$300,000-$500,000 FEATURE FILM (aka: “Just-Under” MIllion Dollar Movie)

The $300,000-$500,000 FEATURE FILM (“Just-Under” Million Dollar Movie)


or The “Just-Under” $1,000,000 Movie.

We are now in Roger Corman country. He is, or was, the “King of the Bs”.

Also called the Million Dollar Feature.

Also called those Direct-to-Video, then Direct-to-DVD tacky things that are now called Direct-to-OnDemand.

He perfected this B*ll Sh*t “Million Dollar” budget genre along with companies (if your old enough) like Crown, Cannon, New Line & Troma and all, in one way or another, offshoots of the King-of-Kings of genre movies Sam Arkoff of AIP (Action International Pictures). For it was Sam, in the early ’60s, who gave Roger his first, second and third jobs Directing horror & bouncing bikini beach bunny movies, before Roger left to compete.

Roger Corman is the King of the “just-under” Million Dollar, Genre, Drive-In, Double Bill Feature!

POINT: Have you ever thought about the fact that Hollywood is the only industry in the world where the manufacturer (aka: Hollywood) actually tells the consumer (aka: viewer) what it costs to make their product just prior to selling it to you.? 19 out of 20 times. If I name a movie. Especially one that is about to be released. And I asked you “what is the budget” of that movie you could probably tell me.

Why? Because you will say “you read about it” or “you heard it” or…

…Wait-a-minute. Slow down. Hollywood is a marketing industry much more than it is a filmmaking industry.

30 Year ago I worked for a man who is now called “The King of the Bs”. His name is Roger Corman and he has allegedly made 700 movies that have all-made-a-profit.

Yes, they are the Horror/Genre Direct-to-Video features that only pre-teen boys viewed… Yeah, sure they’re tackey.

Now, big frickin’ deal, let me repeat, he made 700 movies over 25-30 years that all made-a-profit (did you just read all-made-a-profit) and they were always called “MILLION DOLLAR” Features.


Now here’s the Point:   I’ve worked (30-35 years ago, PA, UPM & Line Producer) on numerous Roger Corman feature films with alleged Million Dollar budgets. However, for the shoot, to include Prep, Shoot & Post, all the money that he allocated me to get this movie made was always between $150,000-$250,000. And for $150,000-$250,000 one can do a 3-week shoot, non-union (possibly SAG), with 3-4 locations, 2 Arriflex-BL4 35mm Film Cameras (today, 2 4K Arriflex-Alexa Cameras) fair amount of dumb stunts


It started in the 50s when the major studios started marketing feature films by not their stories or the actors but by their budgets… And, for whatever reason, they, the distributors, determined that anything, that is to be considered a movie, must cost at least a Million Dollars to make…

Remember, in 1955 (most of you are puppies so you won’t remember) but a nickel got you a candy bar (3 Musketeers was my favorite) a dime got you a slice of pizza (extra sauce of course) and a quarter was a bleacher seat at Ebbets Field or the Polo Grounds and a Million Dollars was a whole lot of f*ckin’ money… Today it gets you a shack in 700 square feet in Manhattan (Upper West side) and/or a 1,100 foot Beverly Hills Adjacent (I emphasize adjacent) shack and on tv there was even a “must watch” one-hour tv series called “The millionaire”.,

A million bucks was once a lit of money.

And along came Sam Arkoff who competed with Major Studios, who released movies usually Thursday-Sunday and Sam filled the theaters with double bills on Monday-Wednesday when people were supposed to be working and he made movies super cheap but loved calling them “Million Dollar” movies… And when asked by press “What was the exact budget”? He would elaborate with “Well marketing expenses aren’t in yet so as of today it is somewhere “under” a million.

That word “under” started popping up more, and more, and more with respect to stating movie budgets.

Then one of Sam’s producer-directors, his offshoot/protégé, Roger Corman left Sam’s company. Formed his own Production Distribution Company, with his brother Gene, FilmGroup, in the mid 50s with shutting in the mid 60s, But Roger, undaunted, proceeded with a series of movies based on Edgar Allen Poe Novels, then discovered super young Peter Fonda and William Shatner and created the Biker Genre and then morphed himself into the highly successful production-distribution company called New World Pictures in 1970.

RogerCormanPOSTER3     RogerCorman-POSTER1         RogerCormanPOSTER2

Here’s the bottom-line: Roger took what Sam started and learned how to make feature films, that people actually thought were movies, that were marketed as “Million Dollar Budgets” but were actually physically made for maybe $100,000-$200,000 in the 80s and $200,000-3000 in the 90s and today are being made for $300,000-$500,000 but are no longer being called “Million Dollar Movies” but just-under (love that phrase) $1-2 Million Dollars or even just-under (there it is again) $2-3 Million but spend, at the most $300,000-$500,000 (aka: Negative Cost) to get it made.

The $1-2 MILLION or $2-3 MILLION MOVIE made for $300,000-$500,000.

Okay Cut-to-the-numbers.

This will be a 3-week shoot, from a 100-110 page script, 2 4K Cameras, Non-Union Director, Union (SAG) Actors on a Modified Low-Budget Agreement, with 2 names (tv one-hour drama or half-hour sitcoms regulars), being paid $25,000 each, with a Non-Union crew but hiring a highly qualified Cinematography, Production Manager, Production designer & Editor, with a 2-3 month post-production period.


