INDEPENDENT MOVIE BUDGETS (7 Film Budgets & Indy Budget Tricks)


Want to Produce or Direct even Write or Act in a Feature Film? If “Yes” then you absolutely must realize, upon preparing a budget, what is a realistic and what is an unrealistic for independents.

First, let’s look at the 7 basic Independent Movie Budgets.

1st: NO-BUDGET Budget ($10,000-$40,000); a 1-week or a 4 weekend (4 months) shoot, with a 5-7 person Non-Union crew, shot in real time with 2 iPhones, a couple of apps, a better mike and a $195 lens.


(“Tangerine” last year’s Sundance hit, a Jason Blum film, was shot with 2 iPhones, over a weekend with a script written in real-time.”)


2nd: MINI-BUDGET Budget ($41,000-$80,000); a 2-week shoot (13 shooting days), with a 90-page script within 1-location, and a shooting schedule of 7 pages per day, a 6-8 person Non-Union crew, shot with one Red or two 4Ks, and hiring SAG actors without becoming a SAG Signator.

3rd: MICRO-BUDGET Budget ($81,000-$150,000); a 2-week shoot, with a 8-11 person Non-Union crew but hiring, without signing with IATSE, a DP & Camera Crew for $5-7K/week and a highly qualified Soundman at $2K/week with possibly $10-$25K for a TV actor to do a 1-day cameo but promote “Starring Him/Her” and $5K for an original sound track.

4th: ULTRA-LOW-BUDGET Budget ($151,000-$250,000); a 2-week shoot, with a 13-16 person crew, 3-4 locations, signing with SAG on Ultra-Low Agreement (Actors @ $100/day), with 2 TV semi-name actors at $20K each and $10K for an original score, from a self-written dialogue oriented script of 95-105 pages with no stunts, animation or visual effects.


(“Most Ultra-Low-Budget films like “Blair Witch” or “Saw” or Company of Men” are shot at the producer or director’s house, a friend’s apartment or cabin or someone’s basement or backyard.”)


5th: LOW-BUDGET Budget ($251,000-$400,000); a 3-week (18 Day) shoot, with a 16-20 person crew, 5-7 locations, with 3-5 pages shot EXT-NIGHT, Above-The-Line sign with one guild (SAG) but not WGA or DGA and Below-The-Line Non-Union, not signing with IATSE, however hiring your 5-7 keys who are in IATSE and paying each $1,000-$2,500/week, with a solid food budget and excellent craftservice, with 2 semi TV names (run of the picture) and $75,000 for Post-Production and $15,000 for Film Festival attendance.

6th: INDY LOW-BUDGET Budget ($401,000-$500,000); This Film will be marketed as a “Million Dollar Feature”, but is in reality a 3-week shoot, similar to the above Low-Budget budget, with an additional $100,000 to hire, besides the 2 semi TV name actors a Movie Name (A- or B+) actor ($100,000 at 3 Days), whose name makes it feel like a movie, who is taking the gig because he/she lives close to your locations, possibly knows you and likes being paid $100,000 for 3 days. Above-The-Line a SAG shoot and now enough money to sign with the WGA (Writers Guild) and hire a pro at $25,000-$40,000 for 2 drafts of your Treatment. Below-The-Line a 20-25 person Non-Union crew; with a 10-week Post Period (Pix Edit, Sound Edit, ADR, Foley, Music, Mix, M&E, Digitize & DCP) and $25,000 to hire a Publicist for a festival bang.

7th: CLASSIC LOW-BUDGET Budget ($501,000-$700,000); You’re starting to learn that Hollywood lies and inflates their alleged budgets when marketing. Play the game! This Film will be marketed as a “$2-3 Million” or a “$3-5 Million” Feature. It is usually produced by a name tv actor, who is the director, with a couple of his/her name actor friends at $25K per week also cast. Above-The-Line it is a 2 Guild (SAG & WGA) shoot, with a possibility, since the name actor is directing, of signing with the Directors Guild to ensure the actor becomes a DGA member. The shoot is 5-weeks (25-28 days) allowing the actors 3 takes for each setup, demonstrating better acting skills, with the movie now appearing to be a very well acted film and qualifying for Sundance, Toronto or Tribecca.


