Creative Accounting: Independent Feature Film

M. Rebekah Otto
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Last May we published the complete line budget of The Puffy Chair, the first film by the Duplass Brothers. The film below was made on a similar budget, but in a much more expensive city. Some similarities are obvious: the bulk of the budget was spent on hard drives and food.

Breaking Upwards was written by Daryl Wein, Zoe Lister-Jones, and Peter Duchan. A graduate of the NYU-Tisch School of the Arts, Wein also directed and edited the film. (Free labor is one very effective way to minimize costs.)

Low budgets can liberate filmmakers, because they aren’t beholden to investors or production companies who expect a certain return in ticket sales. With an intimate narrative-propelled film, a small budget may not be a setback, but rather can make a film feel more honest and real. As Wein and Lister-Jones were a couple writing about their own relationship, this may be particularly true of Breaking Upwards. Acting as themselves, the couple explored an open relationship and the boundaries on relationships.

This film adheres to industry standards (union pay and insurance) that was not evident in the Duplass’ Brothers budget. But the filmmakers still had to employ some DIY maneuvers to cut costs: no wardrobe, hair, or makeup. Also, by teaming up with another film, they trimmed the immense cost of production insurance. They prove there is a way to do what you want without cutting too many corners.

Breaking Upwards was an Official Selection at SXSW 2009 and will be distributed by IFC Films in April 2010.

This budget is the ninth installment of Creative Accounting, a series dedicated to the financial ledgers behind the creative industries. In the end, we will compile the accounts into a single volume, published by Believer Books.

—M. Rebekah Otto

Production still from Breaking Upwards

MATERIALS $2,195.31

Wardrobe $14.99

The costumes were furnished by the cast, except for one American Apparel T-shirt which was lost and had to be replaced for the final scene.

Makeup $9.99

Hair $3.99

Actors were responsible for their own hair and makeup, but a hairbrush and powder puff were purchased to fix any actors’ errant shine during the shoot.

Hard drives $1,412.22

Western Digital Terabyte

Camera Package $0

The Director of Photography, Alex Bergman, owned the camera, lights, and lens adapters. His grandmother gave him money to go to college, and instead he bought this equipment and taught himself how to use it. He was twenty-two when he shot Breaking Upwards.

Lighting $754.12

Some bulbs and cables had to be purchased to replace broken ones.

PRODUCTION $8,097.00

Sound $1,397

Two generous sound engineers mixed the film for next to nothing.

Director of Photography $0

First Assistant Camera $0

Second Assistant Camera $0

Production Assistant $0

Director’s Fee $0

First Assistant Director $0

Writer’s Fee $0

Editor’s Fee $0

Cast $6,700

All actors were paid $100 per day, as per the Ultra Low Budget Screen Actor’s Guild Agreement.

FEES $2,605.00

Locations $300

Most of the locations were free: Zoe and Daryl’s apartment, Zoe’s mother’s house, Zoe’s father’s house, Zoe’s ex-boyfriend’s mother’s house, and various friendly New York galleries, restaurants, and boutiques. One location, a movie theater, had to be rented (unfortunately, that scene was cut).

Production Insurance $300

By piggy-backing onto another film’s production insurance, the filmmakers were able to shoot in the streets—otherwise, the insurance brokers can charge a few thousand dollars.

LLC $350

The filmmakers formed a company to make the production.

Payroll $1,200

A company was hired to handle all of the tax forms and write the payroll checks.

Workman’s Comp/Disability Insurance $455

Legally required for SAG and the payroll company


Catering $1,112.93

Catered by Zoe Lister-Jones

Miscellaneous $428.43


Grand Total $14,438.67

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