-written article at No Film School, filmmaker Joshua Caldwell tells how he made his feature film “Layover” for just $6000: “If you know how to pull it off for no money, you can allow for a few scenes that look expensive but were actually the cheapest scenes we shot.”


Caldwell gives a “trick” for making the set-piece scene work, and that is to not require dialogue (because dialogue requires multiple takes), and to keep the action simple. If you don’t have the money to shut a place down and hire a bunch of extras, you have to shoot the scene guerilla-style, and he gives an example: “There’s a scene in the film where our main character Simone meets up with a friend and they go to a club in Hollywood. The club is packed, it’s busy, it’s fun, colorful and dark, and our editor, Will Torbett, edited the hell out of it. Feels like we owned that club. But we didn’t. We got permission to be there with our camera and film but nothing else.” But because he only required his lead to dance and have a good time (at a pivotal moment), he got all that was required. “It became the perfect character-based set piece and it really increases the production value of the film.”

Focus Carefully

A tidbit to keep in mind when planning your shots: If you’re going to have people in the frame who aren’t your actors (as in the club scene described above), make sure they’re not focused on or you might need them to sign a release form.

Be Kind to Those Working for Free

Successful low-budget film feats are often made possible by cast and crew working for free. Spending time looking for talented students to gain experience while working on your film is one part of the production value formula, and being kind to them is another. This ProVideo Coalition article reminds you to think about your cast and crew and to not scrimp on their bodily needs and comfort. In the short film “Love and Robots” the filmmakers put a large part of their tiny budget into the costumes, because it was vital to the production value, but they were also aware that, for the actors, “home-made costumes that cover the entire body and face are hot, fatiguing, difficult and just plain claustrophobic. Breathing is a chore.”

Being empathetic to your cast and crew can make the current film the best it can be and help you to gather people for your next project. Providing craft services and a little down time makes all the difference. “Crews eat a lot during 12 hour + days. But having time to sit, eat and drink really restores body and spirit for the non-paid crew. … If you provide for your crew you get twice the work!”

Do It Yourself/Never Sleep

Markus Rothkranz does it all: producer, director, effects artist, model maker, matte painter. At Creative Cow, he discusses the creative freedom that comes with wearing so many hats: “I learned that in the art of filmmaking, you usually raise a lot of money for a project and then hire many people to make the show. It’s a system that works but it’s not for me. In my world, I tend to believe that it is possible to make $100 million movies on $10 million. … “Today, I write, direct, build the sets and the models, set the lights, often act as my own DP and I find a creative freedom in this. It helps that I never sleep!”

Do you have tips for squeezing the most production value out of a lean budget? Let us know in the comments below. And check out NYFA’s filmmaking programs to get learn more about how to make your own films.

Projects That Made the Most of Their Monstrous Production Budget

The amount of new movies hitting the market continues to grow every day, and each new film uses more exotic filming locations, special effects and well-known actors and actresses. Blockbuster movies make use of their big production budgets in hopes of creating successful and unforgettable entertainment. While many aspiring filmmakers yearn for larger budgets, wisely allocating and managing a large film budget is an artform in and of itself. Below, we have compiled a list of movies from the last two decades with monstrous production budgets that were, arguably, used to great effect.

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2”

Andrew Garfield took to the building tops of New York City in 2014 once again as Peter Parker in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” A reported $500 million was spent to reboot the classic superhero series, which only featured two movies. The sequel to “The Amazing Spider-Man” was shot exclusively on 35mm film and entirely in New York.

The production budget for “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” was an estimated $255 million and performed well in the box office. However, Sony Pictures decided to cancel the series and has partnered with Marvel Studios to include Spider-Man in upcoming films. Tom Holland portrayed Spider-Man in the newest Captain America movie.


James Cameron’s “Avatar,” which hit the big screens in 2009, was at the forefront of film technology and motion capture animation. It took Cameron’s team over a year to develop new technology and software for the film’s motion capture. He also employed over 900 people at Weta Digital to work on digital after effects.

Reports speculated that the budget for “Avatar” had cost $280 to $500 million due to all of the visuals. However, Fox officially released production cost and the movie’s budget was only $237 million. Cameron’s “Avatar” was the first film to make more than $200 billion worldwide and remains one of the highest grossing films.

“Avengers: Age of Ultron”

Joss Whedon’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” is the follow-up movie to his first successful “Avengers” movie. The second blockbuster featured big-name actors and actresses including Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, and Chris Evans. The film was shot in multiple locations such as England, Bangladesh, Italy, New York City, and South Korea. In addition to a large cast and multiple filming locations, post-production special effects made the move’ budget quite high. The tax rebate from the United Kingdom confirmed the cost of the film was $330.6 million.

“Avengers: Age of Ultron” made $1.403 billion worldwide in the box office, making the movie the sixth highest-grossing movie of all time. The sequel though, did not out-perform “Avengers” in the box office. There is a rumor that the third film in the series, “Avengers: Infinity Wars, Part 1,” and the fourth, “Avengers: Infinity Wars, Part 2” will be even more expensive.

“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”

Harry Potter has been a cultural phenomenon that has dominated the last two decades. “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” the sixth installment of the series, had the largest production budget out of all the movies, which was an estimated $250 million.

The seventh and eighth installment of the movie series, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” had a budget similar to “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” but because the movie was filmed simultaneously, production costs were cut in half. “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” brought in $934.4 billion worldwide.   