(“01”): PRODUCER               $25,000   (4 months, with Office)

(“02”): WRITER                     $30,000 (Treatment, 1st Draft & Final Draft)

(“03”): DIRECTOR                $25,000 (TV Director, 1st Feature Film credit, 3-weeks Prep @ $1,000/week, 3-weeks shoot @ $5,000/week & 2 months post @ $1,000/week)

(“04-1”): ACTORS/LEADS   $50,000 ($25,000 & $25,000, 2  #4-6 in episodic TV Credits now with 1st Starring parts)

(“04-2): CAST                          $20,000 (4-8 actors, SAG Minimum, Modified Low-Budget rates, approximately $400/day, with 100 acting days)

ABOVE-THE-LINE:               $150,000




(“05”): CAMERAS                  $15,000 (3-weeks, 2 4Ks, with Monitors, Lenses, etc)

(“06”) LABORATORY           $10,000 (During shoot, capture, code, correct, etc)

(“07”):  SOUND/AUDIO      $10,000 (3-weeks, $3,000/week, Soundman, Gear & Mike Man)

(“08”): GRIP/LIGHTS          $10,000 (3-weeks, Single 5-Ton Truck with Grip/Gaff Equipment, Cables, Dolly & Generator)

(“09”): EXPENDABLES       $5,000 (Stuff needed by Audio, PM, Grip, Gaffer & DP that can be used a 2nd time)

(“10”): CREW/KEYS             $20,000 (Director Photography, Production Manager & Production Designer)

(“11”): CREWS/MSCLNS      $20,000 (15-20 crew: 1st AD, Script Supervisor, Camera Operator, PAs, etc)

(“12”): PERMITS                     $5,000 (18 Day Shoot, 5-days permitted @ $1,000/day, 12-Days Guerilla)

(“13”): INSURANCE               $4,000 (Producers Package, includes Equipment, Liability, Workers Comp but no E&O)

(“14”) LOCATIONS                 $10,000 (4 locations, 18 days at $600/day or $2,000-$3,000/week)

(“15”) HAIR/MAKUP              $6,000 ($1,000/week, 3&3, with assistants)

(“16”) PROPS/WRDRB           $15,000 ($5,000 Wardrobe & $10,000 Props

(“17”) TRANSPORT                $5,000 (Vehicle rentals, pickups, vans, Gas, etc)

(“18”) FOOD/CATER             $10,000 ($3,000/week, Craftservice, Breakfast, Snack, Catered Hot Lunch @ $12/person)

(“19”) MISCLNS:                     $10,000 (many, many things that I forgot)

BELOW-THE-LINE:              $155,000


IN-THE-CAN                          $305,000 (Above & Below….. $150K Above-The-Line & $155,000 Below-The-Line)



(“20”) EDITOR                         $15,000 (6 weeks, 6 cuts @ $2,500/week to include assistant)

(“21”) SOUND EDIT                $6,000 (3 weeks @ $2,000/week plus assistant)

(“22”) ADR                                $5,000 (4-5 Days Automatic Dialogue Replacement, Lip Syncing, Looping @ $1,000/day)

(“23”) FOLEY                            $5,000 (1-week Foley Room Rental, 2 Foley Artists & Engineers)

(“24”) MUSIC                            $10,000 (Composer, Flat Rate, New Original Composition with all-rights)

(“24”) RE-RECORD                  $10,000 (10 Days @ $1,000/day, 2 Engineers & Sound Editor)

(“25”) DCP                                  $10,000 (Output for Cinemas or Festivals)

(“26”) MISCLLNS                      $20,000 (For more sh*t that I forgot and you’ll pickup on)

POST (TOTALS)                        $81,000


(“27”) LEGAL                            $15,000 (Clearances, Contracts, Agreements, etc.)

(“28”) ACCOUNTANT              $10,000 (Projections but mostly Payroll)

(“29”) PUBLICITY                     $20,000 (Publicist, Festivals, Website, Social Media, etc.)

PROFESSIONALS                    $35,000



ABOVE-THE-LINE:                   $150,000

BELOW-THE-LINE                    $155,000

POST-PRODCTN                       $81,000

PUBLICITY/PRFSNLS               $35,000

GRAND TOTAL………………………………     $421,000

MOVIE BUDGET (Million Dollar Feature)

Hey, $421,00 is  definitely between $300,000-500,000…

However, if you do the above, with 2 name TV actors, a 3-week shoot, SAG shoot, with highly qualified DP, PM & PD Keys, and in post-production having an excellent tv editor wanting his/her first feature film credit (as the editor that did “Whiplash”) then you are going to have a movie that definitely looks like a $1,2 Million Feature, even a $2-3 Million Feature (“just-under”) or, with al ittle bit of a stretch, you can call this a…… $3-5 Million Feature.

Now, lets take our alleged $3-5 Million Feature Film… and get a booth at Cannes and/or AFM and license it nation-by-nation around the world to Italy, Germany, Indonesia, Turkey, South Africa, Scandinavia, France, etc for $10,000 – $75,000 each.

And, if we make 35 sales (aka: license agreements) at Film Markets, to 35 nations or territories, with an average sale (license agreement) of only $30,000/nation then we have just grossed over US$1,000,000 from Foreign alone, we made it for $421,000…. I think this is feeling like a profit….

And, we still have North American DVD.

And, we still have On-Demand.

And, we still have TV/Cable.

And, we still have….


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Dov S-S Simens / Dean / Hollywood Film Institute

For more depth my “Streaming”, “DVD” and “Live” Film Schools are available at www.WebFilmSchool.com.


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4 comments on “$300,000-$500,000 FEATURE FILM (aka: “Just-Under” MIllion Dollar Movie)”

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  3. Robert Davis says:

    You very well might have saved my life with this article.

  4. Henry Larry says:

    Fascinating insight into the budget dynamics of filmmaking. It is eye opening to see how budgets are marketed versus actual production costs shedding light on the business side of Hollywood.
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