Most films cost millions of dollars. Like the film we profiled last April, they often entail multiple writers, dozens of sets, expensive lead actors, and, sometimes, professional squirrel handlers. These films start with a pitch and evolve—regardless of scale—with the financial backing of major production companies. However, to give our readers a more representative view of the full range of the creative industries, we also bring you smaller-scale productions.
Unlike big-budget films, some other films start with the “available materials”: What can we write a story about that doesn’t involve expensive effects? Which of our friends wants to help us with a movie? What clothes do they already have in their closets? Where can we shoot that will be film-friendly, i.e. not charge us location fees? The following budget, for Jay and Mark Duplass’s The Puffy Chair (2005), started with those principles.
One of the most expensive arts, film requires costly tools: quality cameras, microphones, and lighting. Thus, to embark on this movie there were a few prerequisites: a van, a digital video camera, a boom mic, and a light kit. To keep down costs, some gear, props, and wardrobe were purchased, but they were returned after shooting.
Keep in mind that the following numbers do not include the distribution or advertising costs, which for most films make up a significant portion of the budget. (Advertising alone often costs half of the total production budget.) Thus, once The Puffy Chair was selected for the Sundance Festival, the costs increased. But, because the production costs had been kept so low, at that point the filmmakers knew they would make a profit.
When comparing the budget below to the eighty-page, $18 million budget we showed you last year, there isn’t really much in common. This budget lacks insurance costs, producers, actors’ unions, set dressers, extras, grips, assistants, even directors. But perhaps its brevity is as revealing as the exhaustive major motion picture budget.
—M. Rebekah Otto
Grand Total $15,480
Actors principally used clothes they already owned, or clothes were purchased for the shoot and then returned to the store, in order to minimize costs.
Puffy and Puffy Jr. $500
Two similar versions of a La-Z-Boy recliner had to be purchased for the film, as one of them was burned during the shoot.
Tape Stock $250
Lighting Pack $300
Chinese lanterns, light bulbs, and work lights from Home Depot
hard Drives $1,000
Film occupies a lot of drive space, and so to save and edit tape, large hard drives had to be purchased.
Flights for Actors $800
Bus Fare for Day Players $280
Cast and Crew $4,600
To keep costs low, the production crew consisted of six people: Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass, Kathryn Aselton, Jen Tracy, John Bryant, and Jay Deuby. The additional cast consisted of three friends, the Duplass’s parents, and three other day players. The policy was to pay the cast and crew the minimum they required in order not to go into debt while helping with the movie.
For the most part, the film was shot in free public space, so this sum is from a few motel rooms that were rented, and electricity.