The Hobbit: “An Unexpected Journey,” “Desolation of Smaug,” and “The Battle of Five Armies”

The three-part installment of “The Hobbit” had a whopping production budget of $745 million. It is hard to determine the budget for each individual film due to the fact that the three films were created simultaneously. Even if the films’ budget could be divided, the films would still be one of the most expensive – both films were filmed in 3D and in 45 frames per second.

The budget for the original “Lord of the Rings” trilogy was $281 million and made $2.917 billion worldwide. The monstrous budget for “The Hobbit” trilogy paid off because the trilogy made $2.932 billion worldwide.

“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” “At World’s End,” and “On Stranger Tides”

“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” and “At World’s End” were filmed simultaneously, so it’s hard to determine the exact cost for each film. However, the cost for Disney to film both movies in tandem was an estimated $500 million. A-list actors such as Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly coupled with exotic filming locations and special effects led to the increase in productions costs.    

The fourth movie of the installment, “On Stranger Tides,” is the first movie in the series to cost more than $400 million. The production team used 1,200 generated sequences, similar to the 3D technology that was used in “Avatar,” for special effects. It was confirmed that the total for the production’s budget was $410.6 million.    

“Spider-Man 3”

“Spider-Man 3,” not to be confused with “The Amazing Spider-Man,” featured Tobey Maguire as the web-slinging hero of New York City. In the third installment of the series, Spider-Man faces three villains: Sandman, Venom, and Harry Osborne, also known as New Goblin. The movie was filmed in Los Angeles, Cleveland, and New York City. Multiple filming locations could have attributed to a higher budget.  

Sony Productions confirmed that the movie’s production budget was $258 million, and the movie grossed $890.9, leading “Spider-Man 3” to be the most successful movie out of the three-movie installment from a financial standpoint. But Sony Pictures and the movie’s director, Sam Raimi, had a falling out and Sony cut ties. The falling out with Raimi led Sony to reboot the series five years later using Andrew Garfield as the leading man.


Who doesn’t love a good animated film? Disney’s 2010 musical comedy featured the first princess to be rendered in 3D, not 2D (Rapunzel). It is estimated that the movie production budget was around $260 million, making “Tangled” one of the most expensive animated films to date.

Two reasons as to why the budget was so high: 1) the movie was in production for six years, and 2) the production team developed a state-of-the-art program to code how Rapunzel’s hair should move and behave in water.

The animated film made $591.8 million worldwide; it was also nominated for two Golden Globes, an Oscar and won a Grammy for “I See the Light.”

What are your favorite monster-budget blockbuster films? Let us know in the comments below! And apply to NYFA’s producing programs to learn more about how to maximize a production budget.




How to Use Crowdfunding Sites Like Kickstarter & Indiegogo to Fund Your Film

Nothing speaks to the independent filmmaking spirit quite like crowdfunding. Not only can you get your project made without relying on traditional top-down sources, but also a successful campaign demonstrates your film’s marketability to potential distributors. Not all crowdfunding campaigns have the built-in fan base of the wildly successful “The Veronica Mars Film Project,” so we’ve gathered some tips and resources to help you make sure your crowdfunding campaign reaches, or even surpasses, its goal.

Do Your Homework


As we mentioned in this article comparing crowdfunding sites, you need to know the particulars of the platform and choose accordingly. Kickstarter and Indiegogo both have track records of funding successful filmmaking projects, and looking at their film and video specific project pages makes clear that trending projects include feature films, documentaries and shorts. GoFundMe, on the other hand, has gone in another direction with the majority of its campaigns being personal rather than creative. Also, keep in mind that Indiegogo allows users to collect and keep funds as the campaign proceeds, while Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing game, where you must choose a deadline and a minimum goal that you must meet in order to collect funds.

Hit the Ground Running


Do your research and have everything in place before your campaign starts. Whatever platform you choose, spend some time perusing projects, especially those that seem similar to your own. Both the successes and failures can help you.

Also, try to line up PR before launching. Doing the work before the campaign clock starts ticking will give you a better chance of success. According to this article at, gaining the interest of strangers is most likely to occur within the first three days of launching: “At this stage, you will be in the recently launched tab and if you hustle and get supporters early, you can become a trending project.” After that window, it gets much harder.  

Never Underestimate the Power of a Good Story


Setting up your project page with a clear, concise, and compelling story including visuals and a realistic budget is vital. According to Kickstarter’s Creator Handbook, “there are some basic questions you should answer including: ‘Who are you? What are you planning to make? Where did this project come from? What’s your plan, and what’s your schedule?’” In other words, you want to transmit your passion and excitement to potential backers, while assuring them that you are qualified and capable of bringing the idea to life.

Attract the Low Rollers


Remember that the beauty of crowdfunding is that many backers with shallow pockets can take the place of one or two execs with deep pockets — but, they will also want return on their investment. According to this article, the most popular pledge amount at Kickstarter is $25, so you want to make sure “the affordable perks don’t run out too fast, or you risk losing potential backers who can’t afford steeper offerings.”

Filmmakers are lucky to have built-in social media minions in the way of cast and crew. However, don’t rely on them to come up with their own mini-campaigns. Give them shareable items that they can customize for their own network. Most Kickstarter campaigns don’t go viral, but that doesn’t mean they don’t succeed. Don’t be shy to reach out to friends, family, coworkers, acquaintances and everybody you can think of that might be interested.

Have you managed a successful crowdfunding campaign? Tell us your experience in the comments below. And learn more about filmmaking and producing with a variety of short- and long-term programs at the New York Film Academy.