(“Hi, I’m Dov Simens & permit me to give a simple, but realistic, 3 Step Formula for budgeting…”)



If you think low-budget is $2-4 Million then I advise make a $100,000-$200,000 movie.

If you think low-budget is $500,000 then I advise make a $25,000 movie.

Permit me to explain.

First-time filmmakers (aka: wannabees), like you, are a bit naive and hear things like “the average Hollywood Studio Low-Budget is $10-20 Million” then naturally think saying their budget is only “1-2 Million” will have studios going “why not”.

Problem is that $1-2 Million is still a lot of money.

Now, being mature and honest, rather than naive and romantic, here is how to approach your first feature film budget.


STEP ONE: Pick the dollar amount that you naively think is low-budget. Let’s say “2-3 Million”

STEP TWO: Drop that budget in half. Now you’re think “1-2 Million”.

STEP THREE: Move the decimal place one place to the left. Now you’re realistic and the “$1-2 Million” becomes $100,000-$200,000 and produce (see above) either a Micro-Budget or Ultra-Low-Budget Feature Film.


Another example: What if you started by saying “all you need is $500,000”. Then…

STEP ONE: You think Low-Budget is “$500,000″.

STEP TWO: Drop that budget in half. Now you’re thinking “$250,000”.

STEP THREE: Move the decimal place one place to the left and you’re realistic budget is $25,000 and produce (see above) a No-Budget Feature Film.



Happy Filmmaking,

Dov Simens / Creator 2-DAY, DVD & VOD Film Schools




Want facts. Not theory… Then my Film Schools ($89, $249 & $389) are perfect for you.

Pick One. Graduate. Write. Produce. Direct.

Online Film SchoolDVD Film School2 Day Film School

Next “HOLLYWOOD (2-Day) FILM SCHOOL” sessions are August 19-20 or December 9-10, 2017.

Join our E-Mail list… Stay up to Date.

*** NO-BULL ***



9 comments on “INDEPENDENT MOVIE BUDGETS (7 Film Budgets & Indy Budget Tricks)”

  1. J.R. Riddick says:

    Greetings. Tribeca has one “c”.

  2. Tom says:

    Once again, “Tangerine” is not “a Jason Blum film”… he had nothing to do with it. You must be thinking of the Duplass Brothers instead, or even the real director, Sean Baker. Quit making the same mistakes over and over again… then again, it is the same information over and over again, so I doubt you update anything.

  3. joe sixpak says:

    could anything be reasonable be done with only 2000usd and free labor , no unions, no craft, no insurance, guerilla locations , and a small core team of dedicated film makers who are internet savvy and could promote it themselves and also computer savvy and could do limited graf/x, plus all editing for audio/video and editing for post.

    what genre of script would have the best chance of making money.

    should we even bother to be serious about this or just do it for fun.

  4. STEPHANE says:

    If you are not bound to US rules nor in a super-rush and have connections and motivated professional friends, a mini-budget shoot could be a 3-to-4-week operation. You’d have to spread those weeks over a year. Bank holidays, weekends, stes u-sed when free… Nouvelle vague / “Swingers” style. Much more prep work, more continuity checks, longer war, but fewer spendings and a 75K USD movie in the end that should – Dov is right on this – belong to the 5th category (251.000$ and up).

  5. STEPHANE says:

    **sets used – sorry. I got caught in Dov’s fast writing syndrome. 🙂

  6. I made my 1st short with $600 2 people crew.
    My second with $1000 now I need $1000 to fix the sound. These talk of No budget being in the thousands is insane for me as I could never get that kind of cash.

  7. Paolo Mugnaini says:

    Of course!!! You will have to make compromises but you can! Like in my last film the sound was over all good but not throughout the film due to some technical issues so now I have to hire a sound engineer to properly clean it and do sound design.

  8. Stephen says:

    Question: On average what is the percentage you can save by making an independent vs studio film? Is it 50% less? 75%? Please give me an average best estimate if possible. thank you,

  9. Henry Larry says:

    Appreciate the detailed overview of indie film budgets. The specific budget ranges provide a clear roadmap and the think small advice is a valuable takeaway for filmmakers.
    Anxiety Counseling in Pensacola FL

Speak Your Mind

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *